Can Emergency Manager Roy Roberts Fix ‘Disgrace’ of Detroit’s Schools?

As part of a rebranding effort for the Detroit Public Schools, the district has adopted the optimistic slogan of “We’re in,” this year. Cheerleaders and a marching band were on hand at some schools for the opening of classes.

The school district, National Public Radio reports, wants parents to know “this is not the same old struggling school system.”

It’s not the first time leaders of the image-conscious district have tried shaking up its dilapidated image, although previous attempts have not rescued the district from its ailments. Dan Rather Reports documented the spiral and crumbling conditions in May in its “A National Disgrace” report on Detroit Public Schools. It followed up with another segment Tuesday night that examined the district through the eyes of its students.

Meanwhile, NPR profiled the leader of the latest reinvention effort Tuesday, former General Motors executive Roy Roberts, who came out of retirement to accept a position as Detroit’s emergency manager of schools. His first major initiative was the state-led effort to move low-achieving schools into part of a separate district for the weakest schools.

“We’re going to put all kinds of energy behind them,” Roberts told NPR. “We’re going to put more money. There can be different schools. They can be run differently. The principles can take different approaches to education. We’re going to put more money into the classrooms. We’re going to properly train teachers.”

Students? They’re hopeful. They’re also skeptical. They’ve heard promising sound-bytes before. They also know what Rather first reported: the district’s graduation rate hovers around 25 percent.

Deanna Williams, a graduate of the Detroit Public Schools who was followed by Rather and his crew over multiple years, says she’s watching closely. “Change needed to happen; it still does need to happen,” she said in the program’s follow-up report.

She now attends Eastern Michigan University, where she is pursuing a writing career. But Williams still stays in touch with friends in Detroit’s schools.

“One of my friends said there were 40 kids in one of her classes,” sher said. “I was like, ‘Oh, so it hasn’t changed that much then, huh.’”

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