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EM to move Davis Aerospace program from City Airport

Captain Cliff Miller, flight instructor, with Davis Aerospace student pilot.  COURTESY PHOTO

Captain Cliff Miller, flight instructor, with Davis Aerospace student pilot. COURTESY PHOTO

By F. Carlton Peeples
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts recently announced what he called an ambitious and strategic plan to close and consolidate more DPS schools, including Davis Aerospace Technical High School.

The Davis Aerospace program, which has existed for 60 years, is one of only a few in the country and the only program of its kind to be located on an active airport.

Roberts has planned a major shift for the 2013-14 school year. The current site will close and the program will relocate to Golightly Career and Technical Center, five miles from its current location. The move is one of several controversial and unpopular decisions by EM Roberts.

“These plans are designed to dramatically change our mindsets and the way we do things here. We must be courageous in our actions and do things that push us as a district — and you as a community — out of our comfort zones,” Roberts said in a statement.

Roberts boasts a unique partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration to prepare students for careers in aviation. Graduates earn a FAA license in avionics as well as a pilot’s license in addition to their diploma.

The school is on the closure list for “trumped up” reasons, says retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and Tuskegee Airmen Lawrence Millben.

Upgrades and improvements to the tune of $1.5 million as well as low enrollment are the rationalizations for the closure, says Millben. “We have to upgrade to their standards,” he says about the new windows and heating system needed. “That’s about $50,000 in repairs … What’s the rest?”

Addressing the enrollment issue, Millben whose been with the program since the late 1950s, says enrollment in the specialized program educates Detroit’s youth in a field that scarcely employs African Americans especially Black women. Millben also helped write the aeronautics, avionics and instrumentation curriculum.

DPS spokesman Steven Wasko says that the school can hold more students and is operating below capacity.

“Their measurements included the hangar; there’s no room [in the hangar] for seats, only airplanes,” Millben said.

When asked about the budgetary discrepancies and whether DPS had a clear enrollment goal for the new facility, Wasko commented that the $1.5 million was in deferred expenditures. There was no anticipated enrollment numbers and no concrete seat count.

Wasko added that DPS hopes to create new Career Academies that, like the Davis move, assist in providing full 9-12 grade instruction and the career-technical programming on one campus, and that the Davis/Golightly venture could serve as a model for the other CTC campuses.

Alumni and city officials aren’t happy about the move.

“It’s the only high school in the nation where you can graduate from high school and get a pilot’s license … before your driver’s license,” said City Councilmember JoAnn Watson, who introduced a resolution in an effort to keep the building open.

“And it is currently supported in a big way by the Tuskegee Airmen to provide hands-on mentoring and training with them — it’s too valuable as an asset.”

The resolution was passed unanimously.


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