June 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

For the kids? Not if money is at stake

Students who attend the International Academy of Macomb and their parents were upset after the Anchor Bay school board voted in December to stop sending students to the academy. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

In education, it isn’t always about the kids.

Take for instance recent events in Anchor Bay. The International Academy of Macomb, a magnet high school in Clinton Township, is attracting more students each year. And that’s troubling to some local school leaders, who don’t appreciate that the academy is siphoning the brightest young minds in the county — and the state dollars that go with them.

The Anchor Bay school board voted to stop sending new students to the academy in December, but reversed course the end of May after hearing from angry parents and students. Currently, 27 Anchor Bay students attend the academy.

Students at the International Academy and their parents speak glowingly of the school. Kennedy Phillips, who graduated in 2013, just finished her first year at the University of Minnesota, where she is studying genetics. This fall, she’ll already be a junior, thanks to all the college credits she earned in high school.

“It’s a lot more scheduled,” Phillips says of the academy. “I wasn’t challenged at Anchor Bay.”

The academy is officially designated as an International Baccalaureate World School, which means students participate in a rigorous curriculum taught in similar schools all over the globe.

Interested students take a rigorous entrance exam in eighth grade, and the academy accepts a limited number of qualified high school students from districts within the Macomb Intermediate School District. It graduated its first class in 2012, and all of the 93 students got accepted to four-year colleges, including the University of Michigan and Penn State.

Families in the Anchor Bay district who love the academy erupted when the school board voted to cut ties. Particularly when they figured out the reason: The district feared not just the loss of state funds, but also the impact on its average test scores with those bright students gone.

“I was astonished, and really frustrated,” says Karla Giuliano of Chesterfield, whose son Mitchell just finished his freshman year at the academy. So she and a group of other parents attended school board meetings until the board overturned its December decision.

The numbers speak for themselves. At the International Academy, the average ACT test score was 26.7; the average is 20.1 at Anchor Bay. At the academy, 77 percent of students are deemed college-ready by ACT benchmarks. At Anchor Bay? Sixteen percent.

Steve Mittelstadt, president of the Anchor Bay school board, says the International Academy has its merits, although he voted twice against his district’s collaboration with it.

As more students apply, Mittelstadt doesn’t like that local districts are responsible for handling a lottery for academy enrollment.

Yet the minutes from the December meeting don’t mention enrollment quandaries. Rather, the focus was on lost state funding and test scores.

But as Giuliano says, “The opportunity should not be removed from the Anchor Bay students who do want to attend.”

Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.
ijacques@detroitnews.com