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New Grand Ledge Superintendent Focusing On Academic Achievement As Students Return To In-Person Learning

Marcus Davenport wearing a blue suit. He stands in front of a plain beige background
Courtesy
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Grand Ledge Public Schools
The Grand Ledge School Board tapped Davenport to lead the district in May.

Marcus Davenport comes to Grand Ledge after leading the Beecher Community School District near Flint.

Students attending Grand Ledge Public Schools are starting class Tuesday with a new superintendent.

Marcus Davenport previously led the Beecher Community School District near Flint. Before that he was a principal at Thomas Edison Elementary in Detroit.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with him to discuss his priorities as the new academic year begins.

Interview Highlights

On What Drew Him To Grand Ledge

I just wanted to be that leader that led a Grand Ledge back to a return to face-to-face in-person instruction for five full days a week and to continue the rich tradition that has been started in Grand Ledge, but also add a another layer of higher academic achievement.

On Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Efforts Within The District

I just think that one of the misconceptions when people hear about diversity, equity and inclusion, they make it a Black or white issue. They make it a racial issue. And in Grand Ledge, the goal is to have this position not only deal with the diversity, equity and inclusion in some of those documented concerns, but also focus on students who have needs and how do we meet those academic needs to make our district a better district for students.

On Criticism Of The District's Masking Policy

I definitely understand how all parents feel. As a parent, I have no right to tell you how you should feel about your child and what's best for your child. As the superintendent, I have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our district, in having five days of in-person instruction with limited to potentially no interruptions, if at all possible. That is our goal.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Students attending Grand Ledge Public Schools are starting class today with a new superintendent.

Marcus Davenport previously led the Beecher Community School District near Flint. Before that, he was a principal at Thomas Edison Elementary in Detroit.

He joins me now to discuss his priorities as the new academic year begins.

Thank you for being here.

Marcus Davenport: Thank you for this opportunity.

Saliby: You're coming from a relatively small district. What made you want to jump to Grand Ledge?

Davenport: I'm the type of leader that I've always looked forward to the next challenge. And Grand Ledge is an awesome community, a wonderful school district.

I just wanted to be that leader that led a Grand Ledge back to a return to face-to-face in-person instruction for five full days a week and to continue the rich tradition that has been started in Grand Ledge

And I just wanted to be that leader that led a Grand Ledge back to a return to face-to-face in-person instruction for five full days a week and to continue the rich tradition that has been started in Grand Ledge, but also add a another layer of higher academic achievement.

Saliby: What are your focuses for this upcoming school year to make things better?

Davenport: One of the major focuses is just having a data-driven approach. We were fortunate over the past week to have our opening of schools for our employees, which is a big meeting.

We kind of just talk about our goals for the year, and one of those main attributes that we're looking forward to is having a true analysis of our data and making decisions based on our data and forms of academic achievement.

As we know, in the previous year, due to the pandemic, many districts have had to deal with lower standardized test scores. And so that is an area that we will focus on is how do we, once again, return to in-person instruction five full days a week. How do we make sure that we overcome the challenges of this current pandemic. And yet, we continue to focus on raising the bar for student achievement.

Saliby: I want to return to the pandemic in just a few minutes. But I want to ask you, last year, your predecessor Brian Metcalf was fired after making comments online about the murder of George Floyd.

That situation led current and former students to come forward with their experiences with racism in the district.

How do you plan to address those concerns to make a safer environment for those students?

Davenport: What I've done in my brief tenure, I scheduled seven "Dialogue with the Superintendent" sessions. That allowed the community to come in and have an open dialogue with me, the superintendent. Some of those sessions were almost three hours long, and so, I was able to really gain a lot from the community and work together to figure out how do we address some of the numerous concerns that exist but also focus on the great attributes of our district as well.

This is not going to be an overnight story, but we will continue to use all of our resources, and we will continue to find ways to meet the needs of our students.

And so my goal is just to simply continue to be a listener, continue to work with our administrative staff, continue to work with our educators and continue to listen to our students to try to find solutions.

This is not going to be an easy task. This is not going to be an overnight story, but we will continue to use all of our resources, and we will continue to find ways to meet the needs of our students.

Saliby: One of the changes that the district has made, the school board recently created this position to support students and oversee any diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. How does that roll fit into your vision for the district moving forward?

Davenport: Every role right now is a crucial role as a new superintendent. The current of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Student Support Director which has not been posted currently; we're still developing that position.

The goal is to be able to have that position play a crucial role in addressing the needs of our students. Not just diversity, equity and inclusion, but also when you think about our Title I students, our students that may be 31a, our Title III [students], our English Language Learner students, Title IX students [and] our students who need academic interventions.

I just think that one of the misconceptions when people hear about diversity, equity and inclusion, they make it a Black or white issue.

We are trying to find ways to best meet the needs of all of our students from that academic lens, also meeting their social and emotional needs as well. But the key focus is always going back to academics and moving the needle for our district for academic success. So, that will be a future role that will play a tremendous part in our future growth.

I just think that one of the misconceptions when people hear about diversity, equity and inclusion, they make it a Black or white issue. They make it a racial issue. And in Grand Ledge, the goal is to have this position not only deal with the diversity, equity and inclusion in some of those documented concerns, but also focus on students who have needs and how do we meet those academic needs to make our district a better district for all students.

Saliby: Turning back to the pandemic, the district is requiring anyone in buildings to wear masks.

It's a policy that has drawn criticism from some parents. What would you say to them about this policy?

Davenport: I definitely understand how all parents feel. As a parent, I have no right to tell you how you should feel about your child and what's best for your child.

As the superintendent, I have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our district, in having five days of in-person instruction with limited to potentially no interruptions, if at all possible.

As the superintendent, I have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our district, in having five days of in-person instruction with limited to potentially no interruptions, if at all possible. That is our goal.

We understand that during this current pandemic that we're in, there are certain protocols that we must follow when it comes to contact tracing [and] when it comes to quarantining. And so our goal is trying to minimize the disruption to instruction and maximize the student's ability to be in-person five days a week with a teacher in front of them, giving them a quality education.

So, when it comes to the masks situation, I understand how all parents feel. I am definitely sympathetic to any parents concerns. I just have to do what's in the best interest of our school district to continue the process of best educating our students with the current reality that we have that we're facing during these times.

Saliby: Speaking of interruptions, is there anything that would lead you to send students home to learn virtually? I know everything is changing, but has the district set benchmarks for that?

Davenport: We rely on the information that we received from the Barry-Eaton [District] Health Department, of course, the CDC, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

All that we can do is try to be proactive as possible to minimize our risks and try to maximize student achievement and maximize the students' ability to have in-person instruction.

We continue to analyze our data when it comes to our own COVID rates within the district and within individual buildings, so this would be a case-by-case situation, and no one can predict what's going to happen in the future.

All that we can do is try to be proactive as possible to minimize our risks and try to maximize student achievement and maximize the students' ability to have in-person instruction.

Saliby: Marcus Davenport is the superintendent of Grand Ledge Public Schools. Thank you for being here.

Davenport: Thank you for this opportunity, and this will be a great year in Grand Ledge Public Schools.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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