Forget the village; it takes a city
There are now 50,000 kids in the Detroit Public School Community District, down dramatically from the nearly a quarter million the public schools once had, but up a few thousand from their low point. I am by no means an expert on elementary and secondary education.
But I do know this:
Every one of those kids should be treated by our city, state, nation and society as if they were potentially more important than any of us Baby Boom and Gen X geezers.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I believe, as Jackie Robinson used to say, that a life matters most in the impact it has had on other lives. I hope I am still making a positive impact.
But to the extent I do, it is largely because I have had a chance to get an education and a career and learn the sheer delight of learning for its own sake, and then learning a profession and making a living. What I am saying is that it is vital that the kids in Detroit Public Schools have the chance to experience those things they need too.
They also need the support to help them get it, as do their parents, many of whom may be disadvantaged themselves. Nearly twenty years ago I talked with the late David Adamany, the Wayne State University president who had become the first emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools.
I remember him telling me that his plan for student success depended on parents taking an active role, getting kids to do homework, for example. This was in the midst of the terrible crack epidemic, when many kids were being raised — to the extent they were at all — by caregivers who didn’t have a clue about what children needed to be successful in school, or how important that was to their success in life. Even some middle class parents don’t know.
That’s why I think the Detroit Public Schools’ Parent Academy, and their concept of faculty and community engagement, is vitally important. Not just for the students, but for all of us. It has become steadily clearer that schools work best when they function as community centers. In some places, they may be the only thing resembling a community there is.
Here’s something else I know. We will all be far more secure, and Detroit can only be truly successful, if kids in the Detroit Public Schools graduate with a real education and some kind of blueprint for a successful life and career, regardless of what that career is.
If we can fix the schools to the point where people feel comfortable that they can move to Detroit and put their kids in the public schools, then Detroit can make it as a city once again.
The Detroit Public School Community district is mostly not there yet. But it has a new and dynamic superintendent who is fighting to get it there. It has people like Sharlonda Buckman, who created and ran the Detroit Parent Network for years before joining the public schools.
Now, she runs a number of programs that include visits by teachers to parents and students in their homes and a “kindergarten bootcamp,” a month-long summer program that helps get kids ready to start school, something more important than we ever realized.
Beckman is fighting to give these kids a future and save Detroit’s own. If there is more exciting or important work on the planet, I don’t know what it could be..