DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Office of the Superintendent
Fisher Building Phone: (313) 873-3292 3011 W. Grand Blvd, 6th Floor Cell: (313) 460-8272 Detroit, MI 48202 Fax: (313) 873-3284
RESTORING AND TRANSFORMING THE DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR SUCCESS IN THE 21ST CENTURY: Interim Superintendent John Telford’s reformative plan for our school district —respectfully submitted in the form of a
From: Dr. John Telford
To: All DPS Staff and Stakeholders
Date: August 31, 2012 –
On June 14, 2012, the Detroit Board of Education appointed me to be the interim Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools by a vote of 7-2, with two Board members not present. Shortly thereafter, I delivered an address to the Board in which I shared twenty-three major objectives of my impending interim administration. All of those objectives, which have been duly committed to the record in the Board minutes of that meeting, still obtain as we anticipate the opening of school on September 4, and I will presently set about initiating them.
However, now that I have formally assumed the legally designated authority over the academic and instructional activities that by adjudicated decree has now been assigned to me as the Detroit Public Schools Superintendent of Academics, I would like to share my curriculum-enhancing vision and plan for the better academic education of our children here in DPS.
As almost everyone knows, Detroit Public Schools, which once was recognized as one of the finest school districts in the nation, has been both numerically and academically decimated during the past decade, with plenty of unwanted and non-reformative “help” from Lansing. This tragic decimation has become painfully common knowledge not only locally but nationally as well, and it has occurred for a number of reasons that I have examined in my award-winning autobiography (www.AlifeontheRUN.com) and in my newspaper columns and other writings—some which have appeared very recently and regularly in the Telford’s Telescope columns in the Detroit Native Sun and the Michigan Chronicle, and many others that have been published in several other newspapers, including the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, throughout the past decade. I have also examined them on my half-hour show Wednesday evenings at 6:30 on TV 30 (Comcast 20 Detroit) and on my little fifteen-minute show on WEXL 1340 AM on Sunday afternoons at 1:45. I therefore need not comment further on this unfortunate and embarrassing decimation in this document.
Despite the numeric decimation, DPS remains the largest school district in Michigan, and pockets of excellence also remain within it. While we have a highly diverse and largely impoverished student population, and approximately ninety percent of our student population has been low-performing, and while more and more frequently and numerously during the past thirteen years most of our schools have therefore been so designated, it needs to be noted here that many bright, often college-bound honor students have also attended those low-performing schools throughout those thirteen years.
Most of our schools also have an extremely high percentage of minority students. In Michigan, the already wide achievement gap between minority students in urban educational environments and white students in suburban educational environments has continually widened even further over the years. Much of the reason for this further widening can be laid at the doorstep of the social conditions of urban vis-a-vis suburban districts in Michigan and the undemocratically unequal funding for urban vis-à-vis suburban districts in Michigan. Fifty-eight years after Brown vs. Board of Education, separate and unequal still prevails.
Please know that I share the outrage of all my knowledgeable fellow Detroiters regarding the unprecedented threat to American democracy that the dictatorially disenfranchising Public Act 4 poses, and I have joined in the push to effect its November 6 repeal—and following that hoped-for repeal, I will take the appropriate steps to bring Pershing and Denby and our other historic schools that were given away illegally to the majority-Republican Michigan Legislature’s politically-created Educational Achievement System back into the DPS fold where they belong.
In the meantime, Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts and I have a school district to administer, and because the city of Detroit in particular has been so challenged, it is now time for all of us Detroiters who care about our children’s very survival (and indeed about the survival of our city itself) to set our differences aside temporarily and work determinedly and with a single mind on our children’s behalf. My one pledge to my home city, to my home school district, to our school board, to all DPS staff, to our community, to our precious schoolchildren, and to their parents and guardians is that I will work hard and faithfully on behalf of our children and their education – regardless of any other concern—be that concern either political or personal—and I have announced my non-negotiable intent to do all of this entirely pro bono.
WORKING ON BEHALF OF OUR CHILDREN: That is and has always been my one paramount consideration throughout my fifty-plus years practicing the sacred profession of education, as it must now become the one paramount consideration of all of us Detroiters.
The only constant for the Detroit Public Schools has been the paradoxical inconstancy of constant change. Since the 1999 state takeover of DPS when we had a $93 million surplus and we were scoring academically at the state median, we’ve discriminatively suffered through eleven out of thirteen years of unelected school boards and unconstitutionally disenfranchised voters. During those years, we’ve had three CEO’s, we’ve briefly had a Superintendent, and we’ve had two gubernatorially appointed Emergency Managers. Mr. Roberts, the second of those two Emergency Managers, functions now as the Emergency Financial Manager rather than as a dictatorially-empowered Emergency Manager, thanks to the efforts of righteous activists who collected a quarter of a million signatures to get the Michigan Supreme Court ultimately to decree that the challenge to Public Act 4 must be placed on the November 6 ballot. By the twelfth year of those thirteen years of unelected and disempowered school boards, our test scores had plummeted to the lowest in the entire country, and our $93 million surplus had been frittered away by five of the six so-called “reform” or “emergency” administrators—to be unjustly replaced by the year 2011 with an astounding deficit of $350 million!
Now finally toward the end of the year 2012 at what could in truth be called the proverbial thirteenth hour, DPS has yet a seventh chief administrator—namely, me.
And I’ve got only a challengingly brief couple of months to begin to refocus our city and our remaining schools completely and entirely on our children. Refocusing this beleaguered and unjustly plundered school district entirely on our children is almost like challenging Yusain Bolt to race the Olympic 100-meter dash all over again in his bare feet—this time in a record-breaking nine seconds flat—but I’m on official record as having outrun Olympic champions in the past, and with a united grass-roots community and a democratically elected new school board behind me, I pledge to accomplish that feat again metaphorically one last time.
First, I need to say here up front that had I sought to make radical, dramatic changes before the outset of the 2012-2013 school year, this would have obviously been more than foolhardy—it would have brought chaos to the school district and schoolchildren that I love, and it would have brought equivalent chaos to the city that I love. I came upon the scene far too late to even consider such immediate changes, given the stall tactics that have been imposed on me and the newly and legally re-empowered School Board during the past ten weeks.
Therefore, I intend to endeavor to work closely and collaboratively with my current DPS administrative staff and colleagues, most specifically including Mr. Roberts—and also with DFT President Keith Johnson, my erstwhile colleague at Finney (a school incidentally named for a family of abolitionists)—to take the immediate next steps to ensure a smooth opening of school and then a progressive course of action to regain, maintain, and sustain academic and instructional progress in every school building that we still have. Pending the hoped-for willingness of the current top administration to collaborate with me, we can undertake the resolution of whatever differences we have at some later date. (I recognize, too, that by the time this document has become widely disseminated and read, school will have already opened—and it will have opened hopefully on time with a teacher in every class, and with every class of a reasonable size, and with a principal in every building.)
All of this having been said, I now would like to outline my thoughts regarding how I can begin to initiate the transformation of the Detroit Public Schools during my service for these months to come as your interim Superintendent. As I mentioned in my first address to the Board of Education, far from intending to “throw out the baby with the bath water,” my goal is to build on current successful programs, jettison those that don’t work, and ensure an aligned and coherent instructional framework.
It is far from “rocket science” for us to be able to recognize that the primary and obvious charge facing us is to prepare all of our students to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. To accomplish this goal, our greatest task is to prepare teachers, administrators, and support staff to educate students—both with new techniques and also with time-proven methods—in order that these staff will be prepared to enable our students to compete and be successful in an international twenty-first century society.
DPS has a golden opportunity to transform educational services systematically, due to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and funding from the federal stimulus dollars. These dollars can and should provide DPS with the resources and new content standards required to overhaul our instructional management system in support of children.
Preparing students and staff for a demanding international world will require changing some of the ways we teach. Such a paradigm shift will refocus the district from what’s good for adults to a system that focuses on what’s good for children.
In that visceral vein, I would like to outline here my ninety-day transformational plan for the Detroit Public Schools.
This plan sets forth three essential, overweening, and indeed self-evident goals.
I have articulated these three goals and their itemized objectives as a framework for my plan in close collaboration with Jason Patton, a bright young Wayne State University doctoral student and recent DPS principal who happens to be one of the many promising, successful DPS principals and teachers whom the recent administration errantly replaced. The overall objective of this transformational plan is of course high student achievement. Schools must ensure that every single thing that they do is what is best for the students, and thus they must by definition focus on high student achievement. The focus on students first must naturally guide everything we do as urban educators.
FIRST ESSENTIAL GOAL: Increase student achievement and performance through effective teaching and learning.
SECOND ESSENTIAL GOAL: Recruit, train, and retain high- quality employees and hold them accountable.
THIRD ESSENTIAL GOAL: Establish a supportive, positive, effective district climate and culture that is singularly focused on the improvement of student achievement, using a continuous improvement model.
Successful implementation of my Three Essential Goals will enable us to rebuild, revive, and restore public faith and confidence in our Detroit Public Schools through open, honest communication and positive, trusting relationships. By definition, it will also give me the credibility I will need to be able to establish transformative district governance via good Board/Superintendent/Emergency Financial Manager relationships.
In still-hoped-for cooperation with Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts and Deputy Superintendent Karen Ridgeway, as well as in close consultation with my pro bono Chief of Staff Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, our Board President LaMar Lemmons, and the members of our Detroit Public School Board—it is my intention to review and scrutinize DPS’ structure, climate, budget, key work processes, practices, programs, and resources, in order to ensure alignment of resources to meet the educational, social, and emotional needs of all of our students efficiently and effectively.
Thus, my immediate focus for the First Essential Goal and then subsequently for the Second and third Essential Goals will be to build on the district’s work to date and endeavor to impart a sense of internal urgency for a positive and progressive transformation based on a coherent and strategic plan for improvement which I will unfold in greater detail throughout the course of this document. My plan can begin to convey a more positive public image of Detroit Public Schools, and it will engage the district and the community in mutual accountability that will engender ultimate transformation.
Relevantly, I intend personally to oversee the ongoing recruitment and hire of a highly qualified and diverse work force and to serve as the district’s most vocal promoter and supporter.
My itemized objectives for my First Essential Goal—which is the paramount goal of increasing student achievement and performance through effective teaching and learning—consist of:
ITEM: The analysis of patterns in student-achievement data and the gap in achievement between various student populations—said analysis to determine an appropriate and individualized course of action for teaching and learning;
ITEM: The creating of matrices to analyze achievement data from multiple assessments such as MEAP, etc., etc.;
ITEM: The elevation of expectations for all students to ensure that all staff believe and support the truism that every DPS student can and will learn;
ITEM: The determination of how DPS will answer three essential questions and the level of support needed to answer these questions, to wit: “What do we want each student to learn?” “How will we know when each student has learned it?” “How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?”;
ITEM: The determination of a common language of achievement across all of the district;
ITEM: The analysis of the conditions of our chronically underperforming students and schools and the charting of a course of corrective action aimed at upgrading their achievement;
ITEM: The allocation and alignment of resources to support DPS’ performance goals for our students.
In organizing and upgrading the district leadership as well, I will focus continually on student achievement in the following ways:
ITEM: I will work with Board President LaMar Lemmons and the Board of Education to devise a “theory of action” for DPS;
ITEM: I will help to identify and clarify the roles of the Board, the Superintendent, the EFM, and key district stakeholders;
ITEM: On request, I will help the Board to review, confirm, and adjust policy development and oversight, and I will work with them to devise a Board Goal-Formulation and Self-Evaluation model—and also a Superintendent Goal-Formulation and Evaluation Model for the Board to use in evaluating the performance of the Superintendent;
ITEM: I will endeavor to increase citizen-involvement and civic capacity in DPS’ transitional planning;
ITEM: At the end of the first 90-day period, I will deliver to the Board a revised Vision and revised Strategic Transformative Plan for Board approval.
I will now itemize eleven objectives here for my Second Essential Goal, which is to recruit, train, and retain high- quality employees and hold them accountable:
ITEM: Identify the professional-development needs of aspiring, new, and experienced administrators;
ITEM: Develop an Aspiring-Leader Program for teachers wishing to explore the principalship;
ITEM: Increase opportunities for leadership and teacher development that is of high quality, that is specific to the needs of faculty members, and that is job-embedded and results-driven;
ITEM: Ensure the proper alignment and implementation of teacher- and administrator-development systems in order to guarantee that we will hold teachers and principals accountable for student achievement. In this regard, we will provide targeted professional development for our professional teaching corps;
ITEM: Implement research-based evaluation systems for principals and teachers.
I am committed to the development of a comprehensive instructional management system that will include:
ITEM: The development of a standards-based curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards;
ITEM: The alignment of textbooks and all instructional materials to the new standards-based curriculum;
ITEM: The development of formative and summative assessments which ensure that students are learning the required subject content;
ITEM: The implementation of a comprehensive professional development program for teachers and school instructional leaders that will assist them in the development of their crucial craft;
ITEM: The development and implementation of an accountability system that holds adults responsible for student performance;
ITEM: The development and implementation of a coherent instructional framework that is student-centered and will accordingly include curricula that centers on both the historic accomplishments and the specific academic and communicative needs of our tens of thousands of African-American students and on the needs of our thousands of students of other minority ethnicities.
Developing this comprehensive and coherent instructional approach that aligns what is written, taught, and assessed will bring systemic changes to the process of teaching and learning. These changes will ultimately provide sustained gains in student achievement on comparable universal standards. Further, they will provide outcomes that reduce the performance gaps that traditionally exist between students of various socioeconomic and ethnic groups.
The preceding process requires that we strategically implement the following components that will produce a dynamic and safe learning environment:
ITEM: The re-hire of many former DPS security officers who know the kids and who in the past have helped to keep the peace in the secondary schools and have been a potent, protective, and calming force in ensuring that all of our children are safe in every one of our schools;
ITEM: The development of fully-aligned lesson plans to teach the new state standards, objective-by-objective—and then ensuring that all teachers receive and follow the plans;
ITEM: The re-opening of some closed elementary schools in order to create and re-create some extensive, separately-housed, uni-sex, alternative programs for low-performing chronic misbehavers—to feature small class sizes and wraparound social work and remediation services—particularly in Reading. When these students’ grades and behavior improve, they can return to the traditional setting, where the financial balloon will of necessity have been squeezed to raise the class sizes slightly in the upper grades to produce the revenue for the smaller class sizes in the alternative programs.
ITEM: The provision of fully-aligned remedial materials that are consistent with the new standards-based curriculum, to include but not be limited to Ebonics-anecdotal curricula and materials in the language arts program, K-12;
ITEM: The provision of parent-friendly help materials to involve parents directly with the students’ academic learning plan.
The project will also include the development of this pre-K-12, standards-based curriculum with aligned formative and summative assessments, to include:
ITEM: The development of and training for the use of fully aligned benchmark academic achievement assessments that emulate the standards-based state assessments;
ITEM: Computer-based management tools that comprehensively monitor schools’ benchmark assessment results by student, classroom, grade level, subject area, and objective. These tools will provide teachers with the data required to make student-specific instructional decisions.
With regard to my Third Essential Goal, which is to establish a supportive, positive, and effective climate and culture that is singularly focused on the improvement of student achievement, using a continuous improvement model, I offer eight more of my Itemized Objectives:
ITEM: I will endeavor to foster an understanding and ownership of the District’s Vision, Mission, Core Beliefs, and Theory of Action as an organization dedicated to raising student achievement for every child;
ITEM: I will endeavor to establish the Board and Superintendent as a cohesive leadership team with an agenda focused on student achievement;
ITEM: I will communicate regularly and directly with parents and encourage positive district/school/partnerships with them on behalf of students;
ITEM: I will maintain a positive, professional, and collaborative relationship with Detroit Federation of Teachers leadership to ensure that all decisions are made on behalf of students and the improvement of conditions for teaching and learning;
ITEM: I will meet with key central office staff and principals to learn more about each department and school and determine how each person can best be supportive of student achievement;
ITEM: I will connect with the political leadership in our city, county, and state in order to open clear lines of communication, advocacy, and support for our students;
ITEM: I will establish an organizational norm for open, clear, and consistent communication within the district and with our community;
ITEM: I will establish positive and productive working relationships with key leaders and members of business, faith-based, service, not-for-profit, philanthropic, and political organizations within the DPS community and with their national representative organizations;
ITEM: In collaboration with the Emergency Financial Manager, I will endeavor to develop an external fund-raising arm or work with those that exist, in order to compete on the national stage for major donations from national education foundations to support proven and future innovation that will enhance student achievement.
DPS has approximately 5,000 employees, including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers and support staff. During this transformative process, it will be crucial to ensure that all staffs—especially teachers and school-building leaders—are armed with the knowledge, strategies, and tools to put this process effectively into actual practice out in the field. Therefore, a key component of my Vision is to develop and provide continuous and comprehensive professional development activities that support the new standards-based curriculum and the updated instructional practices. Implementation of these activities will be through on-site coaching to ensure fidelity of implementation with and by teachers and administrators. This will successfully transform teaching and learning in the Detroit Public Schools.
The DPS Leadership Institute
The development of school leaders is vital to transforming DPS and to increasing student achievement. My Leadership Institute will focus on developing current and future school leaders with respect to curricula that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards with respect to data-driven decision-making, with respect to instructional evaluation, with respect to development of school climate and culture, and with respect to mentoring new teachers. The Institute will also concentrate on developing leadership capacity through the development of programs for potential new leaders. Pathways to the Principalship will be a program to develop teachers and other staff to become school leaders. The goal here will be to develop a strong and in-depth DPS “leadership bench.”
The DPS Leadership Institute will also develop extensive partnerships with higher education and business leaders to ensure that Detroit’s school leaders number among the best in the country.
The DPS Teacher Development Institute
As research has unsurprisingly indicated year after year, the primary variable that impacts student achievement (beyond the home socioeconomic environment) is the classroom teacher. Therefore, teacher development will be one of my most visceral priorities as interim Superintendent. The central focus of this development will be job-embedded classroom professional development with a concentration on coaching and mentoring.
Additionally, developing school site-based systems where teachers have time to collaborate and develop common strategies will be a key component of the interim TAA (Telford Academic Administration) and this new Lemmons-led Detroit School Board that has been duly and blessedly elected and anointed by the citizens of Detroit in accord with the tenets of the Constitution of the United States, which tenets guarantee all Americans their God-given right to representative government.
I see site-based systems and management as a relevant, preferred, and necessary component here—particularly when one considers the still-ponderous size of the Detroit Public School system.
The DPS Teacher Development Institute will also develop a comprehensive initiative to expand programs for national teacher certification. The Institute will be yet another DPS entity that will expand partnerships with higher education and the business community.
In order for this plan to be successfully undertaken, the Emergency Financial Manager and I will indeed need to collaborate and cooperate in several venues, which hasn’t always quite been the case in recent weeks.
To begin with, the Emergency Financial Manager and I will absolutely need to observe the Administrative Table of Organization the Board President presented to the Board of Education at its special meeting on Monday, August 19, 2012. We are now legally compelled to work from that document, which is in compliance with Wayne County Judge John Murphy’s order that we jointly administrate the district and administrate it progressively, with the gubernatorially appointed Emergency Financial Manager in charge of Finance (naturally and logically), and with me as Superintendent of Academics in charge of Academics (also naturally and logically).
ITEM: I will interface continually with Board members, the EFM, Deputy Superintendent Karen Ridgeway, H-R, all internal department heads, DFT leadership, external partners, and potential DPS supporters to build a fortified infrastructure for optimal implementation of our excellent academic plan which is already in place and needs merely to be successfully implemented out in the classrooms. (As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is the eating thereof.).
This fortified infrastructure will help to build a unified DPS and foster the community partnerships.
ITEM: I will direct Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, my Chief of Staff/Asst. Supt. of Academics and Community Affairs, to interface with all of these cited individuals as well;
ITEM: I will initiate the crafting of an anti-nepotism and anti-cronyism hiring and promotion and layoff and demotion policy;
ITEM: I will delegate to Ms. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo the task of arranging an interface between Deputy Superintendent Karen Ridgeway and the Research and Evaluation and Instructional Technology departments, as well as with Wayne RESA, and I will ask Ms. Dagnogo to help me pull together a DPS team to review and collect relevant academic data, including but not limited to Attendance and MEAP and also to Administrative, Teacher, and Support Staff performance reviews;
ITEM: I will recruit and appoint a pro bono Ombudsman to report to the Board and the Superintendent;
ITEM: I will direct my Chief of Staff to pull a team together that will help conduct an audit of all learning materials and resources including but not limited to books, technology, netbooks, laptops, desktops, calculators, and AV equipment, Science and Math manipulative and lab equipment, musical instruments, and athletic equipment;
ITEM: I will give the order for the re-hiring of the attendance officers, so they can round up the thousands of kids who during the past couple of years haven’t been attending school anywhere;
ITEM: I will re-open some closed schools to house the returning truants;
ITEM: I will ask my Chief of Staff to assist Dr. Ridgeway and me to help us identify and build a team of specialists; i.e., Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Technology coaches who will evaluate each student’s current reading level and create an Individualized Academic Plan that will improve reading proficiency and the academic development of each and every student;
ITEM: I will ask the Emergency Financial Manager to initiate a forensic (external) audit of all DPS funds;
ITEM: I will ask my Chief of Staff and the Deputy Superintendent to help me establish iron-bound means to ensure the legality, stability and articulation of special needs programs for each relevant student, as outlined by federally mandated specifications;
ITEM: On November 7, 2012, I will call together a team of prominent folk to submit names of potential candidates to the Detroit Board of Education for them to select my successor.
As I settle into the dual positions of Board-appointed interim Superintendent/adjudicatively-designated Superintendent of Academics, Detroit Public Schools is at an emergent and indeed crucial stage in its development and redevelopment. The choice before us now is whether we will move forward and prepare our students for a demanding and dynamic future or whether we shall remain fragmented in stagnant disharmony and disarray. It almost goes without saying that truly significant progress will require not only a far better use of the financial resources currently at our disposal, but it will also require additional financial resources to enable us to engage experts in curriculum development, pedagogy, assessment, and professional development.
Challengingly, this process necessitates that we deliver instructional service to students as we simultaneously rebuild the instructional management system.
Additionally, as we complete the positive transformation of our new system, all of our Board members and top central office administrators—including me—must be out in schools supporting teachers, administrators, and support staff as they transition to a new system and a new philosophy of teaching and learning.
Finally, this positive, progressive transformation of the Detroit Public Schools which I envision in this document will require an almost unprecedented, concerted, single-minded, harmonious commitment from all administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, community organizations, the business community, higher education, and the local, state, and national governments. Only through such collective and politically non-partisan efforts as specified herein will the Detroit Public Schools’ transformation become institutionalized and sustainable. Then and only then will we be able to ensure that all Detroit students are prepared to compete on an international scale in the global marketplace and contribute to the positive development of our greater society.
And let me emphasize again that accomplishing this daunting task will involve the necessary development of comprehensive partnerships between the business community and postsecondary institutions. We have a unique opportunity to pioneer systems that will provide unique experiences for our students and prepare them for meaningful careers.
I also want to emphasize once more that I am indomitably committed deep down inside my democratic, All-American, activist soul to the transformation and indeed to the rebirth of this once-great school district that nurtured and reformed and educated me so many years ago. I have devoted my entire life to the betterment of public education and to all of the children we serve—often at very real and personal and even physical risk—because public education with democratically elected school boards is the cornerstone of democracy. I am the only retired (and now un-retired) school superintendent in America who actually ever went back to a big inner-city high school to teach, and I was still doing it in my seventies at the wild old Finney High School, where the track was named for me, and where I worked with some superb staff and with some deserving and needful and wonderful kids for five fulfilling years before I sojourned to Madison as its Superintendent in early 2009.
I know that as Detroiters together we can retrieve and achieve the Detroit Public Schools’ old-time greatness. I exhort all DPS staff and all Detroiters—and indeed all former Detroiters—to stand with me, and to stand with our Detroit students who are attending school here in the biggest city and the largest school district in our great state of Michigan.
Our students—remember them? Stand with the students! Stand with the students! They are our children, and they are counting on us to unite and do the right thing.