DPS board pushes early ed alternative for Stark school
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Dismayed that emergency managers have refused to apply for over $200 million in U.S. Department of Education funding for infant education, elected members of the Detroit Public School Board voted to move ahead with a plan developed by board member Juvette Hawkins-Williams to educate Detroit children from birth through five years.
Meeting at DPS offices in the Fisher Building, June 3, elected board members used Emergency Manger Jack Martin’s proposed sale of the former Stark school, 12611 Avondale St., as an opportunity to move ahead with the early childhood education plan.
Under Public Act 436, the Emergency Manager Law, the board has seven days to vote yes or no on any property sale proposed by the EM and another ten days to develop an alternative, although they have no resources with which to work. The board members must present their alternative plan to the Michigan Emergency Loan Board. The ELB then chooses between the elected officials’ plan and the emergency manager’s.
“Our kids are suffering; they really are, and you see it every day,” Hawkins-Williams said after the meeting.
A state certified early childhood and elementary education teacher, she has owned and operated a state-licensed child development and learning center in Detroit for over a decade and holds a master’s degree.
“A child’s brain is 80 percent developed by age five. That is five years of experiences whether healthy or unhealthy,” says Hawkins- Williams.
She strongly suggests society no longer ignore the settings in which children spend their first five years, believing they are not important. In fact, the home environment greatly influences what goes on in school, and later in life.
“The first five years create the foundation for children to accomplish key developmental advances in mind and body,” she says.
How the ELB will view the early childhood proposal remains to be seen.
Earlier this year, the elected board presented an alternative use for Southwestern High School and traveled to Lansing to present the plan. EM Martin proposed selling the recently refurbished building for $1 million to a company that planned to demolish it.
The board’s plan brought in a division of Ambassador Bridge owner Mattie Maroun’s company which offered more money and presented a plan to use the building for offices, while also offering space to the community for community education. The ELB voted it was to be rebid. However, the building went to the EM’s choice, said board member Elena Herrada.
The 52,000-square-foot Stark School was built in 1969. EM Martin wants to sell it for $700,000 to Mack Village Limited Partnership who lists as a partner the luxury hotel developer Lais Hotel Properties that owns a hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
Attendees at the meeting, who said they lived near Stark commented they did not know why the K-5 school was shut down. It sits vandalized now, they said. Board member Herrada said she believes the school was closed because of its proximity to the Detroit River. It is now for sale. “It’s valuable land,” she said.
Hawkins-Williams said the federal government solicited proposals from five cities for the infancy education program: Detroit, Baltimore, District of Columbia, Jersey City and Sunflower County, Mississippi.
The federal government will spend $56 million a year for five years to launch a pilot program. Under EM Roy Roberts, DPS did not apply to the 2011 or 2012 requests. The district applied in 2013, but wanted to use the money for four-year olds.
That wasn’t what the government wanted, and so we were rejected, Hawkins-Williams said.
She noted the district does not have to spend any money for the program and if Stark school is used, it will save the district $57,000 in demolition costs.