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Panel discusses education and leadership in Detroit schools

By Michael Maas , Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 21, 2013

At the Nonprofit and Public Management Center’s second annual Education Leaders Forum on Thursday, participants discussed ways to attract education leaders to Detroit.

About 70 students and community members attended the event, which included a discussion panel of four leaders with expertise in education in Detroit. Panelists included Scott Morgan, the founder and CEO of Education Pioneers, an education recruitment firm; Dan Varner, the CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit, a non-profit group working to improve education in Detroit; Kendra Hearn, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Education; and Lesley Redwine, the CEO and Superintendent of New Urban Learning, a non-profit charter management organization.

The forum followed the NPM’s Social Impact Challenge, a contest for graduate students’ education ideas that took place earlier in the day.

“The point of the Social Impact Challenge is to allow students at Michigan the chance to work on a real-life problem for an organization that focuses on social impact. So in this case, Education Pioneers is tackling a real important issue for our nation, which is how to create a better pipeline of leaders into the space,” said Rishi Moudgil, the managing director of NPM.

Morgan said he agreed to speak in the panel and act as a judge for the social impact challenge because he wanted to hear the students’ insights, which he could possibly implement in his organization.

“The caliber of thought and analysis in the short time frame with which they had to analyze all the data and make recommendations was incredibly impressive,” Morgan said. “We have a number of ideas that we are going to be able to run with in a high-quality way.”

Hearn, an assistant professor at the School of Education and University coordinator for the Teach for America-Detroit Program, was also a member of the panel. Born and raised in Detroit, she said she believes city residents are key to education reform in the city.

“My greatest aspiration was to go back to Detroit and educate her children so they can have the opportunities that I was afforded because I had an excellent education,” Hearn said.

The discussion panel was followed by an announcement of the winners of the Social Impact Challenge Awards. The winning team, Focus Education, consisted of graduate students Vinita Vishwanarayan, Stefana Vutova, Lauren Sheram, Nellie Tsai. They were awarded $2,500 for their presentation.

“It feels really good because in a short span we came together from all these different schools and came up with ideas that not only had implications in terms of a financial perspective, but also a social impact,” Vishwanarayan said.

Morgan gave the keynote speech after the announcement of the winner. He highlighted the importance of leadership in education.

“First, leadership matters and it matters at all levels,” Morgan said. “Secondly, leaders can have tremendous leverage. They get leverage by developing other leaders and they have leverage in the terms of the way they spend dollars. And then the third thing is that leadership is the key lever in transforming urban education.”

Business senior Lilliane Webb came to the discussion panel to learn more about why students at the University should consider working in education in Detroit.

“The hope that they had for the city, as someone from the state of Michigan, that they’re not encouraging leaders to go elsewhere to make a difference was really inspiring,” Webb said.

Education graduate student Raul Cruz said he is considering a career in education and came to learn more about working in an urban environment.

“I’m from New York City so I know about education in the inner-city, but while I’m in the Midwest, the place I need to focus my attention is the place where it’s needed the most,” Cruz said. “I’ve taught before and I hope to possibly lead in Detroit.”

Story updated: This story has been updated to reflect the official headcount for the event, including non-students.