Schools pact builds on neigh­bor­hood foun­da­tion

The Detroit News - - Front Page -

TDetroit he city’s neigh­bor­hoods are in play, fi­nally. Three months af­ter Ford Mo­tor Co. con­firmed plans to con­vert Cork­town’s di­lap­i­dated Michi­gan Cen­tral De­pot into its cen­ter for mo­bil­ity and self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle devel­op­ment, a con­sor­tium backed by $50 mil­lion from the Kresge Foun­da­tion is plan­ning a cra­dle-to-ca­reer ed­u­ca­tional complex on the cam­pus of Mary­grove Col­lege at Wy­oming and McNi­chols.

“It’s fair to ask, ‘Will it work,’” Kresge CEO Rip Rap­son said Thurs­day. “The an­swer is un­equiv­o­cally ‘yes.’ The time for the pivot to the neigh­bor­hoods is now” in what he called “an un­prece­dented model of neigh­bor­hood re­vi­tal­iza­tion.”

The sym­bol­ism is strik­ing. The Detroit Pub­lic Schools Com­mu­nity District board, bur­dened with a legacy of un­der­per­form­ing schools and la­bor trou­bles, is wa­ger­ing it can create a new model for tra­di­tional pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion by part­ner­ing with the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s School of Ed­u­ca­tion, Starfish Fam­ily Ser­vices and Mary­grove to teach lo­cal stu­dents and teach their teach­ers.

Bor­row­ing from the res­i­dency pro­grams used in med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, the Ann Ar­bor univer­sity founded 201 years ago in Detroit would lever­age its rep­u­ta­tion and ex­per­tise in what Pres­i­dent Mark Sch­lis­sel calls “team­work in ser­vice to the pub­lic.” The re­sult would be com­mu­nity re­de­vel­op­ment an­chored in ed­u­ca­tion.

Kresge would fund con­struc­tion of an early child­hood cen­ter. DPSCD would op­er­ate a K-8 school and a high school carved from the for­mer Bates Academy on the east edge of cam­pus. UM would run an un­der­grad­u­ate “res­i­dency” pro­gram for as­pir­ing teach­ers. And Mary­grove would con­tinue to of­fer grad­u­ate cour­ses and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment.

The out­come touted Thurs­day was far from guar­an­teed less than two years ago. That’s when Mary­grove faced fi­nan­cial col­lapse be­cause of plung­ing en­roll­ment and pun­ish­ing debt, a cash drain stemmed only when Kresge stepped in and sta­bi­lized the col­lege’s oper­a­tions pend­ing dis­cus­sions about its fu­ture.

Now the col­lege, founded in Mon­roe in 1905 os­ten­si­bly to train teach­ers, is part­ner­ing with some of the re­gion’s heav­i­est heavy­weights to build a new kind of ur­ban ed­u­ca­tion. It’s ex­pected to pre­serve Mary­grove’s his­toric mis­sion and speed neigh­bor­hood im­prove­ments that lo­cals like Martin McNee­ley al­ready see hap­pen­ing.

“Thank you for sav­ing my neigh­bor­hood,” the Mary­grove grad­u­ate told Kresge’s Rap­son. “I’ve been here for 50 years, and I’ve seen it de­cline. I see it com­ing back” with new street­lights, reg­u­lar trash pickup, street re­pair and snow re­moval. “The last two years, it’s been beau­ti­ful.”

That’s a start. Even as down­town and Mid­town at­tract bil­lions in pri­vate in­vest­ment — from mort­gage mogul Dan Gil­bert and the Il­itch fam­ily to big cor­po­rate re­lo­ca­tions and small busi­ness in­vest­ment — neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents and the civic groups rep­re­sent­ing them rou­tinely pose a ques­tion: what about us?

Five years af­ter the city’s his­toric bank­ruptcy fil­ing, grow­ing ev­i­dence sug­gests it’s their turn. In part­ner­ship with res­i­dents and busi­nesses, Ford says it will in­vest $740 mil­lion to build out the Cork­town cam­pus. Kresge is spear­head­ing nu­mer­ous com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives. A JP­Mor­gan Chase pro­gram con­tin­ues to in­vest in small-busi­ness cre­ation.

And neigh­bor­hood rein­ven­tion fig­ured promi­nently in Mayor Mike Dug­gan’s re­elec­tion cam­paign for two rea­sons. It’s po­lit­i­cally po­tent in a city that strug­gled for decades to pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices, and, sec­ond, it’s the next ob­vi­ous step in the city’s re­vi­tal­iza­tion.

Rein­vest­ing in down­town and Mid­town, es­sen­tially the spine of Detroit, helps bol­ster tax base, fuel eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and create tax-pay­ing jobs. Rein­vest­ing in neigh­bor­hoods and im­prov­ing tra­di­tional pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion strength­ens com­mu­nity and gives Detroi­ters a rea­son to stay, to reap the ben­e­fits of ris­ing prop­erty val­ues and tax base.

“What this town needs to be shown again and again is you can take big ideas and make them real,” said Rap­son, a prime mover be­hind the “grand bar­gain” that helped set­tle the city’s bank­ruptcy set­tle­ment in near-record time. “So many peo­ple are wait­ing to see ef­forts like this fail.”

Sad, but true. They’re the same folks who doubt the city’s re­vival can main­tain trac­tion; who pre­dict a new school board and yet an­other new school su­per­in­ten­dent, Niko­lai Vitti, can’t suc­ceed be­cause oth­ers have failed; who don’t un­der­stand that the dif­fer­ence this time can be found in lead­er­ship — in City Hall, in busi­ness, in phi­lan­thropy and in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

Mary­grove is not the first Detroit icon to trace this fa­mil­iar arc. A sto­ried cam­pus opened in 1927, on the cusp of Detroit’s Golden Age, teeters on the edge of fi­nan­cial col­lapse, a vic­tim of chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, un­re­al­is­tic man­age­ment and an un­will­ing­ness to reckon with the times. It hap­pened to Gen­eral Mo­tors Co., to City Hall, to the city’s pre-em­i­nent arts in­sti­tu­tions, to Mary­grove.

Each were forced to rein­vent them­selves, to bal­ance as­pi­ra­tion with fi­nan­cial re­al­ity and po­ten­tial com­mu­nity sup­port. Each re­quired their lead­ers to em­brace their predica­ment as it was, not as they wanted it to be.

The heart of the so-called “P-20 Part­ner­ship” is Detroit’s re­con­sti­tuted pub­lic school district. It’s backed by Kresge’s money, the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s com­mit­ment to train teach­ers to teach Detroit’s youth — and the courage of its lead­er­ship to de­velop a new model for ed­u­cat­ing the city’s kids, right in the heart of a neigh­bor­hood.

DANIEL HOWES

Rap­son

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