Highland Park does not have a high school. This may change.

Highland Park – A high school is often the hub of a community, where families and residents gather to support the local team, observe teenage milestones like graduation, and in some cases return to where they attended school.

But Highland Park, the Michigan town known around the world as the birthplace of mass production and the $5 workday, doesn’t have a high school to speak of.

The Detroit enclave had one until 2015, when a state-installed emergency officer closed Highland Park Renaissance Academy High School due to low enrollment and after decades of financial problems for the district. school.

At the time, the high school – known as Highland Park Community High School in previous years – had 169 students enrolled, down about 88% from the 1,385 students in the 2007-08 school year.

The Highland Park School Board wants to bring a high school back to the community of less than 9,000 people, where Ford Motor Co. built Model Ts more than a century ago and provided well-paying jobs. Since March, a council subcommittee has been working on a proposal to establish a public high school in the city, hoping to attract eighth-graders enrolled in two public schools operating within the city limits.

This month, Infuz Architects is reviewing its closed Ford Middle School and producing a feasibility study to determine if the 150,000 square foot building could be converted in phases to a full high school, starting with a ninth grade classroom.

Shamayim Harris, chair of the Highland Park School Board; School Board Member Anthony Askew; and Zakia Gibson, director of education for the Highland Park Public School Academy System, are among supporters who want to bring back a high school.

“I am very happy that we are exploring this for our community. We need it. Our parents need it too,” Harris said. “It’s a vision. … I see the children leaving the building (of the school), going to train. I can see children working on experiments. Children deserve to go to school in their own city like other children.

The subcommittee, chaired by Askew, meets monthly to consider the challenges of starting a new school, including how to pay for it, where to place it or whether to build it and who would come.

Funding options for a new high school include issuing district bonds, charter school bonds, a philanthropic donation, or private funding through a charter school authorizer such as a public university, officials said.

School idea sparks debate

Akilah Muhammad, the mother of an eighth-grader in Detroit, said she was considering moving back to Highland Park and agreed that a high school there would be part of the reinvestment in an important community. Her daughter attends a school in Detroit.

“The more contributions and investments there are in Highland Park, the better,” Muhammad said. “Starting a high school now would be amazing. The concept starts small and grows.”

Not everyone thinks the idea is plausible for the city.

Eban Morales, a Highland Park resident and parent of a 16-year-old who attends Michigan Virtual Academy, said the city has so few people and families to generate students for a high school.

Highland Park’s population has dropped 24%, from 11,776 people in 2010 to about 8,902 in 2021, according to the US Census. The school system can tap into a potential pool of 1,870 young people ages 18 and under, according to US Census Bureau estimates.

“On the one hand, they previously closed the high school for the simple fact that there weren’t enough students to sustain a high school,” Morales said. “In reality, they don’t have enough students to justify having a middle school, let alone a high school.”

Highland Park School Board asks Infuz Architects to survey its closed Ford Middle School and determine if it is possible to convert the 150,000 square foot building in phases into a full secondary school, starting with a ninth grade year.

The district has 665 students. It operates Barber Preparatory Academy, a K-8 school that had 268 students enrolled in the 2021-22 school year with approximately 25 eighth graders.

A charter authorizer operates another K-8 school in the city. The George Washington Carver Academy had about 397 students enrolled last year, including 28 eighth-graders.

Morales said he would not send his child to either K-8 school because he thinks they are of poor quality.

“We all want a high school. It would be nice to have a high school. We’re setting ourselves up to fail here,” Morales said. “They have to improve the other school and then they can attract other students.”

What will the feasibility study do

On June 28, during a school Zoom meeting update, Askew announced that the school system was working on hiring companies to remove debris and provide security for architects to this week they can start browsing Ford safely and do an assessment.

Askew said only parts of the building contain debris — mostly school desks and chairs, computer equipment, books and other school supplies left behind — but the building needs further repairs.

“There are areas with significant debris that need to be removed to keep the architects and engineers safe so they can do their scanning,” Askew said.

The Highland Park School Board plans to hire contractors to remove debris and provide security so architects can soon enter the closed Henry Ford Academy and assess whether it can be converted into a multi-phase high school.

Although the three-story building is tall, he said the architects would be asked to create a staged development using a laser scanner for imaging which will produce a 3D image.

“We want them to assess the construction with the idea of ​​phasing. Like we want access to 20,000 square feet for classrooms, cafeteria and other things,” Askew said.

The architectural work will take 30 days and another two weeks for a report, he said. A feasibility student will take another 45 days, he said.

“We’ll get an idea of ​​the construction conditions. Then we can more accurately assign a cost to the initial phase, multiple phases, and actual scale of the building,” Askew said.

The district has allocated $50,000 to cover debris removal, security, architectural work and the feasibility study, he said.

“It’s really the first step in our ability to decide whether we have an asset or whether we need to look for another building or new construction,” Askew said.

Overcome past debts

Finances have played a vital role in the evolution of the school district. Highland Park Schools have struggled for years with deficits and declining enrollment. When the state declared a financial emergency and took over in 2012, the district had an $11 million deficit.

Under state control, the district was converted to a public school academy or charter school system, renamed the Highland Park Public School Academy System. The old school district continues to repay its deficit.

From left, Highland Park School District Director of Education Zakia Gibson, School Board Member Anthony Askew and School Board Chairman Shamayim Harris are pushing to establish a secondary school in the district.  The last high school in the city was closed in 2015.

Following the closure of the old high school in 2015, public school options for students in Highland Park were nearby Detroit Public Schools, another nearby district, charter school, or state administration and today now defunct Education Achievement Authority.

The Detroit School District is now the home district for high school students.

The Highland Park School District remains under a deficit elimination plan with the Michigan Department of Education. The district left state oversight in 2018 but continues to have a $3.43 million deficit as of June 1, according to state documentsand its general fund income for 2022 was projected at $1.6 million.

The school system is ahead of schedule in terms of eliminating the deficit, said Gibson, the district’s director of education.

The school system has launched a strategic plan in 2018 focusing on long-term stability, including schooling, which included opening a high school.

“These tasks have been addressed and completed. Our final trip is, what is it like to bring a high school to Highland Park?” said Gibson.

Several parents of children who attend one of the two remaining K-8 schools in Highland Park have asked education officials to re-open a high school in the city, she said.

“As the pandemic ends, we want to make sure our families are safe and making up for the learning loss over the past two years. It’s exciting to be able to keep families in the system,” Gibson told about the project. high school.

School officials said the high school would need 50 to 100 students to start a ninth-grade class. They said they hoped to be able to open for the 2024-25 school year.

Askew said he was a fourth-generation resident of Highland Park, but the first not to attend a Highland Park high school.

“The loss of this secondary school is still deeply felt by all members of the Highland Park community. Having the opportunity to bring back a high school is a watershed moment for the city,” Askew said.

Harris said living in a community without a high school created what she described as a “sense of dereliction of our duties as a whole community.”

“If you come here to raise a family, you have to have high school and everything that comes with high school,” she said. “It’s part of a city.”


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