Broad-based coalition of Detroit leaders forms, calls for role in improving Detroit schools


Updated at 3:45 with link to the unedited audio of the press conference.

DETROIT — The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren announced its formation at a press conference held today at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit.


The Coalition is made up of a diverse cross-section of leaders representing Detroit’s education, civic, philanthropic, business, religious, and community sectors. The Coalition has formed independently of any government body, and includes a 31-member steering committee, as well as a larger group of community stakeholders. It is embarking on an urgent course to make recommendations for large-scale shifts in Detroit’s broken education landscape.

The Coalition is led by five co-chairs: Skillman Foundation President & CEO Tonya Allen; Rev. Wendell Anthony, Fellowship Chapel and president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP; David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan/AFL-CIO; John Rakolta Jr., CEO of Walbridge; and Angela Reyes, executive director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.

“The fact that so many leaders from highly influential corners of Detroit would come together despite differing politics and agendas is incredibly heartening,” Allen said. “We share a common belief that Detroiters should have a say in coming up with solutions that can make Detroit schools work for kids, and that now, as the city is recovering in so many other ways, is the time to make real change happen.”

The Coalition will hold its first meeting next week, beginning a 90-day period of preparing recommendations to address the most pressing problems for Detroit schools. As it works to reach consensus on various issues throughout the 90 days, the Coalition will communicate its findings and its recommended timely solutions for making Detroit’s school landscape more equitable, accessible, and successful for all Detroit children.


Rev. Wendell Anthony speaks as members of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren stand with him at Thursday's press conference.// Photo by Paul Engstrom, Skillman Foundation

“The fact is simple — while there are fantastic students, exemplary schools, dedicated teachers, and resourceful parents, all working to ensure children achieve, the city’s education system as a whole is failing its students,” Rev. Anthony said. “This Coalition is a necessary coming together of leaders to work on an aggressive timeline to find solutions that will work for our community. It won’t always be pretty, but our members have committed to leaving individual agendas at the door to pick up the common agenda for Detroit kids.”

The Coalition includes business leaders, education reform activists, parent leaders, teachers, principals, and union representatives. The Coalition’s work will primarily focus on the city’s charter sector, Detroit Public Schools, and the Education Achievement Authority. In addition, its members will examine how the city’s fragmented school systems impact student outcomes and efficiency in operations, and are committed to exploring and learning from education experts from Detroit and across the nation to find the best solutions.

Rakolta, principal of Walbridge, said the Coalition is urging lawmakers in Lansing and Detroit to give the Coalition a chance to complete its work and share its findings.

“We know that time is of the essence,” Rakolta said. “We have to get this right. Detroit is on the road to economic recovery, but it won’t be a real recovery if people don’t have confidence in the city’s education system. Detroit’s vitality and global competitiveness is linked to its schools, which are educating our future workforce. The importance of doing so with excellence cannot be overstated.”




  • Tonya Allen, Skillman Foundation President & CEO
  • Rev. Wendell Anthony, President of the Detroit Branch NAACP
  • David Hecker, President of AFT Michigan/AFL-CIO
  • John Rakolta, Jr. CEO of Walbridge
  • Angela Reyes, Executive Director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.

Steering Committee members

  • Sandy Baruah, President & CEO Detroit Regional Chamber
  • Ralph Bland, CEO of New Paradigm for Education
  • Mike Brennan, President & CEO United Way for Southeastern Michigan
  • Sharlonda Buckman, Executive Director Detroit Parent Network
  • Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, State Representative, District 8
  • Stephanie Griffin, English teacher, Brenda Scott Academy
  • Steve Hamp, Chair, Michigan Education Excellence Foundation
  • Ponsella Hardaway, Executive Director MOSES
  • Tashaune Harden, Science Teacher at Cesar Chavez Academy Middle School
  • Arlyssa Heard, Education Activist and Parent
  • Ines de Jesus, Community Schools Coordinator, Southwest Counseling Solutions
  • Bert Johnson, State Senator, District 2
  • Lamar Lemmons, Detroit Board of Education, At-Large member
  • Lisa Phillips, Principal Detroit Cass Technical High School
  • Rev. James Perkins, Greater Christ Baptist Church
  • Julia Putnam, Co-founder and Principal of James & Grace Lee Boggs School 
  • Edna Reaves, Executive Vice President Detroit Federation of Teachers
  • Mark Reuss, Executive Vice President of Global Product Development, Purchasing, and Supply Chain at General Motors
  • Mayowa Reynolds, Dean of Arts, Accountability and Recruitment, Detroit School of Arts
  • Roy Roberts, former Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager
  • Jimmy Settles, Vice President UAW
  • Larry Simmons, Executive Director Brightmoor Alliance
  • Shirley Stancato, President & CEO New Detroit 
  • Alice Thompson, CEO Black Family Development
  • Dan Varner, CEO Excellent Schools Detroit
  • Chris Wigent, Superintendent Wayne RESA

Media contacts: William Hanson at or 313-393-1163

                          Krista Jahnke at or 313-393-1181