It's time to turn our attention back to the east side of the county, and Willow Run schools.
There has been a little bit of good news from WRCS over the past few months. For one thing, they officially fired their superintendent, Doris Hope-Jackson, and that frees them to move on! In addition, according to the Ypsilanti Courier, Holmes Elementary just won an award, the "2010 Robert and Patricia Muth Excellence in Leadership Award from [the] Middle Cities Education Association, a coalition of 33 urban school districts in Michigan. The annual award honors K-12 schools in Michigan's urban school systems that demonstrate leadership in school improvement, specifically improvements that reflect gains in student achievement." And WRCS actually came to agreement with its teachers' union, and the union gave up big concessions. [I'm not sure the big concessions are good news, but having an agreement certainly is.]
The Big Questions
You might recall that Willow Run was asked to file a deficit elimination plan (for I believe the third year in a row), and that the state accepted it, even though it is predicated--once again--on an increase in enrollment (50 students). For more than a decade, WRCS has lost student population every single year. Count Day is coming up this week. The number of kids that show up on Count Day determines the vast majority of the per-pupil funding for the school year for each district. Accurate projections (even if the numbers go down) are key to balancing the school district budget.
Steve Norton, of Michigan Parents for Schools, once wrote in a comment on this blog that chronically losing students leads to lack of funding which leads to losing students which creates a "death spiral" that is hard to break.
Is it possible that WRCS can push back against a more-than-decade-long trend and increase enrollment this year? We will know later this week, but my sources in the district say "I doubt it."
The Bad News
You might also remember that Willow Run High School was in the bottom 5% of high schools in the state. That's not good, but that's not the bad news part. [Well, really it is the ultimate bad news part; no school wants to be designated Persistently Lowest Achieving.] What I mean is, that's not the bad news I am discussing here. Every high school in that bottom 5% had a chance to compete for additional grant funds that would allow the district to remake the high school. There were four choices:
*turnaround model--replace the principal and 50% of the staff, change governance structure
*transformation model--replace the principal, change instructional methods
*restart model--close the school and reopen it under the guidance of a charter school operator
*close the school
Now, in fairness to Willow Run, the competition for the grants was relatively stiff. According to the Michigan Department of Education Frequently Asked Questions document, in the first round of funding, 108 schools were eligible; 84 schools applied; and only 28 schools would be funded.
But according to my sources in the district, it didn't help that Willow Run applied for a model that required the replacement of the principal, and proposed. . . keeping the principal. Does that make any sense? NO. It's not rocket science, it's grant writing. MDE says, "The award of a grant was based primarily on the merit of the grant application." Typically, you need to meet the grant requirements in order to get the grant. Or really, why bother spending all that time writing the grant?
It doesn't make me too hopeful.
Count day, later this week, will give us some more information.