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Michigan Education Achievement Authority

John Covington talks about the new organization to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Michigan.

One year ago, John Covington, the former superintendent of Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools, became the chancellor of a new organization in Michigan. The new state agency, the Michigan Education Achievement Authority (EAA), will operate the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Michigan, 38 of which are in the city of Detroit. Covington was brought in by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder because of his success in urban districts and track record for finding creative and innovative solutions. The organization has spent the greater part of its first year constructing a strategic plan to turn around Michigan’s schools. In the 2012-2013 school year, it will tackle those Detroit schools, and then move on to other school systems around the state.

Q: What are the greatest accomplishments and frustrations you have experienced in your first year with the Michigan Education Achievement Authority?

Covington: Shortly after my arrival on September 28, we moved very quickly to pull together an administrative team. I wanted to secure the best and brightest talent from across the country. I also gained input from stakeholders around the state. Rather than come in and say, “Here is our plan,” we wanted to get their input before developing a strategic plan, which we are currently rolling out. At the end of the process, we realized that we had failed to speak to the most important group of people about how the system works. When you’re going to make transformational changes to public education, you need to talk to the kids.

As a result of the input we eventually got from the students and from other stakeholders across the state, we developed the strategic plan for the EAA, which will serve as the road map over the next several years. We will be disrupting traditional public schooling, but that disruption is spurred by the input we got from Michiganers across the state. Of the persistently lowest-achieving schools in Michigan, 38 are in the city of Detroit. One of the things that’s been a hurdle is getting districts to accept the fact that there is now another statewide system of schools. We’re not looked upon very favorably because we serve as an indictment of their failures. When you need to work together in the spirit of cooperation with officials in a school district and they don’t want you there, that makes the job even more difficult.

Had it not been for the continued leadership of the emergency manager in Detroit, Roy Roberts, I don’t think things would have gone as smoothly with the city as they have been. Things might prove to be more difficult as we move throughout the state of Michigan, however, because most of those districts do not have emergency management systems in place, and we will work directly with the school districts.