September 2, 2012 - By Chastity Pratt Dawsey Detroit Free Press Education Writer
• Video: Inside Jalen Rose Leadership Academy
• Picture Gallery: http://bit.ly/JRLAPictureGallery
Detroiter Talia Flowers sat calmly while her son’s future rested in a container the size of a tissue box.
Flowers and 14-year-old son, Alaye, were in the auditorium of an old elementary school that had been transformed into a charter high school last fall. On this spring day, one student — only one — would get a chance to enter 10th grade at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.
Flowers was here for a lottery — 10 students on the waiting list were hoping for a fall 2012 seat in the school founded by Rose, a former NBA player and University of Michigan “Fab 5″ basketball star. The spot opened up when a student already enrolled left.
Flowers wanted to get her son out of Detroit Public Schools. At his current school, Cody High, the freshman would wait every day inside the building until his ride came to pick him up at dismissal, fearful of the gang fights that made the campus a tinder box, fearful of what lurked around the dozens of abandoned homes that surround the school.
This small charter high school promised her son hope — a school that Rose opened in his boyhood neighborhood, a stable area of small brick homes on the city’s northwest fringe.
The college scholarships he offered weren’t attacking the problem at the root. So Rose opened the charter high school in fall 2011.
Rose’s celebrity attracted big donations, as well as sponsorships from Chrysler Jeep, which adopted the school after an employee commended it.
For parents like Flowers, the school represented a way out of a district that has been too bad for too long. Others say a city that has had the worst test scores in the nation has to give experimental schools like this a try.
As the lottery box was shaken up on that day, the shuffling could be heard at the back of the silent room.
While other parents chatted with each other and the staff, Flowers was stoic. Until the name of the child was called: “Alaye Flowers.”
“Yaaay!” the mother belted out, raising one arm triumphantly in the air. “I want him to learn as much as he can. I want him to start his own business when he grows up; I want him to be a leader,” Flowers said of Alaye.
Flowers — and her son — had won.
But what did they really win?
They won a way out of a gasping urban school district that has lost 100,000 students in a decade and where less than 1% of high-schoolers test as college-ready. They won a seat in the first charter school to start from scratch with help from Excellent Schools Detroit, a coalition of local education, government, community and philanthropic leaders formed in 2010. Excellent Schools Detroit vowed to raise $200 million to replace Detroit’s troubled and shrinking school system with a new “system of schools” with up to 70 new schools.
Excellent Schools Detroit includes some local powerhouses — the Skillman Foundation, United Way for Southeastern Michigan and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Jalen Rose’s academy is part of a national trend in urban education whereby state takeovers of school boards and closures of traditional public schools are leading to a rapid expansion of start-up charter schools. Thirty-one new charter schools are expected to open in Michigan this fall, 10 in Detroit.
Led by New Orleans, where 70% of kids are in charters, Detroit ranks third in charter school population with 37% of kids in charters. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Mo., also are turning to new charter schools to try to improve low scores and high dropout rates.
The Free Press visited Rose’s school for much of 2012 — it recesses only in August. The months of unfettered access showed a school where small classes and one-on-one teaching stoked higher expectations among students, and a business partnership with Jeep provided eye-opening experiences and money beyond the $800,000 in start-up funds provided by Michigan Future, an education nonprofit that is one of the partners in the coalition. Rose, now an ESPN commentator, also donated “six figures,” though he won’t reveal an exact number.
As president of the board at the school that bears his name, Rose travels to Detroit at least once a month from his home in Los Angeles, where he operates Three Tier Entertainment, a production company, or from Bristol, Conn., where he is often in the ESPN studio. Having ascended to a high- income bracket, the father of two said he wants to give low-income kids from his hometown a quality education they could not afford.
“We’ve got to get out of the blue-collar mentality,” Rose said of Detroit. “I think these are the kids that are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, the Excellent Schools Detroit partner that is providing start-up grants to up to 35 new high schools by 2018, said schools like Rose’s represent the future of high school education in the city.
“The city of Detroit is going to be the closest thing to a pure marketplace as anywhere in the country for K-12 education,” he said. “You’re going to end up with a zillion different models. The hope is that everyone has the same achievement standards.”
Parents are attracted to the new school’s small class sizes, safe atmosphere, longer school year and caring staff.
However, the new school met some challenges in its inaugural year: Most of the 120 ninth-graders who comprised the entire school its first year had low scores on an ACT preparation exam at the start and end of the year; the building was inadequate; money was tight; students sorely needed mentoring to develop socially; staff turnover was high, and the curriculum didn’t meet expectations. (Come back to the Free Press on Monday for more on the school’s curriculum.)
A test of patience
Freshman Brendyne Shelton represents the new school’s most pressing challenges.
The 15-year-old is well-known at the school. Usually it’s for his skills at center and forward positions on the basketball team. But one particular winter morning, it’s because he’s throwing food at classmate Daezha Coves during lunch. And he quickly finds himself nose to nose with her boyfriend, Patrick Harbin Jr., a tall and accomplished wrestler.
Kids quiet to watch.
Brendyne often uses his popularity to negatively influence peers. “If Brendyne says something is cool, it’s cool,” says history teacher Taylor Casarez. “We try to get him to use his powers for good and not evil.”
Brendyne is a problem — and he knows it. He starts arguments regularly. He doesn’t respect girls. He viciously back-talks the women on staff. On this day, he had no reason to pick a fight with Daezha and knew squaring off with Patrick could mean suspension — again.
“I just didn’t care,” Brendyne later said.
But the confrontation didn’t escalate into a fistfight. The fact that he let matters go only so far earned him a lunch with Rose at a nearby McDonald’s. At 6 feet 2, Brendyne is big for his age and could be viewed as a threat on the streets of Detroit, Rose said. But Rose saw him as a child who needed guidance.
Brendyne’s route to the school is full of an all-too common urban pathos.
At DPS’ Murphy Elementary Middle, Brendyne had fifth-grade skills, but still was sent through to high school, said his mother, Kendra Shelton, 34.
“He was bigger than most of the teachers,” Shelton said, “so they couldn’t have him around all of the smaller kids.”
His mom attributes his bad attitude to growing up in the poverty-stricken Brightmoor neighborhood on the far west side.
“The kids are not looking at your report card. If you’re not tough, they’re going to swallow you up.”
Brendyne was suspended several times during the first two months at Jalen Rose and was on the cusp of expulsion. Shelton broke down into tears in the principal’s office.
“Mentally, I was just tired,” she said. “They were like, ‘Back off, Mom, and let us do this.’ “
The boy who sat across from Rose at McDonald’s was an educator’s biggest test: a student who didn’t care enough to give his best. Rose asked the boy to do something he has been unprepared to do: excel.
“I think he was a young man that probably has been failed by the system. To get to the ninth grade but read and do math at the levels that he is reading and doing math at … is almost embarrassing,” Rose said this spring. But despite several suspensions, Rose did not expel Brendyne.
Instead, the school’s co-founder, native Detroiter and businessman Michael Carter, took Brendyne as a mentee. Carter lives in Tennessee, but the two talk at least once a week and text each other often.
The school also set up Brendyne with free counseling at its partner school, University of Detroit Mercy.
“Our job is to grow each young man, each young woman so they can take pride in what they are and be a success story,” said Rose, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in management studies.
If the individualized attention doesn’t work, though, it’s over for Brendyne.
“I’m investing my time, my energy and my money,” Rose said. “There has to be a standard of excellence.”
Brendyne is not an anomaly. Rose’s students have the same demographic issues as the rest of the city — 85% come from low-income households .Most of the freshman class tested two to three years below grade level in reading and math — some did worse — on diagnostic tests when they started the school year.
Casarez, a first-year teacher fresh out of the University of Michigan, says for students to exceed the state average on the ACT, they will have to study harder and better. “Twenty-one (on the ACT) is not so much a number as it is a lifestyle,” he said.
Rooms do double duty
One of the biggest challenges is that the new school is located in a small, old building near 8 Mile Road and the Lodge Freeway. It’s hard to find an intact building in Detroit that will suit a high school, so new schools often have to make facilities adjustments to meet their needs.
Midday, the screeching sound echoing through the new school is the noise of students dragging chairs and tables from classrooms to the lunchroom, also known as the “cafenasium.” That’s the school’s word for the 40-by-60-foot gym that doubles as a cafeteria.
The furniture is blue and yellow — the school colors and those of the University of Michigan, where Rose was one of the “Fab 5″ basketball players who made history as freshmen when they led U-M to the NCAA championship game in 1992.
Besides lacking a lunchroom, the school has no locker room or showers — yet. The dance class met in a former office. Kids cleaned their science tools in the restrooms, leaving behind fetal pig parts, because the science room has no sinks.
The only sport at the school is basketball, and the team has no home games because the gym is too small.
In the summer, the heat was stifling. School was called off several days until portable air-conditioners could be installed.
Operation Graduation, which paid $450,000 for the former DPS building and spent about $1 million on fixes, is taking out a $5-million loan to build a 30,000-square-foot classroom addition and gymnasium to the building. Construction is scheduled to start this fall.
But the building woes do not deter parents.
Shalon Washington Goldsby, the PTSA president, drives her son from Warren because Rose put his money and reputation on the line.
“Things are going to gradually come” she says of the building.Kendra Shelton, Brendyne’s mom, is more blunt, saying the one-on-one attention offered at the new school is more important than its facility limitations.
“We don’t have anywhere to go. The other (Detroit) schools are already failing. Sending my son there, that was definitely signing his death certificate or his prison papers.”
At the start of the school year, laptops were assigned to every student to use online curriculums. Most classes included Internet projects — from searching on the Internet for tracks in music class to creating a school promotional video, to watching documentaries on YouTube for history and English class.
By midyear, many of the computers were broken or needed repairs after months of daily handling by students. The school didn’t have the money to fix them, so fewer technology-based lessons were assigned during the last trimester. A technology contractor was hired for the next school year.
Rose’s celebrity and connections differentiate this new school from others — more than $1 million in donations have come in, including the six-figure donation from Rose and a $100,000 pledge from NBA legend Isiah Thomas. Jeep gave $100,000 in scholarships, and provides year-round financial support. Several foundations also have poured in money.
But despite donations, money is a problem. That’s mostly because the school spent more of its budget on hiring than an average school would in order to have a class size of 10 students per teacher in English and math classes, said N. Kendell Walton, the financial consultant to Operation Graduation, the school’s management company.
In May, the school was looking at a $7,000 shortfall for the month because of unforeseen building expenses, Walton told the school’s board of directors.
That’s when founders, friends and family came in handy. The school held a private party at the home of one of its board members, businessman Dennis Archer Jr., son of the former mayor. About 40 people came, raising $12,000 in donations to help pay bills.
Building social skills
The kids know that the school has a different kind of approach, that they are pioneers.
“We guaranteed not to fail,” Shamiya Estell, 15, said at lunch one day. “They have to let you do your work over if you fail.”
Shamiya and her friend Jayda Dukes, 15, wear attitudes like accessories to their blue school blazers. They were involved in numerous altercations with girls and each other, including one where their screams at each other of “stripper!” and “hooker!” echoed through the sparse hallway.
The school has more boys than girls, but the girls fought far more often than the boys. With words and sometimes blows. In the halls and over Facebook and Twitter. The first person ever expelled from the new school — and the second — was a girl.
“Why do they fight? Over ‘he-said-she-said’ and boys,” said Pamela English, the vice president of academics — commonly known as assistant principal.
As is the case in most schools, Rose’s new school had to find ways to improve kids socially, in areas such as conflict resolution, etiquette and discipline, to foster career readiness.
To deal with its “mean girl” problem, the school started a mentorship group called Jewels that included teachers and about a dozen girls. The Jewels were the girls who constantly fought and bickered — including Jayda and Shamiya.
By the end of the second trimester, Jayda left the school.
But after a few sessions of conflict resolution in the Jewels program, Shamiya started to speak more standard English and less sassy-girl.
The small student body spends too much time together to tolerate constant girl fights, she now says.
“It’s long hours and long days. … We had to learn to be friends,” Shamiya said.
Mentoring is key to social development at the school.
Ten volunteers from Jeep volunteer one afternoon a month.
They help kids like Brandon Lundy. Likable and humble, the basketball player and school emissary is expected to plan a campaign for class president. But for now, he needs to learn to manage his time, said his mentor, Rakuya Artis, a Chrysler manager.
Artis gave him a calendar, and Brandon has filled it out.
“When you start mapping out the future, the improvements will come,” she told him in a classroom after school.
They discussed a chapter on planning from “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” then eased into real-life conversation. She told him to take initiative around the house to prevent his mom from nagging.
Artis is a world-class manufacturing manager at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly plant. Meeting with Artis puts a face to the place Brandon wants to get to — post-college career success. And she gives him one-on-one instruction on how to get there.
“I got faith in this school,” says Brandon, who wants to be a registered nurse. “My mentor helped me to put my priorities in order.”
Corporate donations — as well as those from nearly a dozen foundations — add much-needed exposure and experiences to develop the students socially.
Every month, Rose’s students take a field trip thanks to these donations to places such as career day at Comerica Park and a courtroom. Jeep sponsored trips that exposed students to places none had ever been. They went to the swanky auto show preview charity gala in January; the Jeep design facility, where they met Ralph Gilles — the African American who led the design of the Chrysler 300, and a basketball camp in Las Vegas hosted by members of the USA Olympic team.
“What we’ve done is empowered them to see beyond where they are today, to really look with conviction to what a future really could be,” said head of Jeep advertising, Kim Adams House, also a mentor.
At the basketball camp, the pros gave a “stay-in-school” speech. But more important, kids got to rub shoulders — literally — with young black men who have everything to lose and nothing to gain from fighting or breaking the rules.
“I look up to Kevin Durant. He’s respectful; you never see him get mad,” said Brendyne, who had never boarded a plane before. “That’s how I want to be.”
Turnover is a challenge
The school’s nine teachers hailed this past year from all sorts of backgrounds — some taught at other charter schools, some were fresh out of college, others taught in DPS or schools in other states. The staff was attracted by the promise of helping to build an innovative school from the bottom up.
However, the school hit a rough patch when three teachers left with no explanation.
Among them was the music teacher, Samuel Cook, who left in the second trimester. His departure dealt a heavy blow because he took his highly rated skills and his personal computer equipment with him. The school had attracted some students with promises of preparing them for careers in entertainment. And Cook’s class was where they learned to produce and edit videos.
The high turnover at the school mirrors a national trend. Charter schools experience 25% annual turnover, compared with 14% turnover at traditional public schools, according to a 2010 report from the National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Gary Miron and Brooks Applegate, researchers from Western Michigan University, reported in 2007 that the attrition is primarily because of teachers who are inexperienced, uncertified or dissatisfied with a charter school’s mission or administration.
Rose’s school hired Brighton-based Michigan Educational Personnel Services to recruit teachers. The teachers are employees of the company, not the school, a common practice in charter schools that keeps most personnel costs and information private.
Generally speaking, Rose said he is glad he doesn’t deal with labor unions. As a result, he has the flexibility to hire — and fire — staff as needed.
“There will be changes made, and we’re not against making them,” he said.
Perhaps the most dramatic employee departure involved a security guard.
Clarence Jackson, an employee of the firm hired to provide school security, had other roles — father figure, confidant and teacher. He called himself a courtesy officer and would track down kids in the hall who cursed or insulted other students. Because of his softer side, one kid arriving late one day told Jackson the alarm didn’t go off because the family’s electricity was shut off for nonpayment the day before.
Jackson also was the substitute teacher in gym when needed — a flexibility usually missing in traditional public schools.
In spring, Kyle Fomby, a star rapper in the school’s “Fab 4″ rap group and school video, was on his way to dissect pigs in science class when students say Jackson pushed him. Kyle hit a locker and fell to the ground. Jackson later told school officials Kyle started the altercation, and he was steering him to the principal’s office. Kyle denies it.
Students watched the altercation, stunned.
Police and school investigations were inconclusive. English, the assistant principal, felt betrayed, but resolute. Jackson was transferred from the school.
“This is not a club; he is not a bouncer here,” she said.
Kyle collected himself and headed to science. He wished he could retaliate against the guard to retrieve his pride.
As Kyle seethed, Brendyne ambled up to him. The student, who was known for instigating fights, rested an arm on Kyle’s shoulder.
“You got too much going for yourself,” he told Kyle. “It ain’t worth it.”
More Details: School innovations
Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter high school, opened last fall with the help of an $800,000 grant from Michigan Future, a key member organization in the Excellent Schools Detroit Coalition. Among the innovations during the first year (2011-12):
• 11-month school year; 211 days• 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily schedule; core classes 90 minutes per day; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily schedule for third (summer) trimester.
• Daily leadership class for first two trimesters.
• No homework: All course work completed in school.
• No failing grades: Students had to retake course work till they got an A or B.
• Laptops for all students for online curriculum.
• Hands-on learning • Students expected to write a novel by graduation.
• 2-hour weekly ACT prep class
• Daily physical education class
More Details: What are charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools authorized by a university, community college, school district or intermediate school district. They have appointed school boards; many boards pay firms to run day-to- day operations, such as hiring staff and acquiring facilities.For-profit or nonprofit companies can run charter schools. Michigan leads the country in the percentage of charters operated by for-profit firms.Here is a look at charter schools in Michigan:
• Number in state in 2011-12: 255 with 115,000 students
• In Detroit: 56 with about 45,000 students (2010-11)
• Expected to open in fall: 31 statewide, 10 in Detroit
• Percentage statewide run by for-profit companies: 73% (2010-11)
More Details: Jalen Rose academy
Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is authorized by Central Michigan University and managed by Operation Graduation, a nonprofit. A look at the academy:
• Opened: September 2011
• Last year: 120 in ninth grade
• Projected 2012-13 enrollment: 240 students, ninth-10th grades
• Projected capacity: 480 students, ninth-12th grades by 2014-15
• Socioeconomic status: 85% low income
• Maximum class size: 20
• Target ACT score: 21; state average is 19.6
• Target graduation rate: 85%
• Target college rate: 85% • State aid: $7,110 per pupil
• Average teacher pay: $40,000
September 3, 2012 – Charter high school founded by Jalen Rose changes direction, staff heading into its second year
By Chastity Pratt Dawsey
Detroit Free Press Education Writer
Second of a two-part series
Brandon Lundy eased out of a seat at the front of his class and stood before his classmates at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit.
His face was moist because the summer air was thick and hot, with no breeze blowing into the open windows. The 15 students, usually bunched closely together, were spread out to get some relief in the stifling room. It was the third trimester at the new school, and its 120 students endured record heat while other public schools were on break.
Brandon was standing before the Curriculum Designer class, an elective that allowed students to help rewrite the school’s handbook. Barely a year old, the charter school aims to bring innovation to urban education.
As it heads into its second year Tuesday, the school — founded by Detroit native and former NBA player Jalen Rose — is already radically changing its strategies.
Brandon, an honor roll student, had plenty to say. For example, the physical education class at the school was monotonous. It was mostly basketball.
“I can think of a lot of other sports we can learn,” said Brandon, who is on the basketball team but also wants to learn sports such as tennis.
The Free Press visited Rose’s school for much of 2012 and found that the the school’s opening year had its shining moments developing students socially. But it had challenges, too, with a disappointing online curriculum and teacher turnover. Brandon’s classmates agreed that much must change at the school, which opened its doors in fall 2011.
Chanelle Miles said the school should have a class on instruments, and courses where students can learn to compose original songs. The school, after all, promised to focus on sports and entertainment, as well as on leadership development. Aubrey Williams said the robotics team needs more equipment.
The teacher, assistant principal Pamela English, typed notes as the students spoke. School staff planned to take the kids’ suggestions seriously. “Our students have a voice,” English said. “We listen.”
Curriculum and Learning
The first year was a rough one.
Students learned, but were not on track to earn the school’s goal of a 21 out of 36 score on the ACT college entrance exam by graduation, staff said. Right now, their score on the ACT preparation exam is about a 13.
This year, nearly everything and everyone on staff is changing.
After experimenting with a curriculum designed by a Canadian researcher, the staff shelved it. Among the innovations being jettisoned: online lessons called e-labs that were not rigorous enough and not aligned with the new national common core standards, and the unique grading scale of A, B or Incomplete.
The coming year will include some traditional schooling techniques — daily homework, an A-to-F grading scale and textbooks used in addition to laptops for technology-based projects and research.
The students entered the new school two to three grade levels behind, and the test scores didn’t budge. It takes more than a year to propel scores, but the school has made bold promises and must move scores — now.
“Because of our (low) test scores, we don’t have time to play,” English said.
Changes in this upcoming year will bring more organization and structure to the curriculum. They include:
• All teachers using the same teaching strategies.
• Teachers using the school’s weekly testing data to figure out how to help students.
• Staff being trained every week, and teachers meeting together daily to prep for classes.
“Rest assured, change has come,” said Kenya Crockett, the new school leader, commonly know as the principal.
Staff and class offerings
Crockett moved to the Detroit area this summer to take the helm at the new school.
A native of Oakland, Calif., she was inspired by her grandmother, who ran group homes for disabled people, and her great-grandmother, who raised foster children. Crockett worked after high school with special-needs students — including changing their diapers — and raised four teenage foster children, ensuring that all of them graduated from high school. Her daughter is a senior at the University of California Berkeley.
“I know what it takes to be a single parent in urban America with a child who is pursued by Ivy League colleges.”
A former administrator in the Oakland Unified School District in California, the 23-year education veteran was attracted to Rose’s school by the opportunity to build her dream school.
She is the third principal at the school; the first one resigned, and the interim principal headed back to her faculty position at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Crockett came off as brash when she bounded onto the auditorium stage in July to formally meet the students. Wearing green pants, a crisp white shirt and matching white fingernails, she demanded attention.
Crockett had visited classes and roamed the halls but had not addressed the whole school the first few days.
“Besides her in the hallway yelling,” said student Shamiya Estell.
It was time for a family meeting, Crockett told the school. Detroit must recognize its potential.
The school reform effort under way in Detroit is an opportunity to remake the city, she said. Most important, the city’s college-going rate will not improve until something is clear, she told students.
“You need to want it for yourself.”
During the 2012-13 school year, the school will offer a menu of tougher classes: a gym class that includes tennis, golf and outdoor survival skills; music production; sports management; advanced music theory; web design; art; Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish.
This summer, the school sent three teachers to a conference in Battle Creek to learn techniques for small-group learning developed by renowned education expert Spencer Kagan. The school will also use the organized teaching methods developed by celebrated Harlem educator Lorraine Monroe, whose school excelled under her system.
While these methods are not new, the innovation will come in when Rose’s school factors in small class sizes, an 11-month school year, all students taking classes 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and once a month on Saturdays, and character and cultural development through a mandated leadership class.
And every Thursday, students will be assessed in every class. Tutors armed with teachers’ lesson plans will be available for daily tutoring from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Besides the new curriculum, all of the teachers will be new. Some teachers were encouraged to apply elsewhere, while others left for higher pay in other public schools. The rest left because they were deflated, turned off by last year’s ineffective structure, English said. Charter schools typically see a 25% annual turnover, compared with 14% in traditional public schools.
It could be jarring to see all new teachers, but it’s not an automatic cause for alarm, said Raegan Miller, associate director for education policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
“If the teachers have strong academic backgrounds and thorough preparation, or if there is going to be a robust support system for teachers, the school could be in good shape,” said Miller, coauthor of a 2008 report called “Teacher Turnover, Tenure, Policies, and the Distribution of Teacher Quality: Can High-Poverty Schools Catch a Break?”
In a twist, new teachers had to teach a lesson to students in front of an administrator as part of the interview. Rose will not say which teachers from last year turned out to be lemons or which ones fled — and he doesn’t have to. As in many charter schools, the teachers are not directly employed by the school, but are employees of a private personnel services company hired by the school.
“All teaching and administrative positions are reviewed on an ongoing basis, allowing only the ‘best and the brightest’ to serve as leaders to our students,” Rose said.
Next year, success will be measured by growth on the Explore test, the prep test for the ACT, Crockett said. She expects double-digit gains.
Class size and offerings
The school’s small classes were good for kids, but bad for the budget last year. English and math classes had a maximum of 10 students, requiring more of the budget go to staff salaries.
This year, all classes will have a maximum of 20 students. The change will allow smaller class sizes than in Detroit Public Schools while freeing up money in the $1.6-million state aid budget. That money will provide a more diverse menu and a cash flow cushion, said N. Kendell Walton, the financial consultant to Operation Graduation, the school’s nonprofit management company.
Last year, the school had an online curriculum but often could not access lessons because of technical issues with the connections and laptops that broke down after daily wear and tear.
A teacher served as the information technology coordinator. This year, the school will be able to budget about $35,000 for a contractor to work at the school to address technology issues, Walton said. Core classes — science, math, English, social studies — will have five desktop computers, while the entire school will be stocked with one laptop for every two students.
Actions and attitudes
One morning last year, Rose was standing outside the school and saw a student in a car eating food from McDonald’s with a parent.
“School had started an hour and a half earlier,” he said. “This is what we’re dealing with. We have to change attitudes and culture.”
Despite what did or didn’t work in the school’s curriculum, the atmosphere and one-on-one attention brought profound changes in some students. The most-improved student, according to the staff, was 15-year-old Brendyne Shelton, a star on the school’s basketball team.
On one of the last days of the school’s first year, Brendyne arrived late.
After a lecture from Crockett, he headed to math class, sliding his 6-foot-2 frame into a seat across from classmate Amari Allen. Brendyne started the school year with fifth-grade skills, but with one-on-one help from teachers, his skills leaped to an eighth-grade level and a 2.8 grade point average.
On this day, the class was working on multiplying binomials. “You know how to do it, right?” Amari whispered to Brendyne.
“Yeah, but you got to explain it,” Brendyne responded.
That humble admission signaled that something in Brendyne changed over the course of the year. It changed after Rose took him to McDonald’s for lunch and told the freshman that he was a better young man than his actions portrayed. And when Brendyne had an argument with a teammate and quit the basketball team this summer, Rose told him quitting was “not an option.”
“Every time he talked to me, I felt stronger and stronger,” Brendyne said of Rose.
Brendyne is still reluctant to promise to go to college for a career other than becoming a pro basketball or football player. But he said he sees the value in school, in its intrinsic connection to a better life. He doesn’t know for sure what changes are in store for the upcoming year, but he intends to return.
“The school didn’t give up on me,” Brendyne said. “I ain’t giving up on the school.”
More details: Jalen Rose
High school: Southwestern High in Detroit, class of 1991
Other education: Bachelor’s degree in management studies, University of Maryland, 2005
Personal: Father of two
Career: Played guard for University of Michigan basketball team, 1991-94 and one of the Fab 5 players who led U-M to the NCAA championship game; played 13 years in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns
Current occupation: Commentator, ESPN
Giving: $1.2 million, including $240,000 to U-M to endow a four-year scholarship; 38 scholarships of $10,000
More details: About the school
The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is a charter high school that opened in fall 2011. It was one of the first to get start-up funds from partners in Excellent Schools Detroit, a coalition of local political, business and charitable organizations. In 2010, leaders from these groups announced a plan to raise $200 million to replace Detroit’s school system with a new “system of schools.”
Michigan Future, a nonprofit that is a partner in Excellent Schools Detroit, awarded Rose an $800,000 start-up grant to open a small high school that would aim to send at least 85% of its graduates to college.
Former NBA and University of Michigan Fab 5 star Jalen Rose, 39, talks about why he founded a charter high school in his old neighborhood.
Jalen Rose says his charter school is about improving lives, not about profits
QUESTION: Where did the idea come from?
ANSWER: Knowing about the plight of education in Detroit and how it’s taken a downturn, I felt like creating a school — a safe learning environment.
Q: Michigan leads the nation in companies opening charter schools to make money. Is the school making money for you?
A: Of course not. No. (The school is managed by a nonprofit.) Starting a charter school, it’s a financial burden. The building, it’s a financial burden. (Last year) we were supposed to start school right after Labor Day, and all of a sudden, I realize we’re not up to code — got to get a new boiler, got to get an elevator.
Q: Talk about your students. Who are they?
A: We’re dealing with an at-risk, underserved part of our community where a majority of our ninth-graders are not reading or not doing math at a ninth-grade level when we get them. Probably on average, fifth- or sixth-grade level.
It’s very important to try to give them the enrichment, the curriculum, the life skills, the social skills beyond just what happens in the textbook.
Q: You’re the school’s board president and visit about once a month. What other kind of involvement do you have with the kids?
A: (They call me) “Mr. Rose, Jalen.” (They say) … “Look at my report card; I see what you were telling me in September. I get it now.”
It’s a leadership role. Some people term it a big brother role or father figure role. Each student expects me to give their situation personal care, and that’s my commitment.
Q: Is this school strict?
A: Our school is strict. It’s not strict to the point where we’re going to kick you out … or recommend you for expulsion because you didn’t wear your uniform properly for two or three times. If I have to expel one or two students, or eight or nine students, to save 110, that’s what we have to do.
Q: Why don’t you have metal detectors?
A: I want the guards down. When you go to the best schools … in the suburbs, they don’t have (metal detectors), either. … I feel like I can create an infrastructure of a safe learning environment. I may actually go to (security) wands for a different reason — to search for cell phones. Who are you texting during school? We’re going to set up a check in/out system for cell phones.
Q: You’ve adopted some strategies from other countries — this year, there’s Mandarin class and the school day goes until 5:30 p.m. Why?
A: Times have changed. In order to have a career, who are you competing with for the top jobs? People all across the world. So if our students are going (to school) 179 days (the average number of school days for Detroit Public Schools students) and theirs are going 235, when they put their résumés on the desk and their kids are speaking three languages, and their ACT score is 35, and our student who is working hard, doing it the normal way like it used to be — has an ACT score of 15 — who’s going to get the job?
More Details: How you can help
To donate or volunteer, go to: www.jrladetroit.com/support. Or send donations to: Operation Graduation, c/o JRLA, 15000 Trojan, Detroit 48235.
Contact Chastity Pratt Dawsey: 313-223-4537 or firstname.lastname@example.org