Detroit school 1 of 7 new charters in Michigan

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Detroit — On the corner of Iroquois inside of Christ Lutheran Church, stacks of boxes line the hallways as Kyle Smitley dashes around the building as she prepares to open her second charter school in the upcoming weeks.

“You should have seen how the basement looked before we painted and put down new carpet,” Smitley said. “More than 100 volunteers from the Amazon distribution center came out to help us get things together. We can’t wait until we open our doors to students.”

Detroit Prep is one of seven charter schools in Michigan scheduled to open this fall, which makes it among the fewest in the state’s history. Last year, seven schools also opened, compared to 17 in 2014 and 32 in 2012.

The list of new schools released Monday by the Michigan Association of Public Schools includes Lake Superior Academy, Sault Ste. Marie; Gateway to Success Academy, Scottville; Livingston Classical Academy, Whitmore Lake; PACE-The Paris Academy, Genesee; Highpoint Virtual Academy of Michigan, Mesick; Detroit Prep, Detroit; Inkster Preparatory Academy, Inkster.

Of the seven charter schools, only two are in southeast Michigan, with one in the Upper Peninsula.

“Ideally, charter schools respond to the needs of the demands of the community,” said MAPSA president Dan Quisenberry. “This year, there was not much need in the Detroit area.”

The opening of one charter school in Detroit for the coming school year follows intense debate over proposals to form a citywide education commission with the power to open and close schools, including charters. In the face of opposition from charter advocates, the idea was ultimately dropped from a $617 million package passed by state lawmakers in June to rescue Detroit Public Schools and create a new, debt-free school district.

DPS and its supporters had argued that competition from charter schools had oversaturated the city’s education market and contributed to the district’s falling enrollment and financial woes.

With the seven openings, six charter schools are closing and another is merging its board with another school board. So far, that means Michigan will have 300 charter schools, the same number of schools as last year.

Smitley, 31, co-founded Detroit Prep with Jen McMillian, who will be the school’s leader and was the 2015 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year.

Leasing space for two years inside of Christ Lutheran Church, before they find a permanent location, the school will open with 40 kindergarteners and 20 first-graders on Sept. 6.

“We felt that we needed a school in the area that focuses on expeditionary learning, character development and project-bases curriculum,” said Smitley, who lived in San Francisco before selling her clothing line and moving to Detroit to open her first school four years ago. “People in the community should not have to leave the city because of the school district.”

Along with Inkster Preparatory Academy being the first public school in Inkster since the city’s district was dissolved in 2013, Lake Superior Academy in Sault Ste. Marie is the first public Montessori school in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

“It makes sense to open charter schools in these areas because these are communities where specific needs can be met,” Quisenberry said.

Jill Procter of Detroit decided to enroll her 4-year-old son Hudson at Detroit Prep after attending a few informational sessions.

“I was really impressed with the success of the first school and after I did some investigating, I was sold,” Proctor said. “Also, I really like the idea that we will be one of the founding families of the school. It’s a good feeling to know that the school will care about our children and our input for our child’s continued success and education.”