DPS leader wants more Arab American students
By Nick Meyer
DETROIT – Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb met with The Arab American News Publisher and spokesman of the Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO) Osama Siblani on Tuesday, March 30 at the Fisher Building in Detroit to discuss plans to attract more Arab American children to Detroit schools.
The district has seen a sharp decline in enrollment in recent years as nearly 100,000 students have left since 1997 according to Crain’s Detroit Business, but Bobb recently announced a $540 million plan using federal money to make a series of sweeping changes and improvements.
Bobb made his intentions clear early on in the meeting, which was organized and attended by Arab American DPS employee Dr. Therese Smith.
“Our outreach to your community is that we want more of your kids, that’s the bottom line, I can’t say it any more eloquently than that,” Bobb said.
In order to get more kids to come, Siblani said that parents’ concerns over security and drugs must be addressed by DPS.
Bobb said that DPS has allocated $41 million in security for the coming months.
“We want to change the whole public safety department top to bottom and bring in more seasoned veterans who understand Detroit communities,” he said.
Bobb said plans are in the works to invest in a new headquarters for public safety, put more security technology in schools, and to begin conflict resolution programs to help students learn ways to settle disagreements in a peaceful way.
In addition to attracting more students to DPS, Bobb laid out his academic goals for the district.
Currently, DPS students graduate at a rate of 58%, but Bobb has set a standard of 98%by 2015, which is 9 points higher than the national average of 89%.
The dropout rate is 27%, much higher than the national average of 9%, and the goal for 2015 is 3%.
The ACT score average for DPS is 15 with the national average at 19, but Bobb wants to see the score come up to 21 by 2015 as well.
Bob used a sports analogy to further explain his lofty academic goals.
“No one who qualifies to go to the Olympics goes without the desire to win a gold medal, not even the Jamaican bobsled team from a few years ago,” he said.
“We want to invest in 21st century teaching and learning and be supportive of teachers to give them the tools they need to succeed.”
Bobb also expressed interest in learning the cultural traditions and values of the Arab American community. Siblani extended an official invitation to Bobb to join CAAO at a meeting and/or dinner sometime in the next month in order to meet with Arab American leaders, parents, and students.
Bobb said his time in Santa Ana, California’s school system in a dynamic community of Hispanic, Hmong, Vietnamese and Samoan immigrants was one of the most personally enriching experiences of his distinguished career, and he looks forward to learning about the various cultural aspects of the Arab American and Muslim communities so that DPS can better serve them. Currently, a sizeable and growing population of Arab and Muslim students live within Detroit’s borders.
Siblani said that educating local Detroit communities, teachers, administrators, and others about Arab and Muslim culture is of the utmost importance. He suggested that Bobb hire a knowledgeable adviser on the subject to his staff, which currently does not include any Arab Americans. Bobb was receptive to exploring that idea in the future.
He said that Cleveland School in Detroit, which is now Detroit International Academy, made changes to accommodate Muslim students from diet and dress code perspectives and also had prayer rooms as well, which is a model that can be applied to future schools if need be.
“I want to do my best to learn about the culture so that I’m not trying to be respectful and end up being disrespectful,” he said.