DPS begins charting course for future next week

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Dearborn Public Schools stakeholders will gather next week to begin charting a blueprint for the future of the 18,000-student district.

The first of three so-called 21st Century Schools meetings is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the School Board room at the Ten Eyck Administration Building, 18700 Audette, and will be followed by subsequent meetings in April and May.

District administrators organized the series in conjunction with the Dearborn Parent Teacher Student Association, the Dearborn Federation of Teachers, and the Dearborn Federation of School Employees. It is designed to look at a broad range of issues fundamental to how schools operate:

• What knowledge will every child need as they move from kindergarten to graduation?

• How will instruction be delivered?

• How will schools look 20 years, 10 years, or even five years from now?

These are just some of the questions district officials hope will be answered through the initiative.

“If you ever wanted to be part of redesigning education, concerned about state and federal requirements having too much control over local school districts, or have ideas about how to make schools better, then you will want to take part in the 21st century school discussion,” Supt. Brian Whiston said.

The discussions will offer a change from recent district dialogues, where educational ideals oftentimes have been forced to take a backseat to budgetary concerns.

It also will look to build on the 2007 DPS “Model Schools” initiative that brought together about 50 DPS teachers, parents and administrators to define a hypothetical model school district.

The four-day initiative resulted in a 36-page report that outlined a host of issues including what the role of different governmental agencies should be in relation to public school districts, how the various levels of schools within a district should be oriented, and what kind of conduct should be expected of students, school staff, and the community at a whole. 
 The report was eventually sent to state and federal legislators as a sort of purpose statement by the district.

“Volunteers approached the creation of a Model School District from a different perspective – we ignored them. We chose, instead, to build from scratch,” according to the report.

But the upcoming 21st Century Schools meetings also will bear some distinct differences from the Model Schools initiative in that it will be exclusively focused on what community members feel the ideal school for Dearborn students would be like – not the ideal school for a non-defined group of students.

“We want to engage community members to get their input on what the schools should look like down the road,” DPS Spokesman David Mustonen said. “This is something that every district that values public input does from time to time and we felt the time is right.”

Mustonen said the meeting format will features DPS administrators leading smaller groups of participants in study sessions focusing on individual issues. The results will then be presented to the larger group and used as a starting point toward consensus building.

Some of the more specific issues Mustonen mentioned could be discussed are whether the district could, or should, offer a two-year college degree for ambitious high school students, what sort of advanced placement offerings would be available, and how the district should utilize technology as part of the learning process.

“The goal is to lay out a roadmap for the future without letting the budget dictate the conversation, which it certainly has been for a while,” Mustonen said.