The Detroiters Speak Series kicked off Thursday with the hot topic of Detroit Public Schools, prompting passionate responses and conversation regarding the future of education in the city.

Semester in Detroit and the University’s Detroit Center are co-sponsors of the six-week public mini-course, which aims to give students and the public a better understanding of historic and contemporary topics in Detroit, Craig Regester, associate director of SID, said. This is the third time the mini-course has been offered.

“We want people to feel like they have a really thorough introduction to complicated challenges in the city as well as to wonderful assets like the music scene and the jazz scene, which we’ll talk about in the future,” Regester said. “So it’s not just about covering the issues and the challenges. It’s a nice combination of what’s beautiful about Detroit, and has been for a long time, as well as what’s really challenging people.”

The series is held weekly in Detroit, with program operators offering transportation for students of the class and others.

Thursday’s event, “Reflections on the State of Detroit Public Schools,” focused on controversial topics around education in Detroit and featured three guest speakers.

Linda Spight, former Mumford High School principal, Asenath Andrews, former principal of Catherine Ferguson Academy, and Yolanda Peoples, the parent of both a current and former DPS student, all voiced concerns about the schools in Detroit.

Peoples called for the University to give up its partnership with the Detroit School of Arts, saying the school is being mismanaged. She cited overall attendance dropping, arts programs being cut and what she sees as a poor decision to replace the school’s certified teachers with teacher volunteers from Teach for America.

“What self-governing schools are supposed to do is to allow the school and the community to run itself,” Peoples said. “It is supposed to work to improve academics and whatever performance is lacking. But remember DSA wasn’t lacking. It wasn’t lacking in attendance, it wasn’t lacking in performance, it wasn’t lacking in overall academics. So we have to ask ourselves, ‘Why are you here?’”

Spight voiced separate concerns, saying Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s Educational Achievement Authority initiative, implemented in 2012 and designed to improve struggling schools, is experimental and not turning around schools.

Andrews, whose school exclusively enrolls pregnant and parenting teens, criticized DPS for dropping Catherine Ferguson from the district after it became expensive, forcing it to become a charter school.

After the lectures, the floor opened to the audience for commentary, resulting in heated comments from attendees.

Elena Herrada, member of the DPS board, asked for the EAA to revert DPS back to Detroit and for the University to withdraw its presence from the Detroit School of Arts.

“We’re asking for the support of U of M students to go to the School of Education and to tell them to get out of Detroit School of Arts,” Herrada said. “Students have the power to do this. You don’t have to live with what Detroit students are living with. They will never get to U of M if they continue on the path that they’re on. You have the power to make this happen for our students. I’m asking you to go to your Board of Regents, go to your professors, go everywhere and tell them hands off Detroit Public Schools.”

LSA junior Amy Kanka said she took the mini-course to learn more about the current events and history of the city she enjoys visiting and where her father grew up.

“I just thought it was really interesting that I actually never knew about any of these topics,” Kanka said. “I thought with discussing schools in Detroit, we would talk about unions or the effect the economy had on schools. I didn’t know it was such a deep, emotional topic, or that the University of Michigan had a direct relationship with it. I’m applying to the School of Ed. and I had no idea that the school had any correlation to DPS.”

Regester said SID has a philosophy that there are many different kinds of educators for their students, including Detroiters who have formal and informal qualifications. The series is open to the public to enable deeper learning for everyone in attendance.

Members of the public who attend at least five lectures will receive a certificate of participation, Lolita Hernandez, SID creative writing lecturer and Detroit native, said.

“When we open it to the general public, we’re going to get a wider array of perspectives, viewpoints, life goals, and developmental phases,” Regester said. “All of that just makes for a richer conversation, and everybody ends up learning more in the end.”

The series will take place most Thursdays this fall at the U-M Detroit Center until November 13. The University’s Detroit Center Connector bus, which travels between Ann Arbor and Detroit, provides free transportation to and from Detroiters Speak. Spaces for the public can be reserved on the UM Detroit Connector website.

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