Walking back segregation in Ferndale schools

 

 

One suburban Detroit school district is embracing school choice while taking steps to reduce segregated classrooms.

In Ferndale, an inner-ring suburb of Detroit, the city’s two elementary schools were mirror opposites: At Kennedy Elementary, 57 percent of the students were white and 27 percent black; at Roosevelt Primary, where most students lived in poverty, 54 percent were black, 32 percent white.

But last year, Ferndale’s school board decided to combine the two elementary schools. It was a tough decision that didn’t please everyone, the superintendent said. Some, including a few educators, warned that desegregating the schools would hurt the district because more white families would leave.

But Ferndale stuck by its decision. As the new school year opens, there are still two elementary school buildings: One is the K-2 “lower elementary” and the other is an “upper elementary” with grades 3-5. Young students will cycle through both schools.

The district did it, Superintendent Blake Prewitt said, because the board felt the best way to prepare children for a global society was to educate them in a diverse setting.

"I will give my community credit and school board credit. We didn't shy away by saying, 'There might be white flight so we won't” desegregate,” Prewitt said. "We really kept pushing on what's best for kids."

The next step: integrating Ferndale’s all-black high school with its other high school.

Ferndale’s University High School is comprised almost entirely of black students coming from Detroit through schools of choice. It was created in 2005 with grants and collegiate partners to be a college preparatory school and targeted students from Detroit, who had suffered through a rash of school closures and low graduation rates. University High is 96 percent black, with just two white students last year among its 400-plus student body.

Meanwhile, at Ferndale High School, which has not been available to choice students, blacks were 56 percent of the student body last year, while the white population stood at 30 percent.

The district already has moved to merge some sports teams at University and Ferndale high schools.

Prewitt acknowledged that a few parents have told him they were leaving the district because they didn't want their children to go to school with African-American students from Detroit.

"It's socioeconomic, it's racial,” he said. “It's 'I don't want my students with those kids.' Or there's the perception that a certain population of kids is going to drag the education down so (parents) are prone to go somewhere for lack of a better term, where other kids look like (their) kids."

About The Author

Mike Wilkinson

Mike Wilkinson is Bridge’s computer-assisted reporting specialist. He can be reached here.

Chastity Pratt Dawsey

Chastity Pratt Dawsey is a Bridge staff writer, concentrating mainly on Detroit issues. She can be reached here.

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Comments

Christine Kole
Tue, 09/13/2016 - 2:49pm
Kudos to the Ferndale School District for fully embracing diversity! Our three children went through Ferndale schools and excelled. I recently retired from our district and have witnessed many changes over the years. We remember the federally mandated desegregation of Ferndale schools ("bussing") when Grant Elementary in Royal Oak Township was the "black school" in the district. There were those who didn't want their children to attend a different school with different kids. We survived, and thrived. We remember the first restructuring when our youngest one was in third grade. He attended Roosevelt, Wilson and Coolidge, then the new Middle School on the third floor of the High School. He made all kinds of friends, and our home was host to a mini "united nations" of kids after school. All three of our children attended Wayne State University, and were comfortable with a variety of people and a variety of work experiences. Like other successful students, they had a lot of parental support, and were expected to learn and achieve. Our community will continue to support all of "our kids" in their quest for an education, through the diverse programs, classes and extracurricular activities that Ferndale Schools offer, and by mentoring the students that need extra support.
Martin
Tue, 09/13/2016 - 9:17pm
I praise the move by the Ferndale district. We would have a better world to live in.
Tue, 09/13/2016 - 10:03pm
Blake Prewitt is a Change Agent. Leaders have the difficult and sometimes unpopular responsibility of taking the road less traveled. I commend him for his efforts to promote cultural diversity.
Keith Warnick
Wed, 09/28/2016 - 8:34pm
Interesting choice of words; ".......taking the road less traveled." The exact words used by a superintendent in 2000 when a total restructuring of Ferndale schools was proposed.
Linda Baker
Tue, 09/13/2016 - 10:30pm
My children graduated from FHS in 1998 and 2000 - both attended Roosevelt, Kennedy and FHS - both were active in sports through the elementary and JR High and HS years and the first years of the "guard" at FHS with my son starting while in JR High because they needed boys badly - both had German instruction beginning in elementary school and had 12 and 13yrs of foreign language when they graduated, both attended CASA and it was a golden time in the district. Both had friends of other races and nationalities. When my daughter went away to Smith College in Massachusetts her friends wanted to know what private school she had attended and when my son went to Kettering he informed them that he was more black than most of the black students there because he had attended FHS and they had gone to Country Day! They are both glad that they went to a racially diverse school system and had a preparation for the "real world" when they graduated.
Mark
Wed, 09/14/2016 - 7:49pm
All this will do is lower the test scores in the M-Test Database for the school that was majority White. One has to address that Blacks do not perform well as a whole in school. Education is a low priority with truancy and crime for them. This has nothing to do with racism, it has to do with culture. I encourage all of you to search the M-Test Database for SAT Scores that categorize test scores by Race. Southfield Schools are in the top 5 every year for Per Pupil Funding, yet the they have a 99% Black Student Population and their scores are always below the state average. Do you see Whites flocking to Southfield Schools of Choice.....NO.
Christine Kole
Wed, 09/14/2016 - 8:51pm
Mark, you state that "Blacks do not perform well as a whole in school". Where are you getting your statistics from? Merely from SAT scores? Most African Americans in this country are middle class and want the best for their children like anyone else, including decent schools. You go on to say that "Education is a low priority with truancy and crime for them." Your incomplete sentence and generalizations speak volumes about your racism, although you claim your statements have nothing to do with racism. My son's Black friends, graduates of Ferndale High who attend the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and other fine institutions of higher learning could teach you a few things. Unfortunately there is no class that teaches class.
Patricia
Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:24pm
Thank you Christine Kole for informing Mark. He is completely wrong.
Patricia
Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:39pm
Mark I am sad to inform you that many black students perform well in school. Sorry to inform you that the black community is very diverse. Many of blacks attend universities such as University of Michigan, Duke, or Yale. These universities require great SAT scores. Additionally, education is not a low priority in the black community. I will challenge you to get off the sofa and stop watching television and go meet black people. However, I doubt you would step up to the challenge.
Skyy Ruiz
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 8:39am
Mark, as a product of DPS and now educator, I must say that is the most foolish comment. Blacks perform well. I went to a neighborhood school and scored top 5% on ACT rewarding me a full ride to Mich State. My best friend did the same. All of my friends that come from DPS are college grads and relocated working in their professions. Further, your comment is racist. If you want to talk about truancy and crime, let's address the disparities amongst black vs white schools. Lack of funding is not cultural. It's deliberate -____- Since you are so concerned, how about you go donate or better yet, work to improve black schools.
Mike
Wed, 09/14/2016 - 9:18pm
How about we let the parent decide who they want their kids to associate.
Christine Kole
Fri, 09/16/2016 - 10:36am
Perhaps we should go back to the time of little Ruby Bridges in the 60s who tried to integrate a white school, so all the parents kept their children home? The crowd of whites yelled and jeered at her as she was accompanied by federal agents. We may decide who we wish our children to play with in our homes, but public schools are PUBLIC. They are representative of the real world, which is diverse. Not allowing our children exposure to others outside of their group or comfort zone is an injustice.
Keith Warnick
Wed, 09/28/2016 - 8:31pm
I thought I posted this earlier; This is a very simplistic article of a 2-year view of one of the oldest school districts in Oakland County. The headline makes it sound like we’ve locked our black students in a school and thrown away the key. Much background and important information is missing. Let’s address some omissions with a short historical lesson. Kennedy and Roosevelt were not the only elementary schools last year. Roosevelt housed K-3 grade students and Coolidge housed 4-6 grade students created through a district restructuring in 2002. Kennedy housed our K-6 ‘magnet’ program; Open Classroom. Students attending Kennedy were chosen through a lottery system designed to allow equal numbers of students from every district quadrant to participate; not placed to generate a ‘white’ school. The board that claims “……..the best way to prepare children for a global society was to educate them in a diverse setting.”, have 6 of the current 7 members participating in the lottery system and their children either are attending or have attend Kennedy school. Wouldn’t that mean they are directly participating in the “segregation” of the district? The next issue is University High School. This college prep high school was authorized in 2004, unanimously, by the board; I know because I was elected to the board that year and fully supported the creation of this school. It was created with the support of a local non-profit and Lawrence Tech. It was created to offer an alternative educational delivery model for urban students. Although open to all counties contingent to Oakland County, it was primarily promoted to Detroit students to promote not only high school graduation but college acceptance and graduation. We have succeeded doing that so well that the American School Board Journal awarded Ferndale Public Schools a First Place Magna Award in 2010. These current changes are not for the sake of ‘integration’. Ferndale has had that since 2002 with the grade level configuration. These current changes are being made to free up assets, buildings for sale (Jefferson, Taft and Wilson where UHS was housed have already been sold). If a Ferndale High School/University High School merger is imminent, as alluded to in the article, then that would free up one more school building to sell. Since the current board took office in 2013, the budget fund equity (savings so to speak) has rapidly fallen. See this link... https://www.munetrix.com/Michigan/Schools/GDR/Oakland-Schools/District/F.... Without the recent building sales, we might be under the watchful eye of the state Treasury Department. There is no other revenue strategy.