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Kansas City Chief to Oversee Michigan's Worst-Performing Schools

UPDATE

John Covington, who resigned abruptly as superintendent of the Kansas City, Mo., school system, is moving to Michigan to become chancellor of a new educational authority that will oversee some of the state's lowest performing schools, starting with a group of schools in Detroit.

The board that oversees the authority met this afternoon to vote on a new leader. In a press release announcing Covington's selection, the board cited his school reform efforts in the 17,400-student school district, where he arrived in 2009 and led an effort to shutter more than two dozen schools in order to close a budget deficit. He was also superintendent in Pueblo, Colo., for three years.

The new position comes with a yearly salary of $225,000. Covington will also receive a $175,000 signing bonus.

Covington's resignation on Wednesday from the 17,400-student Kansas City district, which he said would be effective Sept. 23, upset some local and state officials, who said efforts to turn around the struggling district could now be derailed. The local school board had held a press conference pledging to work through its differences with him, and the editorial board of the Kansas City Star asked Covington to rethink his departure. Barb Shelly, an editorial writer at the paper, now calls the former superintendent's move "shabby."

According to reports in that paper, Covington gave no indication that he was considering another position.

The Michigan education authority, announced in June as the "Education Achievement System," will manage underperforming schools throughout the state. The authority is expected to be up and running in 2012-13 with an as-yet-undetermined number of schools in Detroit. Eventually, it is expected to expand to include the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in Michigan.

In June, I interviewed the new emergency financial manager of the 73,000-student Detroit system, Roy Roberts, to find out more about his hopes for the educational authority. At that time, he said that the dysfunctional central office in the district was hampering school improvement.

"Principals, teachers—we're not failing because of those people," he said. Detroit has had a revolving door of district leaders, he noted. "The HR [human resources] system is broken, the financial system is broken, we have major problems." ...

The final result, if successful, will look like this: A leaner Detroit Public school district, under the leadership of a chief academic officer, will oversee schools in Detroit that are not the lowest performers. The Educational Achievement System, led by a separate chancellor, will serve as a sort of intensive care model for schools that need the most help, he said.

The Detroit system has been at the center of reform efforts aimed at struggling urban districts. Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined the annoucement of the new education authority by videoconference, saying that officials there are "fighting for the future of the city."

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