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New school year brings changes across Michigan

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

School is back in session on Tuesday for most of the 1.5 million school-age children in Michigan, and that means new books, security upgrades, and in some districts, new schools.

Here are some changes students will notice as they go back to classes across Metro Detroit and the state:

Aniyah Stokes, 17, smiles while hugging friend Miraya Thomas, 16, both of Farmington Hills, while Farmington High School seniors and classmates gather on Falcon Field to watch the sunrise together as an act of unity after Harrison High School closed in June and the two schools merged on Tuesday.

New schools opening in Detroit

Several new schools are opening in the Detroit Public Schools Community District this school year.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who took over the district in 2017, said bringing new schools on board is a significant accomplishment for the district, which was created in 2016 as a separate district from Detroit Public Schools, which pays down the school debt.

"Considering the history of closing schools, for us to say we are opening schools speaks to our growth mindset and thinking about sustainability and filling gaps with programs and schools," Vitti said.

One new school, the School at Marygrove, is part of a partnership between the district, University of Michigan and Kresge Foundation to create an innovative, research-based school. About 120 students have enrolled for the first ninth grade class, Vitti said, and the school will grow a grade every year.

It offers a unique social justice-oriented curriculum, project, problem and place based approach, and its community-oriented, service learning model.

Through the partnership, Marygrove students will have access to resources, expertise and opportunities from UM. In return, UM will provide support to students and staff through curriculum design, enrichment programming and teacher development.

"By joining forces with one of the nation’s top universities, we are ensuring that the path we are paving for students will lead them to a meaningful and successful future," Marygrove principal Nir Saar said.

On Tuesday, the district also is opening three new schools for younger students. The district has spent nearly $3 million to update the buildings, which were selected to relieve overcrowding at nearby district schools and help boost district enrollment.

Hamilton Elementary, a former charter school called Hamilton Academy, will reopen as a traditional K-8 school on Detroit's east side near Chandler Park.  Edmonton, the former GEE-Edmonson Academy, will now be operated by the district and will offer the district's first wall-to-wall Montessori program, Vitti said. Barton School, a former, closed DPS school, will reopen for grades K-5 near Joy Road on the city's west side.

The district also is moving a popular, long-time aviation program back to the city's airport.

Davis Aerospace is returning to the Coleman A. Young International Airport. This school year, 50 ninth graders are participating in the aviation program and will be bused to the former City Airport for afternoon classes focusing on aviation. 

Vitti said the goal is to include an additional grade of students each year, where eventually all Davis Aerospace students will take classes in a small building at the airport.

Charter school closings and openings

The three charter schools opened this year in Michigan and six have closed, leaving 294 charter schools in Michigan this fall.

They are:

•Flint Cultural Center Academy in Flint, which is funded, in part, by the C.S. Mott Foundation and will have a focus on arts education and STEM education for grades K-5.

•Ivywood Classical Academy in Plymouth Township, which offers a classical education with an emphasis on humanities, sciences and arts, and Latin for grades K-5.

•Westfield Charter Academy in Redford Township, which is the first school jointly managed by National Heritage Academies and PrepNet. It will be K-9 to start.

"Opening new public schools, especially charter schools, is a critical strategy for expanding innovation in Michigan's K-12 system," said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. "Data tells us that we still have room to grow in supporting learners, especially our most vulnerable learners, and new schools present an exciting opportunity to meet that need."

Security upgrades

Districts and schools have been spending grant money and bond dollars this summer to improve security inside and outside of buildings.

Michigan State Police officials said 135 public school districts, 66 non-public schools, 20 public charter schools and nine intermediate school districts received $25 million in school safety grants to improve the campus safety and security with technology and equipment.

District have until June to spend the money. In Utica, district officials completed a series of upgrades including secure entryways, camera systems and other measures. The improvements were funded through a $155 bond issue approved by voters in 2018. 

Benton Harbor opens family center

TheBenton Harbor school district is opening a family center and is adding community and family liaisonstaff.

The Family Center, to open on Tuesday inside Benton Harbor High School, includes new computers, a state-of-the-art digital display for presentations and a lounging area with coffee machines.

The center is financially supported, in part, by KitchenAid Day of Caring and by anonymous Benton Harbor Area Schools alumni.

“Our new Family Center is going to be full of magic,” said Traci Burton, the district's new family and community engagement coordinator. “The district has created the Family Center as a space for community building, financial resources, health and mental health awareness resources, and every wraparound service you can possibly think of that will positively impact families.”

High school merger

In Farmington Public Schools, the Farmington High School's senior class met on Falcon Field at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday to watch the sunrise on the first day of their senior year.

They will meet again on the last day of the year to watch the sunset on their last day, said senior class co-president and co-organizer of the event Rana Aabed.

Students planned the "sunrise/sunset" activity as an act of unity between former Falcons and former Hawks coming together as a senior class after Harrison High School closed in June due to declining enrollment.

"I saw the idea with some other schools and they really enjoyed it," Aabed said. "I decided to implement it at Farmington, hoping it would become a tradition. I thought it would be a great idea to start the new year off together and on a positive note."