Detroit Community Rallies Around School Improvement Efforts

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Courtesy of United Way of Southeastern Michigan and Rogers Wm. Foster.

Courtesy of United Way of Southeastern Michigan and Rogers Wm. Foster.

More than 250 community leaders, government officials, educators, parents and students discussed turning around the Detroit area’s lowest-achieving schools with Director of Community Outreach Alberto Retana at two local summits Feb. 24, hosted by United Way of Southeastern Michigan’s Greater Detroit Education Venture Fund.

The visits were part of Retana’s community engagement tour throughout the U.S. to strengthen grassroots support for transforming America’s lowest-performing schools, and to inform communities about Title I School Improvement grant funding available for those efforts.

This spring, ED will award states a total of $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement grants to turn around their lowest-performing schools. The funds will be awarded by formula to states, which will then make competitive grants to local education agencies (LEAs). Michigan is eligible to receive $135.9 million to turn around its lowest-performing schools.

Retana said that strong community support is required to ensure success of school transformation efforts.

“It’s not enough to have funding, it’s not enough to have charismatic leaders, and this is not just about opening another charter school,” Retana said to the morning session’s crowd at Detroit’s Cody Academies. “It’s also about community mobilization. We need a movement of people to stand up and say, ‘we will no longer accept low expectations for our children.’”

Retana also brought a similar message to Melvindale High School in suburban Detroit. Both Cody Academies and Melvindale High School are undergoing turnaround efforts supported by funding through the Greater Detroit Education Venture Fund. Both sessions also included panel discussions with educators and students that generated dialogue about what is and isn’t working with their respective transformations.

After the summits, Retana talked with Detroit Public Television about the importance of turning around low-performing schools, successes and challenges, and federal resources available to help.  Watch the interview.