Introducing Dr Burnley and His Program
Rich Gibson, Wayne State University College of Education

Dr. Kenneth Burnley attended his first meeting of the Takeover Detroit School Board on Wednesday, July 26, 2000 at Mumford High. The result of a six-month search that alone cost nearly $100,000, a search that failed so completely that Board members resorted to making lists of friends and social contacts who might be willing to apply, Burnley will be paid about $1/4 million a year for his services as Detroit Schools CEO, placing him among the most costly in the country. This is a remarkable leap for the 1960 Mumford High graduate whose background is limited to the tiny Colorado Springs district, less than one-tenth the size of Detroit, and an obscure district in Alaska. 

The first item addressed for Burnley was his request for an "additional $15,000 in moving expenses that were not addressed in his original contract," according to Board Chair Freeman Hendrix. This motion passed unambiguously, no board member addressing the fact that a move for a four-bedroom home from Detroit to the west coast costs about $8,800. 

Then Burnely took charge of the meeting. "I am here to serve others."

The overwhelming majority of the audience of about one hundred appeared to enjoy his opening remarks, memories of his days at Mumford and the University of Michigan, and his promise to be the CEO of all Detroit schools, not just his alma mater.

Burnley then turned to announce his appointment of a "Deputy CEO, Robert Moore, from Colorado Springs, who will be in charge of the administrative side of the job, and a woman who will be in charge of curriculum and instruction." This seemingly leaves time for Burnley to take on the tasks of most big-city superintendents: Friends and Funds.

Burnely then launched his Vision and Five Goals for DPS, drawn from the already-adopted "School Improvement Plan." His purpose in the meeting was to make the goals, "fit on a credit card. One page that anyone can memorize." 

Burnley then offered what he called a "PowerPoint presentation." In fact, he and three others managed to scroll common text across a screen, a slide presentation placed on an expensive computer.

The Vision: "The students in DPS will perform at state and national averages on criterion and standardized tests-while the district is a leader in continuous improvement."

The Mission: To maximize student learning and to act efficiently.

The Goals:

1. Improve student achievement

2. Transition students to become workers in data-driven learning systems. 

3. Create a safe student environment.

4. Enhance community involvement and communication.

5. Develop an efficient and effective organization.

Burnely focused his comments on points 2 and 4. He means, in saying "Transition students to become workers in data-driven learning systems," that students are not the consumer, but workers, in the school system." They are to be put to work by their bosses, teachers, who must be given timely data on student production. Teachers will be "helped," by being directed to give weekly "mini-Meaps" which will be scored by a private contractor. The scoring agent will product colorful bar charts and graphs, promptly, to be posted in each classroom. "The real consumers of DPS are the business owners who I met with this morning. I reported this idea to them which made them very happy. They may even offer shopper discounts to students who do well."

In regard to community involvement and communication, Burnely and his new appointees repeatedly insisted that Detroit schools are really much better than people believe. His comments indicate that he is going to follow Bill Beckham's practice of hiring, at unknown cost, GM's top advertising agency to convince the local citizens that the schools are good-which would seem to contradict the early pronouncements requiring the takeover that caused his hiring. Burnely added, however, that the physical condition of the schools is "an abomination. We want to get the grounds in shape right away. The schools must have curb appeal." 

During a question and answer period, the leader of a custodian union, decertified by previous CEO David Adamany, gave Burnely a jacket with "Detroit 2000" printed on the back, as audience members hissed and made kissing sounds.

20,000 students, or about 12% of the entire system, left Detroit schools last year. The school system will enter the 2000-2001 year with nearly 2000 vacant positions, and positions filled by uncertified teachers. The district expects to hire only 350 teachers from the massive hiring fair in July.

It is unclear how the huge budget shortfall caused by the exodus of students will be overcome. Nor is it clear how DPS will hire and retain teachers. After the meeting, one untenured DPS teacher approached me saying that she and dozens of others, who taught summer school, had not been paid. 

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