Detroit charter school faces eviction, to close in summer

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
'Enroll Now' is still displayed on the sign outside of Southwest Detroit Community School after the news of it closing this summer.  The school's landlord, Turner Impact Capital, which is backed by retired professional tennis player Andre Agassi, is ending the school's lease, forcing the school to shut down.

Detroit — A Detroit charter school is being evicted from its building this summer, forcing its 340 students to find a new school this fall.

Student, parents and staff at Southwest Detroit Community Schools learned Tuesday night that its landlord, Turner Impact Capital, which is backed by retired professional tennis player Andre Agassi, is ending the school's lease, forcing the school to shut down.

"I am really sad and I am really mad," said parent Maria Maldonado, whose son Richard attends the school. "They let us know at the last minute and I am concerned. Where am I going to send my son?"

Sixth grader Richard Maldonado, 10, and his mother Maria Maldonado, holding an enrollment fair flyer for the next school year, give their thoughts on the closing of Richard's school, Southwest Detroit Community School.

Rob Kimball, associate vice president for charter schools at Grand Valley State University, the school's charter authorizer, said on Wednesday a resolution was not reached with the landlord despite months of talks with school leaders to turn the school around and boost enrollment.

"A resolution wasn’t reached. The landlord decided to evict the school at the end of the academic year. They can run summer school through August," Kimball said.

The last day of the regular school year will be June 19 at the school in southwest Detroit.

"It was a shock to the school and the authorizer. We heard rumblings from landlord a few weeks ago. Yesterday we received the eviction from the landlord," Kimball said.

Turner, also know as Turner-Agassi, is a national company that builds and leases charter school across the nation.  Southwest Detroit Community Schools is the company's only Michigan school.

Kimball said the goal of the school since it opened in 2013 was to serve 650 students in grades K-12 model. It serves K-8 now.

Kimball said GVSU is providing transition support to every student and teacher to find a new school for the fall.

In a letter emailed to parents Wednesday, board president Sophia Chue and principal Kim Pritchett informed them of the closure and options ahead.

"Without a facility, we will not be able to continue serving students past this school year," the letter says. "We know that this is not news that any parent would like to hear. We know you have many questions. Do know that during this transition period, our team at Southwest Detroit will stay focused on what matters most — your child." 

The school says every family will be contacted individually to receive placement support and events will take place at the school to answer questions about enrolling at other schools.

Southwest Detroit Community School  third grader Brittany Nery talks about the closing of her school after being picked up from school by her mother Wednesday.

Dianne Fuller Davis is a grandmother to three students at the school.

"Really sad cause my oldest is going to the the 8th grade so we now have to find a school which he can get into for one year and then have him go a high school," she said.

"We were told earlier in the school year that the school may be closing if scores did not get to where they should be. ... But there has been so much going on: no teachers, more subs for a few months with the middle school students," Davis said.

Jessica Avila said she was in the enrollment process to send her children to Southwest Detroit Community Schools in the fall when she learned Tuesday of its impending closure.

Avila has her children at Harms Elementary, a Detroit Public Community School, but says she wants to move them over concerns about building conditions there, including some roofing that Avila alleges fell on students desks there.

“Southwest Community School was going to save my children and now they are closing. This is very unfortunate,” Avila said.

Third-grade student Brittany Nery was leaving school Wednesday afternoon and trying to process the news that the school she has attended since kindergarten is closing.

Brittany, who says her favorite subject is math, also has a sister at the school who is in kindergarten.

"I am sad. I am going to miss my teachers. They are all good and nice," Brittany said.