Commentary: A visionary plan to revive Flint Community Schools — “Let’s make this work.”
By Paul Rozycki
Are you ready for some good news for Flint and its students?
We all know this has been a year of bad news that included a national pandemic, statewide infection spikes, racial division, daily mass shootings, a rash of fires in Flint, bears in our backyards, and chaos at city council meetings.
But on top of all those problems, we’ve seen a dramatic decline in the number of students in Flint Community Schools and a decline in the public confidence in the schools. Certainly the COVID pandemic didn’t help, but the Flint schools, which were once an example of the best of public education, have been losing students at a record pace for years.
The rise and fall of Flint Community Schools
At its peak, in 1968, the Flint Community School system was by far the largest in the county, with over 47,000 students enrolled. Over the years that number fell. By 1990 there were just over 30,000 students. By 2000 there were 13,000 students. Today there are about 3200 students.
By contrast, in 1920, there were more than 19,000 students in the Flint schools. Flint is now only the seventh largest district in the county, behind Grand Blanc, Davison, Carman-Ainsworth, Flushing, Swartz-Creek, and Fenton. Nearly two-thirds of the school-age children in the city attend either private or charter schools.
With or without the pandemic, that pattern seemed likely to continue. As the district faced serious financial challenges, some worried that there might be a state takeover on the horizon, for what was once one of the premier public school systems in the nation.
The Memo of Understanding
An ambitious and impressive Memo of Understanding (MOU) between a number of leading Flint institutions aims to change that. The memo creates the Flint Education Continuum (FEC) that hopes to restore Flint schools to what they once were.
Harold Ford’s extensive East Village Magazine reporting covers the agreement in much more detail, but, in brief, here are some key points.
- With hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from the C.S. Mott Foundation, the State of Michigan and Flint Community Schools, major construction projects would be undertaken to build new schools in Flint.The construction of a new high school on the grounds of the old Central High School and Whittier Junior High, would be a major part of the plan. In addition, four new elementary schools would also be built.
- Additionally, the plan would create a series of incentives to keep students in school, improve academic performance, and prepare them for meaningful careers, in cooperation with a number of area organizations and colleges.
- The plan would also eliminate the $18 million debt that the Flint Community Schools faces.
- Finally, the plan would aim to turn around the rapid loss of students in the Flint schools, improve their academic performance, and deal with the many vacant buildings currently owned by the Flint schools.
So far, the plan is simply a “Memo of Understanding” (MOU). It doesn’t obligate any of the 17 partners to do anything. At this point, not all of the proposed partners have signed on to support the MOU.
As indicated by a recent Board of Education meeting, it may not be easy to get everyone on board, and there are a thousand things that need to happen before it’s all done. Almost certainly, if this goes ahead, there will be problems, conflicts, and reversals. That’s to be expected with any plan as extensive and wide-ranging as this.
But the key point is that someone is willing to step forward with a visionary plan to turn Flint Schools around. In order to revive the Flint schools, it will take a bold and visionary plan outlined in the Memo of Understanding to make it happen.
As the plan is put forward, the community certainly owes a debt of gratitude to the C.S. Mott Foundation and CEO Ridgway White, as well as all the other organizations that step forward to develop and support the plan.
The importance of public support
But the rest of us also have an opportunity and an obligation get involved. There will be public meetings in the future to hear from the Flint community and their visions for the future. Take the time to read the document, and take the time to attend these meetings, lend your support, and offer your suggestions.
If you are part of any of the 17 groups included in the MOU, (see Harold Ford’s EVM story for a complete list.) let them know how important this is to Flint schools and the whole Flint community.
While individual citizens need to become involved in this process, it’s also critical for elected school board members to work responsibly and thoughtfully as the process plays out. The conflicts that we’ve seen in the Flint City Council don’t need be become standard operating procedure for the Flint Board of Education.
At a time when the nation is deeply divided in so many ways, if all the groups can work together, this MOU can be an example of how differing groups, with diverse constituencies and commitments, can come together for a common cause.
The Flint Community Schools role in rebuilding Flint
It won’t be easy, and there are certain to be obstacles, objections, and problems over the next decade. Almost certainly there will be changes and delays, but we need to keep our eyes on the long term goal. The rebuilding of Flint’s schools is critical not only for the schools and the students, but for everyone in Flint and Genesee County.
There was a time when Flint Community Schools were a major reason why people came to the city. Today it’s often a reason why people move out of Flint. This plan won’t turn things around overnight, but it’s a great start, and it deserves all of our support.
There’s the old saying that “we shouldn’t let a crisis go to waste.” The Flint schools are in a crisis and this proposal, whatever flaws it may have, is a strong vision for the future, and may give us the chance to make sure this crisis does not go to waste. Certainly there will be objections and criticism, but “the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good.”
Let’s make this work.
EVM reporter Paul Rozycki can be reached at Paul.Rozycki@mcc.edu.