By Harold C. Ford
Amid the din of Flint’s newly-assembled school panel searching for productive equilibrium, two glimpses of possible paths forward have recently emerged:
- Prior to its March 15 meeting ending in considerable chaos, the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) unanimously adopted a document titled “Superintendents Proposed 6 Month Focus.” The five-page document, amended before its passage, was affirmed by all seven members, a rare happenstance recently on an issue of consequence.
- Images of a new secondary school complex on the site of the long-abandoned Flint Central/Whittier Middle School campus have been made available by Dylan Luna, FBOE treasurer and chair of the board’s Finance and Operations Committee.
Both the unamended version of the “6 Month Focus” and images of a refurbished Flint Central campus were just made available to EVM.
The “Superintendents Proposed 6 Month Focus,” dated March 3, 2023, was presented to the full board on March 15 by FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones. It included eight focus areas (condensed below).
The plan was crafted largely from a strategic plan process that lasted several months, engaged multiple communities of stakeholders, and accumulated volumes of data. Three 2022-27 Strategic Plan documents can be found at the district’s website.
“We owe our scholars, parents and guardians, staff, partners, and community the absolute best we can give,” Jones wrote in his introductory comments to the “6 Month Focus.”Jones also gave a nod to the oft-troubled board-administration relationship the public has witnessed at the district’s open meetings.
“Respectfully, I no longer want to be confused as to who the superintendent is and my role, and who the board is … Where we are, did not happen overnight, and it will not be fixed overnight. We are still discovering years of negative impact in our systems, communications, and management, since the early 2000’s,” Jones said.
Superintendent’s Proposed 6 Month Focus
(Excerpts from document are italicized.)
- Phase 2 of ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief/COVID Relief) funds: We currently must allocate $86 million dollars in ESSER 3 dollars. Due date of spending 9/30/2024.
- Main Doors upgrade(s).
- New windows.
- HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) for DTM (Durant-Tuuri-Mott) and SWA (Southwestern Academy).
- Ceiling leaks (to be repaired).
- Upgrade of restrooms.
- PA systems and emergency systems (upgrades).
- Safe spaces for staff.
- Investment in our Sports (non-ESSER).
- Academic Partnership Agreement(s) with MDE (Michigan Department of Education) and GISD (Genesee Intermediate School District) … for the next 3 years.
- Identify 3 goals that will focus on achieving out of the bottom 25% of the state academically.
- Complete interim targets and benchmarks … for each goal (above).
- MDE checkpoints (for) monitoring of classrooms.
- Systems goal … for better customer service.
- Technological advancements in HR (Human Resources).
- Focus on board of education and superintendent relations.
- Plan for a sustainable future.
- Focus … on the strategic plan.
- Board allows (superintendent) to investigate and determine what firms or entities to sit down with to create a sustainable plan for the next 5-10 years (to include) feasibility, boundaries of schools, right sizing expertise, knowledge of bonds and millages, etc.
- Building closures (for) a district with roughly 3000 scholars should not run 11 school buildings.
- Timeframe: June 1, 2023 … finalizing any plans.
- Mott Foundation and Partner support for possible New Schools.
- First meeting was March 1, 2023 at 11am.
- Original conversations in 2017.
- Note: There are opportunities to take some moves … with the Central property by demolishing it along with Washington … roughly $6 million. [See below.]
- Are we opening or not opening the teachers’ contract for salaries?
- Approve the personnel recommendations that we (administration) are bringing forward to you please. We need support in HR.
- Bring in a company to take all our paper personnel files and turn them to digital.
- Initiate an employee handbook.
- Board, Superintendent, and Administration Communication … we have not been able to establish how we will communicate to ensure a positive climate and culture amongst us, that has been consistent.
- Approach … that excludes 7 different board members from reaching out to each department head and district staff.
- Update the process for staff concerns.
- Continued work and Completion of Renovations approved 2022: Parking lots, furniture, Doyle-Ryder and Potter renovations are all underway.
- Board tours Doyle-Ryder.
- Weekly meetings that bring changes to this work.
- Satisfaction Survey to Stakeholders from FCS (Flint Community Schools).
- Create an online easy access survey for stakeholders.
- Implemented and completed by the end of the school year.
“We’re not moving the needle,” Jones said in seeking the board’s support for his six-month plan. “We’re becoming a jack of all trades, a master of none.” His proposal received prompt support from several board members:
- Trustee Joyce Ellis-McNeal: “We’ve got to get focused. There’s just a lot to do.”
- Luna: This board historically … has gotten in the way of society, students, and student achievement. This plan is a real opportunity for us to get out of the way.”
- Terae King, FBOE vice president: “This is work … the community has been asking for for decades.”
A notable critique of Jones’s plan came from Trustee Laura MacIntyre, who opposed the language calling for the demolition of Flint Central.
“These are our assets and we’re not about to privatize them, and give them away so they can be turned into charter schools,” MacIntyre said. “This is colonialism … a land grab … and I’m not going to let that happen.”
“Our properties we own are contributing to blight, liability, and costs to this district,” Luna countered. “We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again … We’re bad owners at the moment. This board is a bad neighbor.”
After Jones reminded the board it had final say-so over any substantive move included in the Six-Month Plan, and after he agreed to remove the section about the demolition of Flint Central, the panel voted unanimously in favor of the plan.
Flint Central property
Flint’s Central High School/Whittier Middle School campus, closed since 2009, has been a front-and-center focal point of intra-district machinations ever since. Some discussions have transpired behind closed doors, out of the public’s view, while others have been quite visible:
- Even before FCS finally closed the doors and boarded up the buildings at the Flint Central campus, Powers Catholic High School expressed an interest in acquiring the property. That never happened. After 40 years at 2040 W. Carpenter Rd. in Mt. Morris Twp. on the north side of Flint, Powers relocated to a renovated Michigan School for the Deaf building in 2013-14 at 1505 W. Court St.
- In 2016 the FBOE released renderings by THA Architects Engineers for construction of new facilities at the Central campus whose estimated cost was $78.5 million. Residents of the nearby Central Park neighborhood expressed concerns about traffic and acts of vandalism that might accompany a new school at the site.
- March 2017: Former FCS Superintendent Bilal Tawwab indicated in an interview with EVM that 2020 was the target date for opening a new school at the Flint Central site.
- Feb. 2021: A mixed-use redevelopment plan for the Central property proposed by the Harvard Group never got past the discussion phase
- In June 2021 Ridgway White, CEO of the Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, publicly urged FBOE members to partner with Flint’s largest foundation to include a lineup of all new and renovated buildings. “Let the Mott Foundation … help Flint (schools) recover and rise,” he said.
- 2021: Flint’s immediate past superintendent, Anita Steward, likely lost her position when some FBOE members suspected her of negotiating with the Mott Foundation without the participation of board members. Steward flatly denied the accusation(s) and said that some members of the FBOE did not participate in the discussions when given the opportunity.
- During the grand opening of the newly-remodeled Flint Public Library in May 2022, FCS Superintendent Jones crossed the parking lot to the Central building, picked up a brick, and with tears in his eyes told EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson, “We got next.”
- Resumption of discussions with the Mott Foundation, according to the “6 Month Plan,” started March 1, 2023. The price tag for upgrading Flint’s lineup of buildings has escalated from $90 million in 2017 when talks were initiated to $190 million at present according to the “Plan” document.
The gems of Flint’s Cultural Center are virtually next door, within walking distance: Flint Institute of Arts; Flint Institute of Music; Flint Repertory Theatre; Longway Planetarium; Sloan Museum of Discovery; The Whiting Auditorium; Applewood Estate; and the Flint Public Library.
FBOE Treasurer Luna said of the possibilities for the Flint Central property: “Let’s reimagine this campus. A mix of old and new, but the ultimate goal is to better serve the students, give teachers an environment in which to thrive, and community a space to admire and utilize.”
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The next scheduled meetings of the Flint Board of Education are: April 12 (COW, Committee of the Whole); April 19; May 10 (COW); May 17; June 14 (COW); June 21. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. at Accelerated Learning Academy, 1602 S. Averill Ave., Flint, MI 48503. A link is posted at the FCS website to access online viewing; visit www.flinstschools.org. YouTube recordings of meetings are also available. Check the FCS website for other FCS meetings open to the public.
EVM Education reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.