October 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

Schools

Trail to better education for son leads dad out of town

Calvin McGhee left Detroit for 'a better environment' for son Kevin. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)

Calvin McGhee’s son was in kindergarten when the Detroit native decided the city wasn’t the best place to raise a child.

Despite his own deep ties to Detroit, McGhee couldn’t see it as an option for Kevin. His neighborhood off Kelly and State Fair was once a haven filled with city firefighters and police officers, but it succumbed to the same toxins — drugs, crime and abandonment — that spurred an exodus of families in the 2000s.

Many of those poured into Warren, Eastpointe and Roseville as parents sought a better life for their kids. McGhee, 48, resisted at first, staying in Detroit and sending Kevin to a charter school.

But then someone tried to break into his house in 2010 while McGhee was inside.

He called police; they came the next morning.

“The next day I bought a shotgun,” he said.

And soon after, he bought a house in St. Clair Shores.

Detroit’s schools were once factories themselves, pumping out well-educated and highly skilled students by the thousands.

Cass Tech was sending hundreds to college every year and McGhee himself took advantage of a culinary arts program at Cooley High School, turning his vocational training into a career that sent him across the country. He now is executive chef for Sodexo, running the food-service operations at the University of Michigan Dearborn.

But for more than a decade, Detroit Public Schools has been in free fall as enrollment plummeted in the face of competition from charter schools and from growing dissatisfaction with the continually cash-strapped system.

Just 10 years ago, there were more than 156,000 students spread across DPS.

Last fall, after the state took over some of the district’s worst performing schools, just over 49,168 students showed up.

More children go to charter schools in Wayne County than attend a DPS school.

And those who choose to leave Detroit are more likely to bring along a school-age child: While kids 5-17 make up less than 20 percent of the city, they comprise 30 percent of those who move to Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties, census figures show.

School enrollment figures show a meteoric rise in the number of former Detroiters like Kevin McGhee sitting at desks throughout Oakland and Macomb counties.

“I had to find a better environment for my son,” McGhee said. “I wanted a better education for him.”

mwilkinson@detroitnews.com
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