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Muskegon Heights charter schools monitor 'very impressed' by high school
mLive.com
By: Lynn Moore
September 25, 2013
One of two outside monitors who will be closely watching Muskegon Heights schools over the next several years said he was "very impressed" by Muskegon Heights High School and is hopeful for the future of the charter school district.

Jim Morse, an outreach specialist with Michigan State University's College of Education, addressed officials with the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System and the charter district's management company, Mosaica Education Inc., during a meeting Tuesday.

Morse, who is monitoring Muskegon Heights schools under a contract with the Michigan Department of Education, said he is just beginning his work in the district. The only school he has visited so far is the high school, where Morse said he was "very impressed" with changes implemented by Principal Carla Turner-Laws and her staff.

"I'm really excited about what you've done so far," Morse said. "I think the future will be bright for Muskegon Heights, and that's what we're all looking forward to."

Morse said he was impressed by the cleanliness of the school, student behavior and the posting on school walls of achievement data.

The meeting at the Muskegon Heights Housing Commission board room was called by Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Donald Weatherspoon. He told Mosaica and Muskegon Heights academy officials that there will be a three-pronged monitoring approach to the school system this year.

The idea is to help bring up lagging student achievement that charter officials inherited when they agreed to operate the financially strapped district.

"You don't have to freak out," Weatherspoon said. "It's an extension of what's covered in the contract. It's just a little more detail."

Weatherspoon said he and others would be making unannounced visits to "random" school classrooms to look at compliance with Mosaica's contract to operate the charter schools.

Morse is monitoring and assisting Edgewood Elementary and Muskegon Heights High because they have been identified as "priority schools" in the bottom 4 percent of schools in the state.

In addition, Ron Schneider is monitoring priority charter schools for the state. He told Muskegon Heights officials that he would be there to help the schools for four years. In an encouraging tone, he told the school officials that "every kid has to make improvement," and that the schools need to focus in on each and every student.

"No one can slip through the cracks anymore," Schneider said. "It's too important."

Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of the Muskegon Heights charter district, said the district already made great strides in improving the atmosphere at the schools last year. She said that included improving safety with locked doors, classroom cameras, security and high school uniforms; increasing parental involvement; and bringing up the daily high school attendance rate to an average of 80 percent.

Now, she said, the district will focus on achievement, which Mosaica officials have said will be at least 1.25 years of learning growth. Zachery-Ross said she welcomed the help that the monitors were offering.

"This is the year of accountability," Zachery-Ross said. "It's the dawning of a new day."

Lynn Moore covers education for MLive/Muskegon Chronicle. Email her at lmoore8@mlive.com and follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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