Guest Editorial: Hamtramck public schools are poised for a ‘turnaround’

By Tom Niczay

On April 7, 2011 the Chairman of General Motors Foundation John Montford came to Hamtramck High School. Between 150-200 legislators and Board of Education members along with the media were invited to hear an announcement about an educational initiative called The Turnaround Schools Network.

It was no coincidence that Hamtramck High was chosen to host the event. HHS was deemed the “best prepared” based on a presentation to be part of The Turnaround Schools Network. The presentation was made to the United Way’s Venture Fund by Principal Rebecca Westrate and teachers Theresa Zillich and John Rostek on March 8.

That’s why we were chosen to host this event.

Mr. Montford announced that Hamtramck High School is one of seven high schools that GM has committed $27.1 million over five years through the United Way of Southeast Michigan to help create high performing schools. This is the largest donation ever from GM’s charitable foundation and it’s first targeted toward the United Way’s education efforts. The goal is to improve the graduation rate to at least 80%. Currently the graduation rate at HHS is 62%.

The United Way’s research indicates the following:

• Schools can’t be high performing if their teachers and leaders don’t share a common belief and strategy for success.

• Schools can’t do it on their own. Turnaround partners must work alongside school personnel, and community partners must be aligned to support the vision of high performing schools.

• This can be done and must be done in partnership with unions and district leaders. However, it must be done in a way that creates autonomy and flexibility at each school.

The United Way believes that a school can be high performing if it commits to the following:

• Robust, site based management in which principals have the autonomy, resources and accountability for building high performing schools through a collaborative, decision making process with their teachers and turnaround partner.

• Embedded and consistent professional development through partners who have a proven track record of helping schools becoming high performing.

• Vibrant and collaborative networks of school leaders sharing student performance data and strategies to achieve success across schools and districts.

The United Way is committed to providing the following:

• A Student Development Fund of at least $50,000 per school to help students get and stay on track for graduation.

• A Champions Council which advocates for and helps its school identify resources and breaks down barriers in the way of success.

• A part time liaison between the school and the United Way to coordinate and prioritize community and corporate relationships for the success of the school.

To quote GM North American President Mark Reuss, “this country simply can’t afford to fall any further behind the rest of the industrialized world in educating its citizens.”

Hamtramck High School now becomes part of the NETWORK OF GENERAL MOTORS SCHOOLS OF EXCELLENCE. GM wants to help train students to be ready for the work force and HHS has committed to do whatever is necessary for that to happen.

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