Southfield — It took 35 years after Sheldon Yellen left Southfield-Lathrup High School for him to be recognized as a graduate, but the CEO of Birmingham-based Belfor Holdings Inc. is a proud Charger nonetheless.
Yellen, 58, who quit school during his senior year in 1976 to help his divorced mother provide for him and his three brothers, says he “cried like a baby” when then-Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson awarded him a diploma five years ago.
But as of Tuesday, Yellen’s belated alma mater is history. After students finish their exams at midday, the 49-year-old school will close for good, a victim of falling enrollment and worsening finances in the Southfield Public Schools.
Starting this fall, Southfield-Lathrup and Southfield High will merge and become a new school, Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology.
The Southfield-Lathrup building will be occupied by the district’s University High School Academy, UPREP and MacArthur University Academy grades 2-8.
Yellen said although he won’t be able to drive by his old school and see the Southfield-Lathrup name any more, “It will still be a memory, and memories are good.”
As the top official at a $1.5 billion company with 7,800 employees worldwide, Yellen says he was featured three times on CBS’s “Undercover Boss” and proudly claimed the home of the Chargers as his own.
Yellen isn’t the only CEO to come out of Southfield-Lathrup: Dan Gilbert, the chairman and founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans Inc., also went there. His publicist did not respond to a request for an interview.
Yellen, other alumni and current students don’t want to hear about declining enrollment, shrinking revenue and right-sizing. They’re just, well, sad.
The Beach Boys summarized those emotions: “Be true to your school now and let your colors fly. Be true to your school.”
Ambra Parish, 21, of Farmington Hills said she’s feeling “a lot of emotions, but I don’t think happy is one of them.”
Parish, who graduated from Southfield-Lathrup in 2012, is in her last semester at Ohio State University.
“When I first heard the news, it made me really sad that it would not have the same name,” she said. “I’ve returned to the school at least three times since I graduated, to see some of the teachers during Christmas and summer breaks.”
She said she’s not sure how merging the schools will work.
“It will definitely affect the dynamics of the two high schools,” she said. “They’ve always been the biggest rivals in sports and academics. But I will always be a Southfield-Lathrup Charger at heart.”
Southfield-Lathrup parent Darryl Paige does not like the idea of the school closing.
“I think it’s a pretty awesome school, and my daughter is very active,” he said as he waited to pick her up from school last week. “I didn’t want to uproot her when she begins 11th grade because your grades at that time count toward college, and I don’t want anything to distract her.”
His daughter, Kindaal McCants, a 15-year-old 10th-grader, said she is “not too happy” that Southfield-Lathrup is closing but sees some advantages to the merger.
“I like the building and the faculty, but this will give me new opportunities, like learning mechanical technology and more art courses,” said Kindaal, who plans to pursue television production, movie production or photography.
“I’m going to miss the people because some may leave and go to other schools.”
Besides shutting Southfield-Lathrup, the district is closing Brace-Lederle K-8 School and has sold the former Schoenhals Elementary School. Officials say the district had to respond to falling enrollment, especially at its high schools.
The district shrunk from 10,266 students in 2002-03 to 6,696 this year and its high school census fell by almost half, according to Michigan Department of Education data.
Southfield-Lathrup’s enrollment plunged from 1,605 in 2002-03 to 800 this year, while Southfield High went from 1,535 to 1,047 students.
During the past year, the school system’s fund balance declined from $17.2 million to a projected $10.1 million, according to district figures.
“By combining high schools and closing Brace-Lederle, the district projects a savings of $6.91 million based on the original Imagine 2020 plan,” Superintendent Lynda Wood said in an emailed statement. “These adjustments were necessary since the district has lost about 38 percent of its revenue in the past 10 years due to declining enrollment and reduced state funding.”
Wood said the district’s plan “increases educational opportunities, enhances the environment for English Language Learners and special education students, reduces district expenditures and consolidates resources.”
Sophomore Destiny Smith, 16, looks forward to starting classes at the new high school but said leaving Southfield-Lathrup is bittersweet.
“I’m kind of happy and kind of sad,” she said.
“I started here and I wanted to finish here.”