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High school champs tout rigor

In a state where only about three-quarters of public-school students graduate from high school and a dismal 17 percent are considered college-ready by the ACT standard, Midland Academy of Advanced and Creative Studies stands alone.

The Midland-based charter school graduated 100 percent of its students in the 2010-11 school year, 50 percent of whom were college-ready, i.e. above proficiency thresholds in all four core subjects measured by the ACT college exam. About 40 percent of Michigan's charter schools have high-school grades, reports Gary Naeyaert of The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University.

To Midland Dean Betsy Haigh, it’s simply part of the plan.

“A large percentage of our parents share our mission (which is) rigorous academics, character education and parental involvement,” she said.

As part of its "Academic State Championship" coverage, Bridge Magazine used a database to analyze results from all of Michigan's charter schools on eight academic measures, then divided the results into two groups based on the socioeconomic characteristics of their student bodies.

BRIDGE DATA: List of winners and searchable database of charter performance

A closer look shows where Midland is able to increase its chances of success.

Midland Academy is a small institution, with an enrollment of 248 in grades K-12. This year’s senior class has only 11 members. One who is not performing to expectations would find it hard to find a crack to slip through.

“Our college readiness stems from the fact we're K-12,” Haigh said. “(From middle school through high school), students might have two different math teachers. And the teachers really understand what's happening in the other areas of curriculum. We do a lot of cross-curricular projects. Students realize how important one subject is to another, to another, to another.”

There is no entrance test, but Midland only allows transfers if there’s room for them. And there is a placement test given to all entering students to determine grade level, Haigh said. Most students enter in kindergarten, grades 5 or 6, or in their sophomore or junior year.

The dean credits parental involvement with much of the school’s success, aided by its requirement that parents contribute 30 volunteer hours throughout the academic year.

“We provide a lot of opportunities,” said Haigh, ranging from chaperoning to clerical work in school offices.

Relationships -- school to parent, parent to school, teacher to student and all points in between -- are “the most significant factors in our success,” said Haigh. “It's part of our culture. We always want to remain a small school. Problems a whole lot easier to deal with if you're a smaller school.”

Charter champs previous coverage

Charter champs know: Writing is tough

Charter math winners make it count

Reading champs point to early prep

The champs in charters 

Among other schools that did well in Bridge’s charter-school analysis for high schools is the Concord Academy in Petoskey. Like Midland, Concord had a 100 percent graduation rate, and like Midland, is a smaller school, with only 60 students enrolled in the high-school grades. Concord’s emphasis is on fine arts, but like many charters, sees many students transfer out in high school, in search of a more traditional experience, with sports, extracurriculars and proms.

“Artsier kids hang on,” said David Hill, the school’s executive director. “Boys stay on through high school because they're into dance or theater. The student who stays is one who's on fire for multiple arts and wants to spend a lot of time doing it.”

Concord also cultivates a culture of expected college enrollment, with more rigorous academics: “A typical English class here would be (Advanced Placement) elsewhere,” Hill said.

Central Academy in Ann Arbor (enrollment: 540) also had a 100 percent graduation rate, but with a far greater number of economically disadvantaged students. Principal Luay Shalabi described the school as a fast-growing institution that mainly serves students of Middle Eastern descent, many English-language learners.

“After the Gulf War and other turmoil (in that region), many immigrants have been finding their way to Ann Arbor,” said Shalabi. The supportive environment treats each student as an individual and teachers can quickly help those who fall behind.

“More than 91 percent go to college,” said Shalabi. “We track them afterward. Every year, the University of Michigan accepts two or three students from Central Academy.”

Crossroads Charter Academy in Big Rapids was the winner in College Readiness for schools with more economically disadvantaged students, with 24 percent reaching four-subject proficiency. Principal Ross Meads credits the school’s start-up spirit.

“I have always admired portrayals of the Amish lifestyle, where if one needs a barn, they all build it,” he said. “Because charters are a fairly recent movement, if something needs to get done, (all staff) get together to do it. We have an appreciation for the fact all categories are considered in ACT readiness, with an emphasis on every subject being important. There’s never an attitude here that ‘that's not my department's problem.’ Everybody took ownership for the entire performance of the individual student.”

Nancy Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of GrossePointeToday.com, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.

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