Teacher-Led School Trend Takes DPS

Teacher-Led School Trend Takes DPS

Detroit is the next city to throw away the administrative reins and open the doors for an all-teacher-led school.

Detroit is the next city to throw away the administrative reins and open the doors for an all-teacher-led school. Serving pre-K through eighth grade and roughly 450 students, the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy (P3A) will open in Detroit Public Schools this fall— sans principal—replacing the Barbara Jordan Elementary School, which closed in spring 2010 to become a turnaround school after being identified as low performing. The school, which DPS students and families will apply to, is modeled after similar schools in Boston, Milwaukee, Denver and Los Angeles. P3A will partner with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to form a robust, individualized curriculum.

Many teachers felt so passionately that they offered to sacrifice their tenure to prove they didn't fear the added responsibility of accountability, says Ann Crowley, DPS teacher and co-founder of the group Detroit Children First, an organization who had been vying for an all-teacher school for several years.

"Many excellent teachers felt they could get more for their children if they had a greater voice in the decisions that are made in their schools," says Crowley.

While the governing structure is still being developed, Crowley says the skeleton has been drafted and includes different committees of teachers working on specific issues throughout the school that need to be addressed through shared decision-making. During the first years of operation, an executive administrator will be assigned to create lesson plans and designate office roles and responsibilities for the teachers. This administrator's role will fade to part time by 2012.

By weeding out the middleman, Crowley believes it will become easier to educate the learners. "Bypassing another level of hierarchy in making decisions about the learning needs of children allows for more immediate action to transpire," says Crowley.

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy P3A was in part inspired by the Green Dot movement, a network of unionized charter schools in Los Angeles, founded in 2000, that encourages more autonomy and accountability for its teachers.

"It's a theory of organization that is possible in every business in the world," says Marco Petruzzi, president and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. "If you create a support system with the right tools and training, people will feel empowered because they're making decisions that impact their work."

Petruzzi says that a clear accountability system needs to be in place, stating autonomy cuts both ways and depends on how well the school is performing.

Crowley says that with "numerous dedicated and highly qualified" teachers eager to work in the new school, she is confident of its success: "It is said to prove success you must be viable for five years. Five years from now we believe not only will we be successful, but other DPS communities will follow our lead."


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