‘When we’re done with you, you will have options’

Rosewood Academy would focus on math, science, technology

Constance Harvey and Patricia Scott
Constance Harvey, left, and Patricia Scott are longtime public school educators and administrators who are now working to open a public charter school in northeast Detroit.

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of occasional articles about people and organizations that would like to open public charter schools in Michigan but are stymied by the legal cap on university-authorized schools.)

When Patricia H. Scott took a small group of youngsters to Sea World recently, they splurged on a helicopter ride.

It was only a 10-minute flight, but it was enough to prompt one of her young charges to tell her later, "I want to be a helicopter pilot."

A former school principal, Scott seized on the teachable moment.

You can be a helicopter pilot, she told the boy. What kind of helicopter do you think you would like to pilot? Answering that would require looking up information on helicopters. And, she continued, you'll need to learn math and science in order to drive such a complicated vehicle. You'll need to know about things like velocity and altitude.

Recounting the story later, Scott used it to make the point that students often become enthusiastic about learning because of real-life experiences.

"It's those experiences you give to children that whet their appetites," she said. "We've got to expose children to things they can get excited about."

That's one of the things she and her colleagues would emphasize if they could move ahead with plans to open The Rosewood Academy of Science, Mathematics and Technology, a proposed public charter school for sixth- through twelfth-graders in northeast Detroit.

"We need to show them how the things we teach them are relevant," Scott said.

So far, like dozens of charter schools in Michigan, Rosewood Academy exists only on paper. Its development team has put together a detailed plan covering curriculum, school structure, finances and governance, but they cannot open a school without permission from an authorizer, due to Michigan's legislatively imposed cap on university-authorized charters.

Their best chance lies with Grand Valley State University, which has told Scott and Constance Harvey, the development team leader, that Rosewood Academy has made it into the running for one of two available openings.

Capitol Rally

Charter school parents, students, teachers and advocates are gathering at the State Capitol Building in Lansing on Sept. 24 to rally for action on education reform.

Organizers will urge the Legislature to pass bills that would address failing schools, provide new public school choices and create alternative routes to teacher certification.

They keynote speaker will Kevin Chavous, a Washington, D.C. attorney and leading national advocate for school choice.

Education officials in Michigan have said that adopting legislation on education reform is key to state efforts to obtain federal education incentive funds.

Rosewood will compete with four other prospects for the right to launch a school, Harvey said. It's both encouraging and disheartening to be in the top tier, she told Michigan Education Report, comparing the charter school waiting list to an organ transplant waiting list. For every recipient chosen, another promising applicant will be turned down, she said.

REMOVING 'BAGGAGE'

Obtaining a charter is only the first of the challenges Harvey and Scott anticipate. Both have years of experience in public schools - Scott as a principal in three public school districts, including Detroit Public Schools, and one public charter school, and Harvey as a teacher and guidance counselor. They have seen firsthand the academic and nonacademic issues facing Detroit children.

The women anticipate that many children who enroll in Rosewood will come from single-parent, low-income families with no history of family members attending college. They also may have health, family or emotional problems that get in the way of learning, Scott said.

The school would address those issues in a myriad of ways: linking students and parents with community services; creating a safe, structured environment; regular communication with parents; offering academic support like tutoring and online instruction; sponsoring nonacademic activities like sports and clubs; and making sure students have positive adult role models.

"If there's something distracting you from being ready to learn, we're going to offer those kinds of services that help you deal with those issues," Scott said. "There is a way to not let this baggage consume you."

Their written application pledges that students who enroll in Rosewood will be challenged with a rigorous college preparatory curriculum focused on math, science and technology, and that 90 percent of them will be ready for trade school, community college or university enrollment after high school.

"We're saying these kids can learn advanced math and science," Scott said. "When we're finished with you, you will have options. You will be college material."

The job market is trending toward occupations that call for hard sciences and technology skills, Harvey said, pointing to the medical field and information technology as examples.

The development team modeled the school after the Advanced Math & Science Academy charter school in Massachusetts, Harvey said, which posts some of the highest scores in that state on standardized tests.

"They are phenomenal," she said.

Advanced Academy, which opened in 2005, describes itself as a school that promotes creative teaching and active learning, and that offers a tougher curriculum than the typical public school. It currently enrolls sixth- through tenth-graders, but will expand to serve juniors and seniors in coming years. Similarly, Rosewood would begin with sixth- through eighth-graders, then expand.

Harvey and Scott believe that a small, safe, technology-oriented middle and high school combination will look attractive to area parents, as will the location. More than 30 buildings have been closed by Detroit Public Schools in northeast neighborhoods in recent years, they said, and Rosewood would give many parents a local choice.

They also believe they will attract teachers who would enjoy working in an environment where they have significant academic freedom and flexibility in exchange for accountability.

"We don't want rubber stamp classrooms," Harvey said.

Most of the existing public high schools in the area where Rosewood would be located have been identified by the state for years as needing academic improvement, have graduation rates of less than 70 percent, or both. One exception is Cass Technical High School, a DPS magnet school where enrollment is based on admissions testing.

"You can see that this is an area where parents need an option," Harvey told members of the Michigan State Board of Education when she and Scott addressed them at a September meeting. "We're here today to ask you to help us charter this school."

CHARTER CHANGES

The charter school environment in Michigan has changed in recent months, Scott and Harvey agreed. Two bills addressing "failing schools" are under review in the state Legislature, one that would allow parents and teachers in failing schools to become a "neighborhood school" independent of their local district, and one that would allow a state-level reform expert to require changes at failing schools or shift them to charter status.

In addition, the founders of two of metro Detroit's biggest charter operators — Doug Ross of the University Preparatory Academy schools and Steve Hamp of Henry Ford Academy — said recently they are talking with charter heavyweights YES Prep and KIPP about opening charter schools in Detroit.

Who would authorize those charters and what that would mean to other applicants now on the waiting list is still uncertain.

State officials have acknowledged that some type of education reform movement is needed in Michigan if the state expects to receive any additional federal stimulus dollars for schools.

"We've got lots of questions about that," Scott said about the varied plans. "Money shouldn't be the motive for reform."

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Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Michigan Education Report, the Mackinac Center’s education policy journal. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that Michigan Education Report is properly cited.