A product of Detroit Public Schools now leads the school board that’s trying to raise worst-in-the-nation literacy scores. Otis Mathis can’t write, reveals Detroit News columnist Laura Berman. The board president’s e-mails are notoriously garbled:
Do DPS control the Foundation or outside group? If an outside group control the foundation, then what is DPS Board row with selection of is director? Our we mixing DPS and None DPS row’s, and who is the watch dog?
In another e-mail:
If you saw Sunday’s Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason’s he gave for closing school to many empty seats.
Mathis concedes, “I’m a horrible writer.” He was placed in special education in fourth grade and was “kicked out” of several high schools.
He graduated from Southwestern High School in 1973 with what he says was a 1.8 grade-point average but was previously reported as a .98 average. After serving in the Navy, Wayne State placed him in a special program to help academically unqualified students move forward, on the G.I. Bill.
He was unable to earn a degree because he couldn’t pass Wayne State’s English proficiency exam. Mathis sued unsuccessfully in 1992 to get the requirement dropped, saying repeated failure “made me feel stupid.” The requirement was abolished in 2007; Mathis collected his degree the next year.
Mathis told Berman he can read, but “sometimes needs to read documents two or three times to fully comprehend their contents.”
After working as a counselor at Wayne State, Mathis worked as a substitute teacher in Detroit schools, ran a nonprofit and served on the Wayne County Commission. He is liked by colleagues, who elected him board president on a 10-1 vote.
Mathis and some of his supporters say he’s a role model, showing that it’s possible to succeed despite limitations. He understands the problems, backers say.