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First Partnership Districts Realizing Benefits of New Strategies

December 6, 2017

LANSING – Michigan’s 10 Partnership Districts are seven months into their work and already showing benefits to the educators and students in those schools, the Michigan Department of Education reported today.

Helping the districts with data analysis, community partnerships, redesigning building leadership and instruction, and building stronger school culture and climate are some of the initial benefits Partnership Districts have said they have benefited from in the first year of implementation.

“One area of need identified by our data analysis pointed to leadership capacity,” said Benton Harbor Superintendent Shelly Walker. “As a result of the Partnership Agreement, one of our local businesses has ‘loaned’ us a highly-skilled employee who supports the district's work in many, many areas. This employee collaborates with our leadership team and has proven invaluable in areas such as staffing and interviewing; student supports such as math interventions and LEGO robotics, communications and more.

“Having a business perspective infused into our planning and assessment of our major endeavors has been a great asset,” Walker added. “Participation as a Partnership Agreement district has been beneficial on many levels and this is just one example that truly represents the essence of what a partnership should entail.”

State Superintendent Brian Whiston and Michigan Department of Education (MDE) officials began discussions in March with 10 school districts to develop the Partnership Agreements with the goal of improving achievement levels at the lowest-performing schools in Michigan. The 10 districts are home to 38 schools that the state School Reform Office (SRO) had identified for possible closure. The agreements all were finalized by April.

In these Agreements, the districts have agreed to partner with their local intermediate school district, Michigan Department of Education, state and local social services and education experts, and others in their communities to provide each school with the needed resources to push improvements.

By entering into this Partnership Agreement, the threat of the school having to close at the end of the school year was avoided. The progress of each of the identified schools will be monitored and given assistance when and where it is needed. There are timeframes set in the Agreements when each school needs to show measurable improvements.

Pontiac Schools Superintendent Kelley Williams and other Partnership District leaders identified a number of supports that have benefitted their districts through their Partnership Agreements. Additional support from MDE and other state agencies have helped address district needs, and District Liaisons assigned by MDE have been utilized as sounding boards and share ideas for new and innovative systemic approaches to governance, leadership, and instruction.

“We’ve received support in analyzing data to share with our community partners,” Williams said. “More robust and honest conversations are being held between district partners regarding student achievement, without fear of reprisal. We are encouraged to seize the opportunity to try new ways of thinking and new ways to implement academic programs.”

Muskegon Heights Superintendent Rane Garcia expressed how important the work with their community partners has been at the classroom and student levels.

“One of the pieces that we have been able to complete this year due to the support of the members of our partnership group is creating environments for our students that are sustained beyond staff turnover,” Garcia said. “Through partner donations and some district funding, we have been able to create elementary themed-rooms and included classroom libraries, in anticipation of staff turnover. 

“In the past, (departing) staff would pack up their room, sometimes mid-week or mid-year and the kids would return to a bare, empty classroom,” Garcia explained. “The students felt angry and abandoned – justifiably so. With this new idea, we have purchased the items in the room so that when staff turnover happens, the teacher leaves, the room remains primarily intact.” 

Assistance with school improvement plans and collaborations amongst building principals; developing internal monitoring systems to monitor student and school progress toward their goals; and helping instill more stability and confidence with the staff and students are other benefits local leaders highlighted.

“The ultimate goal is to have student achievement improve in all of these districts,” Whiston said. “This initial work is laying the foundation for stronger schools, stronger educators, and greater success by the students. It’s been encouraging to watch the districts making progress.”

In October, the Michigan Department of Education announced that it will be entering into discussions with seven new school districts to develop Partnership Agreements with the goal of improving achievement levels at those struggling schools.

“What we’ve seen in the first Partnership Districts exhibits the positive opportunity to work together under the leadership of the local superintendent and the local board of education toward improving student achievement and outcomes,” Whiston said.