Strength in Community

Online learning, a passionate commitment and the Detroit Public Safety Academy.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT DPSA Isaiah Pettway school leaderIsaiah Pettway started teaching in Detroit in 2008. To equip himself with the essential tools needed to serve a diverse youth population in the Detroit Metropolitan area, Isaiah (pictured) earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration with a focus in Educational Leadership from the University of Michigan, and also received his K-12 administrative certification. As a career educator, he has a passion and commitment: helping to shape the minds of the leaders of today and tomorrow. He’s doing this at the Detroit Public Safety Academy (DPSA), where his goal is “to create a community within the school that fosters growth, communal responsibility, and excellence in student achievement.” And he believes that the mission of DPSA is to protect our future, one student at a time. Here, Isaiah discusses how online learning and good old-fashioned virtues play a big role in helping students at his school experience a joy of learning that is only matched by the the satisfaction of choosing careers to help, protect and serve others in whatever community they choose to work.

It appears the Detroit Public Safety Academy is blazing a new trail by offering a collaboration of career investigation though internship-style experiences and unique online courses—can you tell us about that?

Isaiah: The goal of Detroit Public Safety Academy is to provide students with an opportunity to do more than just have a high school experience, and give them as many opportunities for them to engage in learning coupled with their own personal interests, specifically those interested in public safety. We have students who are interested in law

The biggest joy students find—beyond the strong academics, and varying opportunities to engage in career interest fields—is knowing that there are individuals here who care for them as human beings and as people.

enforcement, fire safety, EMT, non-profit or general track and they follow those tracks. That’s coupled with online learning experiences using a variety of tools like courses from eDynamic Learning and of course direct instruction. By giving them a diverse set of experiences, you enrich the entire process of learning and improve the overall quality of learning that most children aren’t exposed to. It’s an innovative approach to learning and education, and I think it works well for us.

What prompted you to focus on Public Safety?

Isaiah: In 2013, Stanford released a study of the fastest growing career fields in the United States. The fastest growing career field in the United States is public safety. They coupled that with a study acknowledging the fact that it was also the field with the least amount of qualified individuals to assume those jobs. Really trying to ensure that we’re preparing students for the workforce, we thought it would be beneficial to create a program focused on public safety so we could release students who gained skills in high school actually prompting them to go into those fields and have necessary skills to make them opportune for those jobs.

How does Detroit Public Safety Academy differentiate learning experiences that promote distinguishable character and workforce success, particularly in the public safety arena?

Isaiah: Our school partners with various public safety organizations for example we partner with the Detroit Crime Commission, the Livonia Police Department and other police and fire departments. We use those connections to offer our students not only career training but also character development, crisis management and things of that nature. Our program speaks to the totality of students as individuals, and to provides them with a well-rounded experience furthering their ability to do their jobs. These are skills they’re going to need to go into public safety; having integrity, being leaders, being responsible. Although they’re general characteristics, all of those are vitally important for people we entrust our safety to as the public. Our focus is to provide them those things through our connections and our relationships with our other stakeholders. By coupling their general education with character education, it focuses on building those skills and making sure that the totality of students are well rounded.

How do you embed character education into the curriculum: respect, responsibility, integrity, initiative, service, sacrifice and leadership?

CREDIT Detroit Public Safety AcademyIsaiah: Each grade level has a different character focus including respect, responsibility, integrity, initiative, service, sacrifice and leadership. Students have a class as part of their daily schedule that is character education. In those classes they focus on those particular characteristics that have been assigned to their grade level. At the end of the year, the class as a whole comes up with some sort of service learning project focusing on the skills and characteristics that’s been their focus for their grade level that year. The intent is to have something tangible to demonstrate the acquisition of those skills and those characteristics. It becomes part of the actual day-to-day curriculum and their day-to-day engagement. Our hope and goal is to indoctrinate them with those skills so that they grow, not only as employable individuals—but as people. These traits will become part of the fabric of who they are.

How do you involve all levels of law enforcement and firefighter professionals?

Isaiah: We partner with various stakeholders to ensure individuals in those fields are able to have contact and communication with our students and offer programming and opportunities for them to engage. There are various levels of interest so therefore varying levels of engagement with those particular fields. The goal is to give students as much exposure we possibly can so they can decide whether or not public safety is for them. We know not all our students that go to our school are going to graduate and become police officers or fire fighters. However, our goal is to expose them to career fields that could prove to be beneficial to them in their adult lives. For example, we have a program now with the Livonia Police Department where our first graduating class which is this year, 22 of our students have the opportunity to graduate from our program and immediately be hired by the Livonia Police Department as police service aids while earning their associates degree and going through the police academy. This allows us the opportunity to expose students to a wide range of opportunity, and lucrative in the sense that having an employable person in the field.

How do you offer your students an opportunity to dig in and really investigate career paths in public safety?

CREDIT Detroit Public Safety Academy group imageIsaiah: We have a lecture series that students engage in on a weekly basis where individuals from various areas come in to describe and talk to students giving specific information about the varying career fields within public safety itself. We’ve had everyone from the FBI, CIA, Border Patrol, law enforcement, Homeland Security and more to come in and discuss with them what all of that entails so students understand that public safety has far more range than a police officer or fire fighter. There are all kinds of possibilities for a public safety focus. The latest example is Cyber Security, having individuals who are trained to provide our country, institutions, and corporations with security from terrorism that could be cyber and technological. We expose them to that through those various partnerships we’ve established and continue to establish. We also have a partnership with the Wayne County Community College District who actually has a state of the art public safety center where law enforcement officials and fire officials in our city are trained in their particular field. As a result of our partnership with Wayne County, our students will have access to that center to get that hands on training that they need. The whole idea of the program is to offer a well-rounded education centering on the interest of the student in public safety, and expose them to as many opportunities that could possibly benefit them during post-secondary education.

What’s the biggest joy that your students find at this unique school?

Isaiah: I think the biggest joy that students find—beyond the strong academics, and varying opportunities to engage in career interest fields — is knowing there are individuals here who care for them, and are not only concerned about them as academicians but also about them as human beings and as people. As they grow, they’re not as concerned about whether they can add, or whether or not they know where to place a comma, but more so whether or not they’re being productive people and having the characteristics as necessary to be productive citizens in society. We want to know that they’re happy. We want to know that they enjoy being here and want to be here. I think that is part of the reason—is because we care; not only about the student, but we care about the person.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

  • Isaiah Pettway


    It was such a joy to be interviewed and for our story here at Detroit Public Safety Academy to be shared. It is important to also note that we are a part of The Leona Group LLC which manages schools throughout Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and Arizona. It is because of the support and guidance of our management company that we are able to do the wonderful things for children that we are doing. We are excited about what is going on at DPSA and appreciate EdTech taking notice of those efforts. Isaiah Pettway School Leader

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