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Inside DPS: Don't Believe the Hype: Ten Things You Don't Know About DPS

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I'll bet you think you know a lot about Detroit Public Schools from reading the headlines and watching the nightly news, right? Well, I'm about to surprise you with some things you don't know.

The genesis of this topic comes from a wonderful series WDET did on "What Would It Take To Get You To Move To The City Of Detroit?" Assistant Superintendent Steven Wasko, DPS Communications Officer, was in the studio for another topic and pitched the idea of having several of our principals on a show to talk about what's working in neighborhood schools.

We weren't looking to showcase Cass Tech or Renaissance or Bates Academy. Those are schools that almost everyone has heard of.

We wanted to shine a spotlight on great available offerings in neighborhoods across the city, and WDET built a fantastic segment around it. (To listen, go here, and to hear Craig Fahle's program on listeners' survey results on what it would take them to move to the city, go here.)

The DPS schools and principals featured on the Craig Fahle show were: Gwendolyn Frencher from Mann Elementary, Todd Losie from the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School, Beverly Hibbler from Detroit International Academy for Young Women and Sharon Lee from Thurgood Marshall Elementary.

I thought everyone pretty much knew about those innovative and high-performing schools, too, but I was way off base. What the show fully reiterated to me is that people have a lot of misperceptions about DPS and our schools, and that we have way too many (unfortunately) well-kept secret gems, despite our many and vast attempts to get the word out.

So without further ado, here are 10 things you may not know about DPS:

1) Detroit Public Schools' Detroit International Academy, 9026 Woodward, is the only all-girls' K-12 public school in Michigan. It offers a college preparatory curriculum, with an emphasis on mathematics, science, technology, and leadership development. It has an all-girls robotics team.

2) The Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School for grades K-8, located near Renaissance High at 6501 West Outer Drive, is a dual-language program where students leave 8th grade not only proficient in English but in a second language of French, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese. FLICS students leave the program ready to excel at the country's leading rigorous, college-preparatory high schools.

3) In fact, within DPS, nine different languages are offered (Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Latin and Sign Language) while our Office of English Language Learners supports teachers teaching over 8,000 students, speaking up to 44 different languages

4) Detroit Public Schools is a volunteer powerhouse. The district has more than 1,200 volunteers from across Metro Detroit and beyond who volunteer to help our preschoolers read as part of the Volunteer Reading Corps. More than 200 businesses, like Sams Club, Compuware, Fifth Third Bank, PNC and others have signed on to the Volunteer Business Corps to support our schools with the goal of helping raise student achievement. We had more than 150 volunteers for our Holiday Learning Fest when we kept 18 schools open during break.

18 Detroit Public Schools are open over break for learning, immunizations, meals and more
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5) DPS offers a school for special needs students ages 20-26. The new Charles R. Drew Transition Center is housed in the former Drew Middle School, which recently underwent a $5.2 million renovation. The renovated school combines the best programs of DTC East and DTC West in a bright, well-equipped facility that features a Main Street retail promenade that includes a new wheelchair-accessible theater, along with a working bank (through a partnership with First Independence), laundry facility, beauty salon, retail clothing store, convenience store, gym and post office.

6) Mann Elementary School serves approximately 375 students in grades K-5 in the neighborhood near Cody High School. Excellent Schools Detroit (ESD) lists Mann as the seventh highest performing elementary school (of any governance structure) and one of the highest performing neighborhood (non-application) schools in the City.

7) Thurgood Marshall is a neighborhood school on the Northwest side of Detroit with high and rigorous standards for academic achievement. The school exceeded the state of Michigan's average passing rates for reading and math, according to the 2011 Excellent School Detroit Report card. The school made AYP for 2010-11.

8) Davis Aerospace Technical High School is a uniquely specialized Detroit Public School that services high school students in grades 9-12. In fact, it is one of a few schools of its kind in the entire United States and the only public school in the State of Michigan that has an approved Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) curriculum coupled with an in-house fleet of aircraft that are owned, operated, and serviced by its students and staff. The graduation rate is 96 percent. We are teaching kids to fly!

9) DPS believes that having actively engaged parents is critical to improving student achievement. We have offered hundreds (maybe thousands) of workshops in our eight Parent Resource Centers to help parents be better parents. We have a performance-driven partnership with Detroit Parent Network to increase parent engagement. And it's working! We saw a 37 percent jump in parent participation through our Parent and Community Engagement 2.0" initiative. In the first year, we saw more than 10,000 visits to our Parent Resource Centers.

10) Every single one of our students eats free every single day for the first time ever this year. And they're eating healthfully. DPS emphasizes "baked, not fried." Betti Wiggins, Executive Director of Food Services tells me we have an "R.I.P." sign on the fryers. True story. We serve whole wheat buns, turkey burgers, Michigan-grown apples and more.

Eek. I'm stressed. I didn't get to mention Breithaupt Career and Tech, where students cater Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and run buffets in their school restaurant and operate a Meat Shop. Oh no! I didn't mention our outstanding Detroit Public School League, where we offer baseball, swimming, golf, and so much more. Ack. I didn't even get to the Netbooks, which we have available for every student in grades 6-12.

Ok. Another blog another time. I'll keep trying to get the word out about the Great Things Happening in DPS. If I missed any great points about DPS, please post them on our Facebook page.