Michigan programs pushes to keep kids in school and out of trouble

Two programs aimed at keeping kids in school and out of trouble are gaining attention locally and nationally. The Michigan School-Justice Partnership and Pathways to Potential in the schools share the overarching aim of keeping more students in school and off the streets where they can get into trouble, the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) announced recently

"The evidence is clear and compelling, keeping kids in school learning is one of the most effective ways to stop them entering the criminal justice system," said Maura Corrigan, DHS director.

At the recent DHS Statewide Directors' meeting Oct. 22 in East Lansing, leaders for both these efforts outlined the ways they are helping students with school attendance.

Pathways caseworkers known as success coaches are currently on-site at 208 schools in Michigan. Last year Pathways schools saw a 34-percent decrease in chronic absenteeism. At participating schools like Detroit's East English Village Preparatory Academy, attendance and achievement have not only dramatically increased, but the school's culture has changed for the better.

Young men, who had previously been involved in gangs, are now part of a school organization called DIGNITY that is under the guidance of Ray Winans, who spent time in prison and has turned his life around and is committed to his students' success. Local businessman and McDonald's franchise owner Errol Service has also been a key player in the school's success, providing school blazers to all students at the school, rewarding achievement with special trips and employing a number of East English Village students at McDonald's.

Michigan's School-Justice Partnership team was in Washington, D.C. last month, where they were invited by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to attend the 2014 National Leadership Summit on School Discipline and Climate.

Herman McCall, acting director of Juvenile Justice Programs for DHS, attended the conference along with DHS Pathways to Potential team member Jean Ingersoll and Midland County Circuit Probate Judge Dorene S. Allen, chairperson of the Michigan School-Justice Partnership. Allen gave a presentation on the proposed Michigan reforms.

"We have been working tirelessly, in partnership with numerous stakeholders, to amend zero-tolerance legislation that can result in unjust school expulsions for relatively minor offenses that put young people in a pipeline to prison," said McCall.

Under a statewide effort being driven by the partnership, Michigan counties and school districts are submitting plans to reform juvenile discipline programs to place less emphasis on school expulsion and juvenile incarceration.

The partnership also is seeking legislation that would give school districts more flexibility in dealing with incidents of school violence or weapons possession, rather than zero-tolerance policies now in place.

A key theme at the summit was cross-systems collaboration, which is the approach proposed by the Michigan School-Justice Partnership. The non-profit Michigan initiative, which includes representation from several state agencies, courts and educational institutions, largely began with the convening of a statewide summit in September 2013.

DHS officials said Michigan's presentation this month was well-received by other states; McCall said New Jersey officials, in fact, expressed interest in pursuing Michigan reforms in their state.

"Michigan is seen as a lead state in addressing these kinds of issues," McCall said. "A lot of this is through the leadership of Director Corrigan."

McCall also is representing DHS in a review of juvenile justice programs by the National Governors Association (NGA). Last month, Michigan was one of four states selected by the association to explore recommendations on improving outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

McCall has attended a NGA conference on the topic in Connecticut, and the effort will continue for the next several months.

Published: Mon, Nov 17, 2014