Spain school’s fresh look may help draw new students

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s a new day at Spain Elementary School.

Children play in the newly-refurbished gym Monday during a physical education class at Spain Elementary / Middle School in Detroit.

And fifth-graders like Antonio Overstreet are feeling proud to walk the through the doors of the Midtown elementary school, once the poster child for everything that was wrong in the struggling school district.

Over the past several months, the district has spent $2 million to upgrade the school. A pipe under the playground no longer spews steam. The gym boasts a new roof, wood floors and fresh paint (talk show host Ellen DeGeneres donated $500,000 for that project last spring). Locker rooms have been cleaned and refurbished. New LED lighting has been installed throughout the building and glass at the main entrance has been replaced.

“This is way better,” 11-year-old Antonio said, smiling. “I’m excited and happy now because I finally get to play basketball inside. Before, there was a big bubble in the floor and I couldn’t even dribble the ball.”

Photographs of the massively buckled gymnasium floor — damaged by a water leak — trended nationwide after they were exposed by local media following teachers’ complaints of unsafe working conditions. Conditions at city schools sparked district-wide teacher sick-outs, as students and teachers bundled up in coats and gloves just to stay warm in classrooms.

Physical Education Teacher Ann Turner, left, and Elijah Blue, 10, a fifth-grader, organize jump ropes. The gym received a makeover courtesy of the TV show “Ellen” and Lowe’s.

The improvements were pointed out as part of a media tour Monday. On Wednesday, school business partners, including the Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University, will have a chance to see the improvements, with the aim of helping boost enrollment at Spain Elementary, said Frederick Cannon, the school’s new principal.

Cannon replaced the school’s former principal, Ronald Alexander, who pleaded guilty in a bribery case involving numerous district employees, and was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

The school is looking to increase enrollment before the crucial Count Day on Oct. 5. The district’s enrollment goal is 45,500, a conservative 1.8 percent decrease from last year's numbers, officials said.

“We’re down about 50 students this year compared to last year, which leaves us with about 370 students,” said Cannon. “We called some parents to find out why they left and we found out a lot of kids had moved. And a lot of the people moving in are single without kids. But we’re still enrolling students.”

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