HomeSign In Contact Us
Parent: 'Even after my kids graduate I'll still come back and help this school'
By: Manny Lopez
November 20, 2013

HIGHLAND PARK — No parent chooses to send their child to a school where mice scamper through classrooms, where garbage fills the hallways and the school pool and bathroom tissue is rationed off and handed out only from the main office.

Yet for years that's what students in the former Highland Park School District were forced to endure on a daily basis. Parents and teachers complained, but nothing happened. It wasn't for lack of money. The public school district was spending nearly $20,000 per student — the highest in the state.

Things got so bad that the state appointed an emergency manager and eventually the school district was turned over to The Leona Group, a charter management company. The teachers unions complained. So did some parents and community activists, whose reaction was to protest because the status quo was being disrupted.

Gloria Liveoak was one of those people who complained. She actively lobbied against the Leona Group, and like many former Detroit Public Schools employees, thought charter schools were bad for students and the community at large.

Not anymore. Now she's not only working in one, she's promoting it as a good choice for parents. She's now a full-time parent liaison at the Highland Park Renaissance Academy and based on the cheers she got when a video of her was played at a press conference Tuesday, she's a favorite among teachers and parents.

You don't need to spend much time in the hallways or classrooms of the Renaissance Academy to see that the dedication and commitment to education is real and unencumbered by bureaucracy, administrative obstacles or obstructionists.

Whether it's Ruffin Green, the school's security guard, greeting you with a handshake as you walk into the building, or Superintendent Pamela Williams talking to students in the halls or Principal Carmen Willingham talking about renovations to the third floor of the building, it's clear there is a plan, a mission and a spirit to get things done.

"This school shows you what can become of some of our most troubled schools," said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who has chronicled the transformation of the district for the past year.

To get a better sense of how bad it was and what $1 million in cleanup looks like, listen to the teachers, some of whom took significant pay cuts to stay, and to the parents who appreciate the efforts of those educators.

"Even after my kids graduate I'll still come back and help this school," said Davonda Huff, a parent-volunteer whose second-grade daughter and fifth-grade son both now have 4.0 GPAs. "I love this place and The Leona Group."

Things aren't perfect, and there still is a long way to go. But students and parents have hope for the future thanks to the choice they were given by a company that was willing to step in and improve a situation that had deteriorated for far too long.

More Info
Other News
As Conventional Public Schools Fail Transparency Law, Charters are Targeted Pontiac Public Schools posts teachers' contract that expired in 2011
Central Michigan University chartered schools
rank high in MEAP scores
Substitute teacher accused of assaulting first graders banned from all NHA charter schools
Muskegon Heights ends contract with charter school company
MI gubernatorial candidate wants to dismantle charter schools
Charter school CEO says Muskegon Heights schools owes company $2 million
Must question charter school legislation
Our View: Michigan can learn from other states how to end its 'education recession'
Charter Schools Serve More Low-Income Students Than Conventional Districts
Arts education: A look at how Michigan's schools teach music, drama, painting and more
Contrary to Report, Charter Schools Get Less Money Per Pupil Than Conventional Schools
Charter school students to give testimony at candlelight vigil to support homeless youth
Parent: 'Even after my kids graduate I'll still come back and help this school'
Nexus Academy of Royal Oak Continues to Welcome Students to Innovative School
Michigan schools' financial crisis growing
Shannon to step down
Disinvestment, structural flaws harm Michigan schools
Should Michigan parents consider online charter schools?
Jackson Preparatory and Early College charter school receives $500,000 start-up grant
Do Charter Schools Hurt Public School Finances?
Detroit's Aisha Shule charter school to close Oct. 31
Charter school grows
Michigan bill seeks to combat cyberbullying in school
West Michigan educators react to Mackinac Center study on 'flawed' school ranking system
3 Metro Detroit teachers finalists for Charter School Teacher of the Year
Muskegon's newest charter school combines Montessori methods with environmental research
Count Day nears for Michigan schools, with vital funds at stake
Poll Finds School Chiefs Lukewarm on School Boards
Michigan Laborers to protest Bay City Academy's handling of asbestos removal
Muskegon Heights charter schools monitor 'very impressed' by high school
Charter Enrollment Increases by
24 Percent in Washtenaw County
See which charter schools are attracting Ann Arbor students
Oakside Scholars Charter Academy Dedicated to the Community
Amid growth of Michigan charter schools, teachers often less experienced
Pressure on Mosaica to improve Muskegon Heights schools growing, documents show
See the 56 Michigan school districts with budget deficits
Feedback: Schauer needs to be schooled on cyber charters
Michigan ranks 11th in education reform group's list of 'parent power' states
School Year Begins With 298 Public Charter Schools in Michigan, Including 34 New Schools
Detroit area districts plug into digital era with iPads, laptops