"Our children are not failures." That was the theme of a public forum Wednesday, February 1, on the possibility that the state might close two of Kalamazoo's public schools.
Kalamazoo School Superintendent Michael Rice says the district has no plans to close either the Washington Writer's Academy or Woodward School for Technology and Research. He told the well-attended forum in Chenery Auditorium, "We're not planning for closure; we're planning for continued education."
The state's School Reform Office included both schools in a list of 38 around Michigan that could be closed because of low student achievement test scores over several years. But to applause from parents and local elected officials, Rice questioned the state's legal authority to close any school. He and others who spoke during the meeting said that decision should lie with local elected school boards.
Rice says the Kalamazoo district is still paying off bonds sold in 2010 to build the new Washington Writers Academy, which opened in 2015. He says the district has also invested $6 million upgrading Woodward. Rice says both schools have shown significant progress in moving more of their students to grade-level achievement, or helping them get much closer to the mark. But Rice says schools are more than the sum of their test results.
Washington Writer's Academy Principal Lanisha Hannah-Spiller said her school has a "stellar, hardworking staff" dedicated to helping students succeed. Hannah-Spiller says, "We are Washington Writer's Academy, and we are here to stay." Officials from the School Reform Office are scheduled to visit both Kalamazoo schools next week for a "site review." Rice says it's the first time the agency has visited either. Woodward Principal Frank Rocco says the SRO will find that it has made a mistake. Rocco says the entire process is flawed.
Many at the forum said the SRO should be closed, not schools trying to educate children in high-poverty areas with inadequate resources. A bill making its way through the State Senate would abolish the SRO. Rice says the state should give schools in poor areas significantly more funding. And he says the SRO has misused the relatively new MSAT achievement test to penalize schools.
Rice and others at the forum said closing the schools would hurt kids, families, school employees, and neighborhoods. Rice says the local community knows better than the state what its schools need and how they're performing. Rice also criticized Gov. Rick Snyder's decision in 2015 to move the SRO from the independent Michigan Department of Education to the State Department of Management, Technology, and Budget, which reports directly to the governor's office. He says that put "non-educators" in charge of determining what's best for the state's students.