“My son is reading everything now. He is reading at a sixth-grade level. His grades have gone up and he is a different kid now. His behavior has really improved and it’s due to the structure at the school.”
Parents and students are speaking enthusiastically about their experience with the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan (EAA), the new public system of schools whose mission is to change the paradigm for how education is delivered to urban students. The system opened in September 2012 with 15 of Detroit’s lowest-achieving schools.
There are many qualities of EAA direct-run schools that are different from traditional schools including longer school days and a longer school year, and the student-centered learning approach. But one of the most significant changes, according to many students and parents, is the leadership in the schools.
The EAA partnered with the Harvard University Graduate School of Education last year to conduct an extensive nationwide search for principals before the start of the school year. The same process was used in hiring teachers. With new leadership, students have not only grown academically but also behaviorally.
“The new structure at Brenda Scott is just tremendous,” said Sharon Reed-Thompson, a parent and volunteer at Brenda Scott Elementary/Middle School.
“My son completed third grade last year and couldn’t read. At the start of this year I said I would give the EAA structure a week and see how it went. It only took a week for me to realize what great things were going to happen for the students,” she added.
“My son is reading everything now. He is reading at a sixth-grade level. His grades have gone up and he is a different kid now. His behavior has really improved and it’s due to the structure at the school. The school couldn’t ask for a better principal, administrative staff or teachers. They are wonderful,” Reed-Thompson said.
Marques Stewart, Brenda Scott principal, said that he solicits feedback from parents and students often to get a full understanding of their perceptions.
“It is important to establish a positive culture from the start if we are really going to help our students learn. Establishing a positive culture has been one of our number one priorities as a staff through building relationships with students, parents and the community.
“Now that we have a more positive culture in place, student learning is on the rise and all students have taken ownership for their learning,” Stewart said.
It’s not only the staff and parents who are seeing changes. The students’ experiences have changed and they see their classmates behaving in a new way.
Faith Young, 12, said that the changes have helped her and other students learn more. “I see kids learning more and behaving better. Kids who misbehave get in trouble and the rest of us keep learning at our own pace,” Young explained.
Her classmate, Kannetha Stainback, 12, agreed that students’ behavior has transformed. “I’ve never seen teachers communicate with the kids before and they really do now. That makes it different because it keeps the kids under control. Mr. Stewart is always in the hallways making sure everyone is behaving. I didn’t see my old principal in the hallways,” she said.
Reed-Thompson said she has been a parent volunteer every year at the school but could only handle a few hours at a time of being in the school before.
“Now I’m there eight or nine hours a day. There are a lot of the same students that were there previous years but their behavior is so much better. I see it all firsthand when I am there. Mr. Stewart goes to the classrooms and observes the teachers and students. He talks with them in the hallway. And the rest of the staff cares just as much as he does. It wasn’t like that before.”
Changes are also visible at Nolan Elementary/Middle School where 33 percent of students already have shown a year or more growth in reading and math and suspensions have reduced 50 percent since last year.
Nolan Principal Angela Underwood said that her students, and parents, are engaged in what goes on at the school. The community proved that when they came together to remove nearly 39,000 pounds of trash from the school as part of a beautification effort. Underwood has established 65 community partnerships for Nolan and acquired 150 volunteer mentors that work with the parents and students.
The school also has 13 clubs that students may participate in each week during an exploratory period at the end of the day or after school, and they plan to add more programs in June.
“If a child who has been labeled as having special needs since his first experience in school walks up to me after taking an assessment with tears streaming down his cheeks and says ‘Ms. Underwood, I didn’t know I ever had it in me’ because he knows he has just shown two years academic growth in reading and math only six months into the school year, that is affirmation enough for me to know that what we are doing is worthwhile,” Underwood said.
Reed-Thompson said she recommends EAA schools to everyone after seeing her son grow so much since September. “I wouldn’t say that things are different. That doesn’t even begin to explain it. The way that the administration has been able to get a handle on things is remarkable,” she said. “This is a tremendous turnaround. I have never seen structure in a school like this before. I wouldn’t go anywhere else for my child’s education.”
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