In Detroit, Some Schools Are Really Out Forever

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For 33 schools in Detroit it's the last day ever. Enrollment in the Detroit public schools has plummeted in the last decade. Fed up with poor achievement, families are moving to the suburbs, or switching to charter schools and other alternatives. So the city is closing buildings, reassigning students, and laying off teachers.


Today is the last day of school in Detroit. And for 33 of those schools, it's the last day ever. Enrollment in Detroit's public schools has plummeted by 60,000 students in the last 10 years. Fed up with poor achievement, families are moving to the suburbs or switching to charter schools and other alternatives.

Sarah Hulett of Michigan Radio was on hand at one of those schools as students, teachers and families said goodbye.

SARAH HULETT: The hallways of Brady Elementary are lined with old pictures of staff and students. All week long, former students have been coming in to snap their own photos and visit their old classrooms. And outside the front office, class photo albums dating back to the early 1980s sit on the table.

Ms. LA TANYA CLARK(ph) (Resident, Detroit): Bettany(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLARK: Oh, my goodness. That's Cassandra. That's Charles.

HULETT: La Tanya(ph) Clark's two older sons went to this school on Detroit's west side, and her daughter Cabria(ph) is a fifth-grader here.

Ms. CLARK: I went to Brady, my whole family. All the teachers - my daughter's teacher, Miss Thomas, she taught like, probably like six generations. We all went here. All of us.

HULETT: Down the hallway, Maria Sullivan is settling her class down. She's about to break some bad news to her fifth-graders.

Ms. MARIA SULLIVAN (Teacher, Brady Elementary): Hey, any more questions for me? Boys? Yes, Bettina(ph).

BETTINA (Student, Brady Elementary): Ms. Sullivan, are you going to go to another school?

Ms. SULLIVAN: Actually, guys, I haven't told you, but I have been laid off.

BETTINA: For real?

Ms. SULLIVAN: I've been laid off. So far, I have no school, no job. So I'm going to try to get into something, so we'll see. We'll see, okay?

HULETT: Several kids tell Sullivan to try and get hired at the schools where they're headed for sixth grade, then she gets them ready for their promotion ceremony.

Ms. SULLIVAN: Everybody knows what they're supposed to do, right?

Unidentified Group: Yes.

Ms. SULLIVAN: Okay. Everybody knows the song and the anthem?

Unidentified Group: Yes.

Ms. SULLIVAN: Okay. All right. Very good.

HULETT: A few minutes later, Sullivan's class joins the rest of the fifth grade in the auditorium for their last assembly as elementary students.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

HULETT: After the ceremony, the kids are giddy and squealing like any elementary students in the last days of school, but there's also a little bit of melancholy. Lia Nelson(ph) is a fifth-grader.

Ms. LIA NELSON (Student, Brady Elementary): I feel sad because this is the school that has brought me up since second grade. And I'm really upset that it's closing because I really wanted it to stay open.

HULETT: But this school is 85 years old and its enrollment is about half of what the school was built to accommodate during Detroit's boom years, so Brady will close and teachers and staff will move on. Down the hallway, Caroline Coleman is cleaning out a locker that serves as her office.

Ms. CAROLINE COLEMAN (Classroom Assistant, Brady Elementary): Good job. (Unintelligible).

HULETT: Coleman is a classroom assistant, and she says she doesn't know whether she'll have a job next fall. But she says she's more worried about where all the students will end up.

Ms. COLEMAN: A lot of them are like me - don't have transportation to get back and forth to school. And they don't want to bus the kids - it's sad, and then they say no child be left behind. With the way they're going, there's going to be a lot of children left behind.

HULETT: Detroit public school officials are hoping their restructuring plan will help them create stronger programs that will stop the exodus out of the district and maybe even bring back some of the families who have left.

Ms. COLEMAN: That's the end of that.

(Soundbite of locker closing)

HULETT: For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hulett.

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