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Allen: 2015 to bring big things to Detroit education, young men of color

At the beginning of a new year, it is a blessing to feel both grateful for what’s transpired in the year ending and hopeful for what is to come in the next.

I’m happy to say I’m in that sweet spot right now.

The last month of 2014 especially gave me much to be thankful for and hopeful about. Two things in particular stand out, and I want to take a moment now to share an update about them with you.

The first was the announcement that Detroit has accepted President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Challenge. The announcement gave me hope for a few reasons. First, it was an announcement jointly made with the Foundation, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and former Mayor Dave Bing. What’s more, many leaders from other prominent Detroit organizations came to the announcement and committed to working together to improve outcomes for young men of color.

Since the announcement on Dec. 1, three working groups have been formed. Work is underway, and we will keep you posted in this year with updates and ways to take action.

The other big announcement came two weeks later, when 31 Detroit leaders formed the new Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.

While I have worked on education issues in Detroit for more than a decade, I can’t think of a similar example of so many unlikely allies coming together to try to take on this issue, which is so emotional for so many reasons.

While no one is happy with the array of school options and the outcomes we have in Detroit, people are often loathe to discuss how to fix these problems because, in any set of solutions, loss in involved. Whether the loss involves power or control, changes to funding or the closing of a neighborhood school, loss is simply hard. For everyone.

But we, as adults, might work through that loss when it’s about kids. That’s the bottom line. And while the people involved with the Coalition came in with many different ideas for what must change, while they brought an array of different political ideologies, there is a common understanding that all must lay down their individual agendas and accept the potentially personal losses that might come in the name of doing what is right.

These people have done that. That’s where my hope rests. The Coalition started meeting, and while the meetings can sometimes include difficult conversations, what makes me so hopeful is sensing just how serious everyone is at starting from the same sense of sacrifice and common ground.

All of the members of this Coalition want Detroit schools to be better in terms of quality. All believe that a strong public school district is part of any solution. All believe that the concept of school choice is a positive if done well.

The Coalition is working with a very intense schedule of coming up with recommendations in 90 days. These recommendations will look at the system of education as a whole — including DPS, the EAA and the charters — as well as issues like enrollment, transportation, and accountability. There is a tremendous amount of ground to cover. The Coalition has received endorsements of support from Gov. Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan. Snyder, though, has suggested he will announce school-related policy changes in the next month. The Coalition is urging him to wait for its work to be complete.

None of this will be easy.  But as I’ve told my staff recently, if something gives you that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling, you should abide by it. Pay attention, your body is telling you; This is important. This is big. This is good.

I have that feeling now.

I hope you enjoyed a very happy holiday season and New Year. I look forward to seeing you in 2015, ready to get to work.

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