Navigating the system: Detroit
Live in Detroit? We did the homework to help parents make informed choices about the city's schools.
Learn more on what to look for when touring schools in these videos:
Video: How to find a middle school
Video: A guide to private schools
By Hank Pellissier
How far must parents go to get their children a decent education? In some cities, it can require navigating a bureaucratic obstacle course or calculating daunting admissions odds. In Motor City, where school system trouble has long resembled a multicar pileup, it can take much more — even a modern day judgment of Solomon.
Detroit mother Cheryl Lynn Pope can attest to the massive effort parents must make. She pulled her own daughter from an underperforming school — and worked to get her into a more challenging environment. She also watched her cousin make the ultimate sacrifice: Surrounded by failing schools, she transferred guardianship of her two children to her sister so they could attend better schools in their aunt’s neighboring town.
In the Detroit Public School system (DPS), only 62 percent of high school students graduate. How can parents prevent their children from ending up in an educational dead-end? As Pope’s experience suggests, it’s difficult. And recent news isn’t making it any easier.
Facing a massive $327 million budget deficit, DPS has recently gone into red alert mode. In February 2011, Michigan officials ordered DPS to reduce its expenses by closing half its schools — from 142 to 72 — by 2012-2013. The restructuring is expected to cause severe overcrowding: Class sizes will jump from 35 to 62 in high schools, from 35 to 45 in middle schools, and from 17 to 31 in K-3.
DPS has tried numerous strategies to improve its services: A uniform dress code with mandatory identification badges was instituted in 2007, and the popular new parent resource centers offer comfortable community gathering spaces with computers, libraries, play areas for children, and workshops for adults. Nonetheless, the quality of education in Detroit is in a quagmire — GreatSchools rates the city a 2 out of 10.
The good news? The enrollment process is simple and the journey to the district office offers an architectural treat. DPS is located on five floors of the Fisher Building — an ornate 1928 Art Deco skyscraper and national historic landmark constructed with 40 varieties of gleaming marble. DPS has all the forms and information there that you'll need. Applying to schools consists of listing your three top choices on an open enrollment questionnaire.
If you want info online instead, you'll find the user-friendly DPS website has easy-to-follow enrollment instructions as well as contact phone numbers, a map, a list of the district's schools, required documents for enrollment, scholarship applications, a parent's guide, and a school orientation kit. An adjacent web page has additional information for new students, transfer students, and special needs students.