Monday, March 25, 2013

Minutes from Mar. 22 meeting with DPS principals

             On Friday morning, March 22, 2013, I called a meeting with all the principals of all DPS high schools. Here are the minutes from that meeting. All things considered, I felt it went quite well.

                          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 38202                                            Fax: (313) 873-3284     

Memorandum to: DPS Principals, Teachers, and Other Selected  Stakeholders of Detroit’s Public Schools 

From: Dr. John Telford, Superintendent

Date: Friday, March 22, 2013

Subject: REVAMPED PLAN FOR THE REVITALIZATION OF THE DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS: A Paraphrase and Record of my Address That I Delivered to All DPS Principals, Assistant Superintendents, and Other Invited Guests at the Principals Meeting I Chaired on Friday, March 22, at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High school

After some excellent King student performances, King Principal Deborah Jenkins opened the meeting and introduced me, and I launched into the following salutations:

Good morning principals, executive staff, and distinguished guests—and thank you, Principal Jenkins, for hosting this meeting in the beautiful King auditorium.  I would also like to extend my gratitude to the wonderful King singers and musicians who performed for us, and to the JROTC officers and cadets who so graciously escorted us this morning, and to King student Samuel Taylor for sharing his excellent poem with us.  King High School has a special place in my heart, as I served as King’s English Department Head and track coach way back in 1969. 

I then recognized the presence of my star 1960 quarter-miler at Southeastern High School Arkles Brooks (now the Pastor of Gospel Chapel of Detroit), Dr. James Lee, my former fellow DPS executive director in 2000-2001, Mayoral candidate Tom Barrow, DPS Board member Herman Davis, Northwestern High School alumni Association President Joe Barber and his wife, and former Central High School All-American linebacker Shawon Respress, who later coached NFL tight end Antonio Gates at Central and is the Executive Director of the Gates-sponsored Opening Gates Residential Treatment Centers, whereof I am the Board President.  After that, I launched into the following prepared speech.  Some of the spoken ad libs are omitted, and a small portion of the written content got skipped over, but what follows in written form faithfully represents 99% of what I said:

As I continue to confront the stalling timidity (or corporate collusiveness?) of various judges who have been so hesitant to do what’s right for Detroit’s schoolchildren—and as I continue to anticipate further School Board and community litigation on our children’s behalf—I face the possible prospect of yet more time as a Superintendent-in-waiting again.  Being at 77 unsure of how much more time God will grant me to wait,  I have now slightly re-formulated the plan for the future of Detroit Public Schools that I shared with the Board and DPS community last June when the Board named me Superintendent on a pro bono and interim basis.  You’ll recall that much of that June plan was shaped in the form of my twenty-three goals for the district—goals that also featured a detailed Implementation Plan.  That plan—and most of those goals—still obtain today. 

At the very heart of the potential revitalization of Detroit’s economic and cultural renaissance is the quality of the Detroit Public Schools, Michigan’s largest school district.  We are all painfully aware that DPS is also the state’s poorest school district—both in terms of its per-pupil allocation and of its high percentage of impoverished students.  We currently educate 50,000 students, and we rightfully should also be educating the other 50,000 (and more) of our city’s remaining resident schoolchildren who are languishing in charters, or in peripheral suburban “open school” districts, or in the so-called “Educational Achievement” Authority (into which fifteen of our schools have been unnecessarily and illegally dumped).  Thousands more of our kids aren’t attending any school at all.  At the center of all this, DPS still clearly sits at the core of systems that are essential to the successful support of our city’s hopefully about-to-reemerge  economy.  I’m going to list twenty crucial initiatives that we in the DPS community must help to  make happen in order for us to be able to assist in causing this crucial economic re-emergence to occur:

First: We can’t wait any longer to ensure that all DPS schools are safe havens for our students.  DPS Police Chief Roderick Grimes and our police officers and security guards are doing a good job in the schools, but we still have some serious safety issues.  (And I know how to almost guarantee that these safety problems can be solved: I encourage you to spread the word to invite me to speak about this and other school-related issues anywhere, at any time.  My home email address is

Second: The entire DPS community must mobilize and militate to petition the Governor, the Michigan Legislature, and the United States Attorney General for them to release the DPS Board and Superintendent from the shackles of emergency management and get us out from under the unwarranted state takeover of 1999.  We also need to do our utmost to get that unconstitutional EM law that Michigan citizens voted to repeal on Nov. 6 overturned once and for all.  Nineteen Ninety-Nine was a year when the district had amassed a $93 million surplus and its test scores were at the state midpoint and rising despite the city’s myriad social problems!  The state didn’t take over Ferndale or Hazel Park or any of the other school districts we were outscoring despite our having social problems that dwarfed those of most other districts—but at that time, people close to then-Governor John Engler were eyeing the $150-billion construction bond that we Detroit voters had just passed and the many resultant lucrative contracts which were soon to be let. All of you know what an abysmal failure the so-called “reform” movement was.  When Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb left DPS ten years later in 2009, he left us a $327 million deficit, and the test scores had become the worst in America.  The Republican majority in our state government has deceived us and divided us against our children’s best interests, so we must all get back together and fight on the same side in this war to save our school district.  Later in this morning’s program, longtime DPS activist Helen Moore—who chairs my Schools Oversight Task Force—will read you a letter from the U.S. Attorney General declaring that Detroiters’ civil rights are being violated and his office is coming to investigate.  

Third: We must petition Lansing and also support litigation to get the fifteen pirated EAA schools back into the DPS fold where they belong—and then make sure that no more Detroit schools are dumped into that failed so-called “state” district ever again.

Fourth: The DPS Board and Superintendent must restore fair collective bargaining for the teachers and other bargaining groups, and we must restore the principals’ right to unionize.  That is a God-given right that was taken away fourteen years ago by Dr. David Adamany, the Detroit school district’s first takeover CEO when he pulled them out of OSAS.  Later in this morning’s program, we will hear from DFT President Keith Johnson about this Fourth Initiative and also relevantly about my Ninth-listed Initiative, to follow. 

Fifth: We must downsize the Central Administrative staff and get them out of the Fisher Building into a currently closed secondary school.

Sixth: We should establish an Office of the Ombudsman to investigate parents’, teachers’, students’, and staff members’ dozens of daily complaints.  I assigned two former DPS administrators—Claude tiller and Bob Thomas—to work pro bono in this capacity, and they served for several months until the Emergency Financial Manager ordered them removed on the basis that their fingerprinting, etc., posed an expense, and that they might need to use district officers and phones and computers (none of which they did)—and yet we fingerprinted 800 volunteer tutors in reading this year and opened other facilities to them and didn’t charge them a dime for any of that. 

I might add that I have other top-level pro bono administrators working for me, including my Chief of Staff, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, my Chief Information Officer, Keith Owens, and my acting Deputy, Wesley Ganson—another former DPS principal who is sitting out in the audience right now.  (Stand up, Wes.)  I need these administrators because the ones the Emergency Financial Manager assigned me—Shirley Mobley-Woods, for example (who is currently Wes’ Board-designated Chief of Staff)—were hired or retained by the EFM or by people he hired, and they are loyal to the EFM, not to me—and thus far they have withheld information from me and either ignored many of my directives or else followed them only after first illegally clearing them with the EFM.  This has been particularly true of Chief Human Resources Officer Vickie Hall, who ignored my order to cease and desist from conducting evaluation reviews, of Chief Communications Officer Diane Jones, who ignored my order to put Board-ordered school name-changes on the DPS Website (including the name-change of East English Village back to Finney—a high school that was named for a family of Detroit abolitionists), of my recent Deputy Superintendent Karen Ridgeway, who advised me last month that there were no more principals meetings scheduled that month when indeed there was one, which Wes and I subsequently crashed; and of recently hired Chief Information Officer Michelle Zdrodowski, who has refused to disseminate several communications to you that I have been obliged to circulate via my pro bono CIO or through other venues.       

Seventh: We must establish a comprehensive professional development system for school leaders and instructors that can really enhance their pedagogical strategies; e.g., project-based, collaborative groups and interactive in-servicing.

Eighth: We need to develop a comprehensive student attendance policy—and do it today.

Ninth: In cooperation with the DFT, the Board and Superintendent need to revisit the hasty and unfair “evaluation” system that put 422 of our best teachers on the street last fall—and then we need to determine a means to rectify as much of that monstrous injustice as possible.

Tenth: We need to bring back many of the high school security guards who were laid off in 2009 and whose close acquaintance with the students prevented a lot of violence before it had a chance to erupt.

Eleventh: We need to establish that the neighborhood high school and its satellite schools will be a 12 months-a-year, 7-days-a-week afternoon and evening anchor of the community as a cooperative enterprise with the city’s Recreation Department, the Detroit Police Department, the public libraries, the health and social service agencies, the churches, and the non-profits and other community groups.  This is a concept that Kevin Smith, DPS EFM Roy Roberts’ Chief of Staff, also espouses.   In allying ourselves with the Detroit Police Department in particular, we must devise ways to battle the out-of-control epidemic of crime and drugs and youth violence that threatens to engulf our schools and our city.  Later in the program, we will hear from Detroit Police Chief Chester Logan, who commanded the 7th Precinct when I was working out of a police mini-station on Chene in 1997-98 directing the HUD-sponsored Detroit SNAP (Safe Neighborhoods Action Plan).  Chief Logan will elaborate on how my principals can support the Anti-Violence Collaborative that he, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, Mayor Dave Bing, Rev. Wendell Anthony, former Deputy Mayor Saul Green, and Mr. Roberts and I met to plan, formulate, and present to the public.

Twelfth: In the immediate meantime, we must ensure that we teach all of our elementary students to read, and we must remediate all of our secondary students who can’t.  (Incidentally, I know how to make these things happen, too—and happen cost-effectively: Hear me every Sunday afternoon on this and related topics at 4:30 on NewsTalk1200.)

Thirteenth: We also have to get our thousands of wandering truants back in school.  (I also know how to make this happen: Read [particularly] my autobiography, A Life on the RUN – Seeking and Safeguarding social Justice [], and also two of my other books, What OLD MEN Know – A Definitive Dictionary and Almanac of Advice and Creative Insubordination – 40 Successful Strategies.  I once was one of those DPS truants who was expelled from high school and did time in the youth home.  When I got out and was transferred to another high school and sent to live with my father, it was DPS coaches who got me straight.  Thanks to them, I ultimately found out what it felt like to outrun Olympic champions.  Earlier, I had also found out what it felt like to get up off the canvas in a boxing ring and win.  It’s called comebacking.  The word is COMEBACKING—which is what our schools and our city now can and must do: COME BACK.)  

Fourteenth: ACCORDINGLY, we have to correct the MISBEHAVIOR of our many misbehavers so they too can achieve a COMEBACK to better behavior and better grades.  (I think we all know why much of this misbehavior is happening, and we know how to stop it from happening.)

Fifteenth: We need to recapture the $250 million that the state owes us and use some of it to upgrade our facilities for all students—not just the 10% in the new and test-in schools.  (Board President LaMar Lemmons and I also have some ideas for this.)

Sixteenth: We must lobby the Legislature to reform the inequitable way in which public school districts in Michigan are funded. 

Seventeenth: We must ensure that all of our students GRADUATE—and that they graduate with significant college credits or associate degrees and clearly-defined career or postsecondary pathways.

Eighteenth: We need to establish partnerships with two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Nineteenth: We also need to secure business or non-profit partners that provide mentors and internships to our high school students—and some of those internships should be full-time for select high school upperclassmen.

Twentieth: We need to construct a comprehensive support system for students beginning in middle school, which is the age level where kids are in the greatest danger of turning off to education.

My vision of a Renaissance City that is educationally and thus resultantly economically successful can become a reality that positions the Detroit Public Schools to render the Revitalization of Detroit an educational beacon and make it an economic, cultural, and social mecca!  However, to make this Platonic ideal REAL will demand visionary and selfless leadership from DPS principals, teachers, older students, and the entire school district community working collaboratively together.  Any of this self-serving divisiveness has to end now, since this divisiveness is also self-destructive, as well as being extremely damaging to our entire community—because as the schools go, so goes the city.  Let me again stress the word selfless here.  There are some of us high-ranking honchos who need to leave our huge egos and our  megalomaniacal hubris outside the door.  (In that regard, I could name a few familiar folks we all know and love whose egos are so enormous that they can’t even get them through the door.)
Rendering this Platonic ideal real will also require deep involvement and committed co-leadership from the business community, foundations, post-secondary institutions, and city, county, and state governments. 

At this point in history, we again unfortunately confront the prospect of having to fight to re-repeal the emergency manager law by getting its unconstitutional replacement law repealed.  The Governor is trying to tell us that this new law is different from the old one, but as I’ve said several times in the News, the Free Press, the Chronicle, the Detroit Native SUN, and on television, one might call a rat a raccoon, but the rat remains a rat.  Therefore, as I embark toward the possible destination of Superintendent-in-exile yet again—Superintendent-in-waiting again—I leave you with the following final summative thoughts: 

Primarily, I think we can all understand and recognize the complex and difficult challenge of our transcendent task of transforming Detroit Public Schools into an early-college school district where all students graduate with significant college credits and a clearly delineated post-secondary and career pathway.  We also need to recognize that there is absolutely no alternative to this DPS transformation if our city is to survive and thrive.  The God-given intellectual and entrepreneurial energy of our students is the very essence of Detroit Public Schools’ potential Revitalization—and thus, our student’s vibrant energy can be the engine of the City of Detroit’s Revitalization.  Despite all of the mercenary meddling and interference from Lansing throughout most of the past fourteen years, DPS still remains uniquely positioned to develop and transform our children’s vital energy to ensure that all of our students will contribute to the rebirth of our once-great city that can become great once again.  However, this transformation and resultant contribution will require nothing less than the radical and aggressive upgrading of the process of teaching and learning, coupled with the radical and aggressive upgrading of our curricula in science, math, social studies, art, music, special education, and most crucially—the LANGUAGE ARTS, in order for us to ensure that all DPS students attain their maximum potential.  (Being a former DPS teacher of English, I have some ideas for upgrading the grammatical and neutralizing the dialectical usages of many DPS students, in order that they may learn to write like Hemingway and speak like a television anchor—and be thus prepared to thrive in an emerging economy.  Also, please don’t be wary of the words radical and aggressive.  Those of you who may have followed my considerably well-publicized career for lo this past half-century know that I’ve been called aggressive and radical many, many times, but radical and aggressive ACTION can be good if it’s applied in a righteous and noble cause—and there is no cause more righteous and noble than the education of our children.)  We must guarantee that our students get the curricular, co-curricular, and social support that is so essential for ensuring their success—and as I’ve said repeatedly, the burden of the success of our school district is a collective responsibility which includes government, business, education, non-profits, and the greater Detroit community.  (And even at my advanced age of 77, I still find this burden and responsibility to be a thrilling and exciting proposition.)  

In closing, let me say to you that Detroit has the human potential for becoming a model for our entire nation.  All of us COMEBACKING Detroiters can illustrate and demonstrate how an urban American city can COME BACK and reinvent itself through the development of a world-class educational system where every single one of its children will learn at a championship level.  After all, Detroit has long been called the City of Champions—as witness Joe Louis, Gordie Howe, Hank Greenberg, Eddie Tolan, Jim Bibbs, Pete Petross, Walt Jenkins, Lou Scott,  Lorenzo Wright, Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Willie Horton, Barry Sanders, Henry Carr, and the great Sugar Ray Robinson.  (I’m going to add my old U.S. teammate Hayes Jones to this list, too—because even though he is a Pontiac native, he broke several world hurdling records representing the old Detroit Varsity Club.)  

Let me wind down this long dissertation with a short poem which I entitled Blue Salt:

My name is Detroit.
I’m a blue-collar town.
Blue salt melts my mid-March snow.
Speedy cars and sprinters spring from me.
In a Motown moment,
I can spit the blues
Right back in a bureaucrat’s eye.
Have you never seen blue salt?
No complex chemistry here—
Only the old color
Of a new sky.

My poem ended my presentation.  Telling the audience they needn’t applaud, I then quickly introduced my former Finney colleague Gloria Cunningham, who gave the principals a brief update on her upcoming newest edition of the excellent Urban Teen Magazine, which she had founded in 2006 with an editorial and reportage staff of Finney students whom we both had taught under the sponsorship of then-Principal Alvin Ward, who is now the district’s Executive Director of Athletics.  Ms. Cunningham’s address was followed by those of DFT President Johnson, DPD Chief Logan, and school activist Moore.  I then waived Item VIII, the open discussion of principal concerns, realizing that the principals would be afraid to air them honestly in the presence of their EFM-appointed supervisors, so I invited them to email or mail them to me in confidence.  I made a few closing remarks and adjourned the meeting at 10:30. 

Immediately following adjournment with most folks still in the auditorium, I called my former star Pershing quarter-miler Reggie Bradford to the microphone and introduced him.  I hadn’t seen him in the audience.  I also had Dr. Shari Rogers say a few words.  I hadn’t seen her, either.  During an evening a month earlier, Dr. Rogers had hosted 500 guests at Detroit’s Gem Theater to see poet Jessica Care Moore and singer Nina Simone perform and to honor Dr. Clarence Jones, the co-author of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Greg Reed, Rosa Parks’ attorney.  Jones and Reed, whom I had hosted on my Sunday show on WCHB, had signed books along with me in the presence of Judge Damon Keith at the law center named for Judge Keith on the WSU campus earlier that afternoon, before the evening program at the Gem.  (At the principals meeting at King, I overlooked introducing Verna Brock, a former fellow director of Team for Justice—so Verna, let me apologize for that thoughtless oversight now.)   

Cc: Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education Tony Miller; Michigan Governor Rick Snyder; Detroit Mayor Dave Bing; Members of the Detroit Common Council; Members of the Detroit Board of Education; Gary Pollard of the WSU Board of Governors; Diann Woodard of the MSU Board of Governors; Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr; DPS EFM Roy S. Roberts; State Schools Superintendent Michael Flanagan; former DPS Superintendent Dr. David Snead; U-M Associate Athletic Director Lloyd Carr; distinguished author and counselor Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (a Denby and WSU alumnus); Univ. of California Professor john a. powell (a Southeastern HS alum); Selected Members of the Third Estate; and Selected Leaders of the Greater Detroit Community


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