Community Control

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Community Control
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Sep 5, 2010

Detroit Public Schools are opening in a climate of confusion and uncertainty unparalleled in recent years. Although you could not tell it from reading the headlines, the chaos our children are experiencing is the direct result of the mismanagement of the school system by Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb.

Bobb’s high-handed and arrogant efforts to close schools has literally driven away parents and students. Marches, signs, celebrities and t-shirts are no substitute for the kind of serious community conversations we need about the future of education in Detroit.

First, instead of engaging the community in meaningful discussions and decision-making, Emergency Manager Bobb acted like a little dictator, forcing teachers, parents and community leaders to beg to keep schools open. Then he closed many of them anyway. Or he reconfigured them, again without any serious engagement by those who would carry out the programs of these reconfigured schools. In many cases, students and parents were not even aware that the school they used to attend was no longer available to them.

Second, on the first day of classes literally hundreds of teachers do not know where they will be teaching or what they will teach. Instead, teachers without job assignments were told to report to the Hotel St. Regis to see what happens. Other teachers, getting late assignments, are reported to be going to schools that have no record of them.

If Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb were really concerned about our children, he would have met the minimal responsibility of any administrator, to be sure that every class had a teacher, every teacher had the time to prepare for that class and every child knew who their teacher would be long before walking into a classroom.

In response to this situation Keith Johnson, the Detroit Federation of Teachers president, said the process should have been completed two weeks ago. “It’s unconscionable. It’s inexcusable and completely avoidable.”

Steve Wasko, the spokesperson for Robert Bobb, said, “We are trying to accomplish this (teacher assignments) as quickly as possible.”

Likewise, Bobb’s effort to privatize the security system has led to the lockout of the reinstated security guards and a decision to continue to challenge the court ruling reinstating them.

It should be clear to everyone that Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb has failed to meet basic responsibilities. He has not balanced the budget, has not increased enrollment, and he has not created an atmosphere where children can learn and where their welfare is given priority. He has neither the vision nor the inclination to move us toward a process of reimagining education today. Aside from pleasing the foundations that support him, Bobb has shown no capacity to work with anyone in the city.

This serious failure of leadership is completely overlooked by the mainstream media. The Detroit News, reporting on the hundreds of teachers without job assignments, headlines the article “Anxious DPS teachers await job assignments.” The situation is presented as a personality problem of individual teachers rather than as the failure in basic management by Robert Bobb. In a similar way, the News reports on the challenge to the court ruling to reinstate security guards as a money-saving effort and repeats claims of “absenteeism.” Thus the article shifts attention to attacks on union workers without recognizing what is happening within school buildings.

Over the last month, in contrast to this chaotic management, the elected Detroit Board of Education has been working to engage the community in conversations about education. While these are limited steps, they are moving in the right direction.

But the kind of conversation that needs to happen about education cannot be done in a top down way. Along with opening the doors of our schools to our children, this year we have the opportunity to use our schools as community gathering places to discuss what kind of education do we really need. Students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members can be invited to come together to talk about how to create the kind of education that develops our children and our communities.

This is the year for the community to take control of its future.

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