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Dr. John Telford

There have been five key moments when the state’s destruction of the Detroit Public Schools could have been prevented.

The first key moment, of course, was when then-Governor John Engler decided to take DPS over in 1999.  At that time, DPS enjoyed a $100-million surplus and its student test scores were at the state midpoint and rising under Superintendent Eddie Green.  DPS students were outscoring suburban neighbors despite our poverty-induced problems which don’t exist in Birmingham or Grosse Pointe. Had someone been able to talk Lansing’s Republican government out of that unwarranted 1999 takeover, we’d be thriving today.

The second key moment the destruction of DPS could have been prevented was when Ken Burnley, the DPS CEO hired by the non-elected Board of Education that had replaced the elected Board brought in Irving Petross, me, and Walt  Jenkins to be executive directors supervising the principals.  Burnley listened to the wrong people and ignored our advice–and his Chief Instructional Officer subsequently fired all three of us. Burnley almost immediately re-hired Petross, and a year later he brought me back to become the Executive Director of Community Affairs, but I got fired again the following year when I protested his Chief of Staff’s forbidding my fourteen Parent/Community Liaison Officers to talk to community leaders without her permission.   I had been instrumental in appointing the Finney High School principal, who had worked under me when he was the acting Principal of Western International High School, and he brought me to Finney to head up the school’s curriculum department  between 2003 and 2008.  In 2006, we briefly got our elected Board back.

Resultantly, the third key moment occurred when I became one of the twelve applicants for the superintendency who made the initial cut from dozens of applicants, but I was denied an interview, and a lady from a tiny district in Missouri got the job.  The erudite new Board was inexperienced, and their new Superintendent proved ineffective and was fired within the year.  Soon thereafter, the state took DPS over again, and I left to become Superintendent of the Madison Schools, returning in 2012 as a new elected DPS Board’s chosen Superintendent under state-imposed emergency financial mismanagement.

When Michigan voters overturned Public Act 4 (the detested emergency manager law), the fourth key moment when the schools could have been rescued became imminent, but in 2013 Lansing undemocratically re-enacted that law, re-naming it “Public Act 426,” and the Emergency Financial Manager whom a judge had ordered to co-administrate the district with me became the unilaterally powerful Emergency Manager, promptly disempowered the good elected Board, and fired me.

The fifth key moment came most recently when the state allowed us to elect our own Board again (albeit one hampered by the monitorship of a state-imposed “financial review commission”) and empowered this newest Board to choose its own Superintendent.  Applicants included River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman, former Benton Harbor Superintendent and Ombudsman under my Superintendency Claude Tiller, and current Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather.  It inadvisedly failed to hire Coleman, and it denied Tiller and Meriweather interviews.  Instead, it offered the job to Eli Broad Foundation awardee Nikolai Vitti, a superintendent in Jacksonville, Florida who will need to bring our  65 Priority schools out of state-engendered Priority status within three years if this new state-created “Detroit Public Schools Community District” is to foil Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ intent to charter all our schools and thereby finalize DPSCD’s  demise irrevocably.   If Dr. Vitti isn’t a “Trojan Horse” of the charter-supportive Eli Broad, he may just be the man to save our schools from a rapacious chartering conglomerate.  A local research-based, field-proven program called Two Sigma will assist him, along with a handful of us activists who for the past seventeen years have crusaded to save our schools.

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