The Social Work and Education Collaboration, a new student organization based out of the School of Social Work and the School of Education at the University of Michigan, held a panel event Tuesday featuring educators from the Detroit Public Schools system.

During the event, panelists discussed what they considered misconceptions about Detroit Public Schools, such as deteriorating infrastructure, and emphasized how the controversy surrounding DPS impacts students and the school environment.  

Kaili McGrath, a Social Work graduate student and one of the coordinators of the event, said she found members of SWEC wanted to learn more about DPS. SWEC focuses on bridging service gaps in education and bridging interdisciplinary professional learning communities, according to their website.

“When we first started our organization, we asked if there was one thing you would want to learn more about what would it be, and the answer was Detroit Public Schools,” she said.

During the event, Marnina Falk, a third grade teacher and community engagement coordinator for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said for her, the lack of staff in the Detroit education system is the biggest issue.

“These vacancies lead to things like overcrowded classrooms or long-term subs who are covering the class all year because they can’t find a teacher,” she said.

Kim Travis-Ewing, a DPS school social worker since 1991 and the chapter chair for SSW for DFT, echoed Falk’s concerns about DPS staffing.

“Representing the school, social workers have been a task because we used to have over 300 and now we are probably down to about 100,” said Travis-Ewing. “They’re also leaving in high numbers because of the financial conditions, the buildings, and how we’re being treated as employees.”

The panel members also discussed some of the misconceptions and ignored issues that surround DPS, which they said were largely due to the media.

Kaity Nicastri, the community school site coordinator at Bennett Elementary, said she thought one common misconception was who the right people are to handle Detroit’s education systems.

“I think a misconception that I’ve noticed and that seems to be persistent is that a business perspective works in educational systems,” said Nicastri. “I think that is something that is not really talked about in the media.”

However, among discussion of problems, speakers also noted several positive aspects of the school system

Steve Ezikian, the deputy superintendent of Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency, said helping children in DPS systems is extremely rewarding.

“My observation in many cities, especially in the city of Detroit, is that sometimes you are the best part of that child’s day,” he said.

After the event, Education senior Claire Forhan said she thought the panelists offered hope despite many of the tough conditions.

“You enter DPS not only as a teacher, but also as a fighter,” said Forhan. “It was encouraging to hear the efforts going on tonight and hear that there is some movement towards regaining local control.”


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