Qualities needed for our new DPSCD School Board

The last day to file the papers necessary to become a candidate for the new school board of the Detroit Public Schools Community District is Tuesday, July 26, 2016. The new seven-member board will be elected in the general election on November 8, 2016 and will take office on January 1, 2017.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) is the new public school district for the Detroit community. It was created through the Michigan Legislature’s passage of the education reform bills a few weeks ago. DPSCD has replaced the former Detroit Public Schools. It will maintain all 97 schools, as well as its necessary support services, including transportation, school nutrition, special education, early childhood learning and much more. In addition, DPSCD will emerge with new and innovative academic programs and support, along with facility improvements and enhanced security. Most significantly, DPSCD emerges with virtually no past debt obligations.

The installation of the new board will complete the goal held by virtually all Detroiters – the return of governance over public education in Detroit to a democratically elected board. It is a goal I share and it is the primary reason why I agreed to accept the role of transition manager for DPS and the new Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Our fundamental goal of our new district is to provide excellence in academics for all of our children. The most effective means to achieve that goal is through local control and accountability, achieved through our dearly-held democratic processes. But it is important to remember that local control is not an end by itself.

Each school board member is a trustee for the school district. The primary beneficiaries of a member’s trusteeship are the students. At the same time, each board member is also accountable to our students’ families, to the district’s staff, and to the community. The consequences of members’ collective decisions can endure for generations. Their responsibilities are profound.

Equally profound, however, is the responsibility of our community to identify, support and elect candidates who have demonstrated the qualities necessary to lead DPSCD to a successful future. Based on my service as transition manager, I offer the following list of these qualities:

1. A commitment to service as a trustee for the benefit of the district’s students. A trustee is fiduciary and is not permitted to serve any self-interest, such as, for example, business interests or an overriding ambition for other public office. The sole commitment must be to the students’ education.

2. A commitment to excellence in academics.

3. A commitment to education as a necessary component of our democracy. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

4. A commitment to education as a necessary component to a productive, fulfilled life. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”

5. A commitment to education as a necessary component of a revitalized Detroit and a better Michigan.

6. A commitment to a vision of a successful future for DPSCD that is focused on creating a successful future for each student. Many of the components of a successful education are necessary for all students. Other components must account for the diversity of the students’ needs, interests, aptitudes and abilities. A candidate who aspires to be an effective board member must have already thought deeply about how to achieve educational success for each student. The upcoming election must be about which candidates can most clearly articulate their visions for that future and which candidates’ visions are likely to be the most effective. Only that focus in this election will serve the interests of our students and our district.

7. A commitment to facilitate the important role that parents and guardians play in the education of our students.

8. A commitment to facilitate the important role that teachers, principals and all other district employees play in the education of our students.

9. A commitment to harness the extraordinary resources that the community offers to the students of DPSCD.

10. A commitment to collaborative processes among board members and to public processes that are open, honest, fair, respectful and responsive.

11. A commitment to cooperative process with the Financial Review Commission. Many are critical of this continuing State oversight function. Still, the law that imposes it must be respected.

12. A commitment to a balanced budget and to honest and accessible financial books and records that are the product of best reporting practices. These are the keys to a future for our district that is under complete local control, free of oversight by the Financial Review Commission. More importantly, they are the right things to do.

13. A commitment to advocate for our students and our district. Strong advocacy is needed to achieve necessary financial support for education in Michigan and full equity in its allocation. Sixty percent of our students live at or below the poverty level. To effectively close achievement and opportunity gaps, additional resources are required. We also have a higher portion of special needs and special education students. An appropriate educational experience also requires additional resources. These and other funding inequities must be corrected, and appropriate funding for all schools must be provided.

Strong advocacy is also necessary to achieve the Detroit Education Commission (DEC). The City must have a means to rectify the irrationality that plagues the present geographic allocation of schools and burdens revitalization of neighborhoods. The DEC will do that. It will also raise the academic achievement level of all schools in the City, public and charter. How much stronger the City will be when parents who currently enroll their children in schools outside the City decide to reconsider and enroll their children in schools in Detroit.

14. A commitment to cooperative and advantageous interactions with all education interests in Michigan. This includes the charter interests and those in the Michigan legislature who focus on education. It also means working to end the “us vs. them” view that some hold both within Detroit and outside the City.

15. A commitment to model and enforce the ideals of honesty and integrity in all dealings. There is no “culture of corruption” in the district. Still, even isolated instances of waste, fraud and abuse must be rooted out and dealt with firmly, decisively and promptly.

16. A commitment to commencing and continuing the process of learning how to be an effective school board member.

Ultimately, the awesome responsibility to educate students in the new Detroit Public Schools Community District falls upon the residents of the City of Detroit. Everyone in this city has the responsibility to study the qualifications of school board candidates, to engage in opportunities to learn more about the candidates, to vote in the school board election, and to hold the successful candidates accountable for the success of our students and our school district.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Steven Rhodes
Transition Manager
Detroit Public Schools Community District

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