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Failed school district may offer graduates the chance to get the type of quality instruction they missed out on

May 22, 2013 by

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. – Muskegon Heights students may finally start receiving the quality education they rightfully deserve, even if it’s after the fact.

Dr. Donald Weatherspoon, the state-appointed emergency manager of Muskegon Heights Public School Academy (former Muskegon Heights Public Schools) is making that his personal goal.

He’s prepared to offer free educational support services to students who graduated from the high school as long as six years ago.

That’s because it’s become glaringly obvious to Weatherspoon that many former students were probably shortchanged academically, even though they were granted diplomas.

Weatherspoon doesn’t think it’s ever too late to recover an education, if there are graduates who are still willing to put in the work necessary to catch up.

There are probably at least a few graduates, and parents of current students, who are grateful for Weatherspoon and his honest view of how students have been getting the short end of the stick.

Last year, with the Muskegon Heights school district facing an $11.5 million dollar deficit, the school board voted to request an emergency manager from the state.

Weatherspoon was appointed to the post and quickly negotiated a five-year contract with Mosaica Education Inc., a charter school company, to run the district on a day-to-day basis.

The company clearly has its work cut out for it.

“The biggest problem teachers are having is the kids who came in from the old district were so far behind that they can’t catch up in order to deal with the (instructional) material,” Weatherspoon told

‘Plus six, minus six’


While Weatherspoon has yet to make any promises, the district is currently in the idea stage of launching a program which he said would take a “plus six, minus six” approach.

The program would be designed to give students who have graduated as long as six years ago, or who will graduate within six years, access to free educational support programs.

The details of the program, and possible funding, still need to be worked out, Weatherspoon said. Officials have yet to reach out to any students to measure possible interest in such a program.

But their willingness to make up for past failures is a breath of fresh air for a school district that has all too often accepted failure as a norm.

The designated time of six years may be related to the district’s budget deficit, which began to increase significantly during the 2005-2006 school year and obviously affected academics.

The district was already facing a $900,000 shortfall in 2005-06, and irresponsible deficit spending has been the norm since then. The budget deficit eventually peaked at $11.5 million in 2011-2012.

The deficit was a result of the district waiting too long to save itself financially by not making the appropriate reductions in a timely manner.

When Muskegon Heights officials were finally forced to cut the budget, they panicked and did not take the necessary steps to ensure that quality instruction survived the budget ax, Weatherspoon said. The objective was to try and rein in the deficit by all means possible. The solution was to cut the programs that cost the most, whatever they might be.

By adopting this approach, the district proceeded to cut vital educational programs, resulting in a six-year educational free fall for students.

While students in the lower grade levels now have an opportunity to catch up academically, students who graduated during the budget-slashing years were handed their diplomas and left far behind.

The “six year” program would be designed to provide these graduates with an opportunity to gain the instruction they didn’t receive the first time around.

Dismal academics


By proposing the six-year program, Weatherspoon is clearly acknowledging that academics in Muskegon Heights have not been up to par.

This is further evidenced by the alarming test results that have come out of the district in recent years.

Muskegon Heights High School is consistently placed on Michigan’s “Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools” list and can also be found at the bottom of Michigan’s Department of Education “Top to Bottom Rankings.”

Recent testing of Muskegon Heights High School students found that 92 percent of ninth-graders began the school year at least three grades behind in math and reading, according to a report from

In the fall of 2011, 75 percent of Muskegon Heights eighth graders failed to meet state standards in the reading category. Even worse, 100 percent of eighth graders failed to meet state math standards.

Weatherspoon said parents who have been informed of these results “feel betrayed,” according to the MLive report. During a discussion of the scores with the Muskegon Heights School Board, Weatherspoon said, “It’s a hard realization because those kids will go out in the world and not be prepared.”

The hope is that the proposed program would allow former students – and current students who are struggling – to recover the basic fundamentals of math and reading. Once that foundation is laid, their chance to gain additional education and future success will be greatly increased.

Failed school district may offer graduates the chance to get the type of quality instruction they missed out on – :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary.

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