Roy Roberts’ date with destiny


Nobody can be satisfied with the state of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) during the tenure of outgoing Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb.  Since his failures are well chronicled, Detroiters should bid him adieu without regret.

In Detroit’s current education crisis there is opportunity. We can only hope that his replacement, retired GM Executive Roy Roberts, will bring to the job a contrasting style that averts a doomsday scenario for the city.

Although a stranger to the city, Robert Bobb arrived amid high expectations. I took the liberty of introducing myself after stopping him at the old Wayne County Building. I told Bobb that irrespective of the fact that my brother was the president of the teacher’s union, he was my hero. He was the one Detroit had been waiting for to rescue the district. I urged him to do everything within his extraordinary powers to give the children a fighting chance, a real opportunity to learn and succeed.

Bobb failed miserable, even in his most basic charge to bring the district’s finances in line with available revenue. The deficit actually doubled under his watch.

Bobb believed in central control, consolidating power at the top. This approach, however, didn’t allow him to get enough books in every school, and he was slow to put into place a purchasing system capable of timely buying basic supplies.

Test scores continued to reflect one of the worse learning environments in the nation. No connection was made between the money spent and what took place in the classroom. There is nothing about DPS today that resembles a well functioning education delivery system.

school zoneThere too is no evidence that Bobb’s talents were ideally suited to a large, deeply complex and troubled urban school district. What DPS needed was site-based management that shifted more control over budgets and hiring decisions to school principals. It took Bobb too long, and perhaps too late, before he realized that chartering schools, giving students and parents more choices of schools to attend, was the best reform measure. By then, faithless parents, shocked by the disorder and instability he caused, had gathered up their children and fled in droves to private and charter schools, or to schools across district lines.

I am a casual acquaintance of Roy Roberts. I know him more by his good reputation and I’m not easily impressed. My instincts, though, tell me he understands how vital education is to the city’s future. I’m totally confident that he is up to the challenge of again making schools the pathway to success. I have no doubt he knows that substandard education serves as a ball and chain around the necks of children who must be proficient in the high-tech information-oriented society of today and tomorrow. Ending the uncertainty that clouds their future must be lifted by any means necessary. But I also understand commitment to change does not necessarily guarantee results.

Roy Roberts couldn’t have landed in the job as EFM during a more tumultuous time. He will inherit a multi-million dollar deficit and a helter-skelter school utilization plan. A lot of businesses and parents are anxiously looking to see if Roy has the will and ability to end a vicious, protracted cycle of incompetence and poor performance.

The coming days and months will set the course for Detroit education for years to come. Expectations are again high. No matter what steps Roy Roberts takes, Johnny won’t learn to read, write or perform at national norms in reading and math until his parent(s) value his education highly enough to get involved.

Still, I choose to believe Roy can overcome this crisis in confidence, be a difference maker and save the school system from a fatal date with destiny.

It will take all the determination and fury Roy can muster, and all the support a hopeful and desperate community can give.

3 thoughts on “Roy Roberts’ date with destiny

  1. I reviewed your article regarding DPS. As always the failure of DPS is blamed upon the parents. However as I parent who has spent 10 years in the educational fight ( My children are graduating in June and Matriculating to Rochester Institute of Technology and Western Michigan) I see the issue as a teacher issue. While their are some good teachers in DPS they are the rarity rather than the norm.

    Parents are not involved as teachers do not want them involved as it will require more work of the teacher. Case in point: Student arrives to class in Bloomfield Hills without homework, teacher calls parent. Student arrives in Detroit without homework regularly, teacher never calls, but tells the world they are not involved. It is the teachers responsibility in every school in America to communicate with parents, except in DPS. In ten years I have only had 5 teachers call me.Given the fact I spent 2 years fulltime in the building daily, that track record is atrocious. Parents usually are told only negative things about their students at parent -teacher conference. Who in their RIGHT MIND would come to a parent -teacher conference if the tone is only negative?

    Lastly I spent last year 9 weeks fighting with a Physics Teacher and DFT over science experiments the teacher refused to do in science class. This teacher is 20 year veteran and probably has not done experiments in 20 years. Parents in Grosse Pointe do not have that fight. In fact I walked right into Grosse Pointe South sat in a Physics class. The teacher hands me the experment schedule and then directs me to his website where the schedule is provided. But not in Detroit. The teacher was upset and offended an involved parent demanded he follow the states content expectations defined by law. But why? they are part of his job description. He should have known their by memory at this point in his career.

    Everyone wants to fix DPS but no one really wants to deal with the problem that when the classroom door closes no one knows what the teacher is doing. But the proof is in the result.

    I can be further reached at 313-483-2126 fr more dialogue.

    Ida Byrd-Hill
    Uplift, Inc.
    P.O. Box 241488
    Detroit, MI 48224

    Join Nuture the Future

  2. I can say I agree with 90% of your comments regarding Rob Bobb. However, I am sick and tired of the put downs of parents and teachers when it comes to education in DPS. It is an entire community issue. I have six children who graduated from DPS. They range from mid 40s through early 20s and I am a graduate. I believe its time to stop the blame game and focus on how do we fix this mess. I don’t believe any one person can wave a magic wand and create an instant miracle of what is really a nationally broken system. We must realize this is going take years. Meanwhile our children must learn the basics and keep up with current trends. All the fighting between the public and private sectors vs the community is counter productive. Treating Detroiters like we are on the plantation waiting for old master to give us direction is an insult. Roy Roberts obviously brings a wealth of experience from the private sector, but he must also be willing to have all stakeholders including the elected Detroit Board of Education at the table if he is to be creditable. I hope he can build that team and help make that miracle happen in Detroit ASAP.

  3. Bill,

    After reading your article about the Detroit school emergency, thought you might appreciate the attached information on the Fast Break Accelerated Learning Program. Adoption of the model could well put Detroit high schools on the path to 21st Century relevance while saving them money. Focus:HOPE, in fact, developed the model in the early 90s. Subsequently, it was replicated in Los Angeles and other American cities, including several in Michigan. Improvements in the basic model (better technology and classroom management methods) were incorporated along the way. Teachers, students and the business community love this team-oriented model that gets students career and college ready. If you are so inclined kindly share this information with Roy Roberts. I’d be happy to answer your questions.


    Barry E. Stern, Ph.D.
    Senior Adviser
    Haberman Educational Foundation ( )
    Purcellville, VA 20132

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