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Emergency manager aims to earn respect for schools

By Mike Householder

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 11:00 a.m. MDT

Detroit schools emergency financial manager Roy Roberts, left, meets with Sharnai Foster at the Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit, Monday, May 16, 2011. The former General Motors executive said his goals are to change the culture of the Detroit Public Schools and inspire a winning attitude among parents, teachers and students. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Roberts to the job nearly two weeks ago.

Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

DETROIT — The new emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools said Monday that along with balancing the budget, he'd like to restore respect for a district at risk of having a "Rodney Dangerfield" mentality.

Roy Roberts is inheriting a district with a deficit of at least $327 million, although its graduation rate is slightly better than it was when his predecessor, Robert Bobb, took over two years ago.

Following a tour of Marcus Garvey Academy, Roberts talked about his goals for the job, which include elevating educational standards and inspiring a winning attitude among parents, teachers and students.

Along the way, he'd like to gain a measure of respect from those who have been critical of the city's schools, he said.

"We've got to make sure that we, Detroit Public Schools, don't have a Rodney Dangerfield-kind of mentality," Roberts said, referring to the late comedian famous for complaining about how he got "no respect."

A former General Motors Corp. executive, Roberts was appointed to the Detroit Public Schools job nearly two weeks ago by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. He spent Monday morning visiting two of the district's schools. During the Garvey Academy tour, which lasted about 20 minutes, Roberts entered one classroom and shook students' hands.

"Hi. I'm Roy. What's your name? Are you a good student," he said to one young lady.

To another, he said: "We need you to be the best you can be." Then he turned to the entire class and said, "All of you," before flashing a smile and a giving them a thumbs-up.

Garvey Academy has 612 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade. The school emphasizes cultural awareness, global learning and community service in an African-centered environment.

Street signs bearing the names of famous African-Americans, such as W.E.B. DuBois Lane, Malcolm X Blvd. and Barack Obama Drive, dot the school's hallways.

Led by principal James Hearn, Roberts checked out the school's swimming pool, several classrooms and a wall mural.

During a news conference at the school that followed the tour, Roberts said he plans to make several important hires soon, including superintendent of schools, chief financial officer and human resources director.

An announcement regarding summer school will come later in the week, Roberts said.

Bobb, who was named the school district's emergency financial manager in 2009 by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, is expected to stick around for a number of weeks to assist with the transition.

"Here I am. I'm all you've got. And at this point, I'm the best you've got," Roberts told reporters.

He has a tough road ahead of him.

The district's graduation rate, though better, still lags behind the national average, and enrollment has dropped from 104,000 in 2007 to 74,000 this year and is projected to bottom out at 56,000.

"Nobody's gonna come here and save us," Roberts said. "I think there's a general feeling that the state or somebody will just forgive us for all of our sins.

"It's not gonna happen."

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