Detroit School Board Candidate for the 5th District, Sandra D. Hines, with Dr. Meeks in the women's march against violence on Saturday, July 7, 2007.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
New Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Connie Calloway surprised residents when she announced she was hiring an independent analyst to re-evaluate the district's school closure plan -- which has inflamed the city with debate and conspiracy theories.
If this move is a sign that Calloway will slow or back down from aggressively pursuing closings, we urge her to stand strong.
Such a retreat will only lead to the district's collapse. The school system has to close dozens more schools -- not only to avoid bankruptcy and another state takeover, but to save its dwindling resources and focus them on teaching and other reforms to improve its surviving schools.
This message has not gotten through to Detroiters. Parents across the city's neighborhoods suspect the closings are not needed at all.
This sentiment has been apparent during the primary election for Detroit's school board members. The primary will be held Tuesday. Some candidates, reflecting the view in their neighborhoods, are running on this premise.
Sandra Hines, 53, is among them. "I don't believe it (closing schools) has anything to do with low enrollment or buildings in disrepair," she says. "I believe there is some larger plan at work to dismantle the schools by people who want get rich off the backs of the children of Detroit."
Like many Detroiters, Hines is convinced some in the city's power structure want to close schools to rent or sell them. And she worries Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's talk of the need for more school choice is really a power grab.
"We thought we were going to get comprehensive school reform when we elected this school board," adds Hines, a candidate for District 5 on the school board. "And instead, now $46 million is missing. They could have used the missing money to keep schools open," she says, referring to an investigation into possible embezzlement.
Such conspiracy theories are running rampant, eating up residents' and leaders' energy and attention.
Clearly, school leaders have failed to convey the urgency and necessity of the closings. The district's real enemies are corruption, lack of political consensus and the loss of 10,000 students a year spurred by dismal achievement rates and poor service.
Calloway needs to play the role of effective communicator, and build a broader consensus for closures and dramatic new reforms.
And her new school board needs to help her.
It can start by taking a cue from Kehinde Briggs, who is among the grassroots board candidates who argue board members and district officials need to get out of their downtown offices and go to the community directly -- at barbecues and churches -- to make the case clearer for the closures.
"They tell people they need to make cuts, but they don't explain how much, and where and why," says Briggs, who is trying to stop the closing of his daughter's school, Redford High. "Once the community understands certain things, then the community will support them."
Ultimately, the closings slated for this fall are simply a starting point for change. The end point will be when the school system closes its urban-suburban achievement gap -- and truly prepares its students for the knowledge economy era. School leaders needs to make that clear.
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