Madison HeightsAugust 20, 2012
Community High becomes Madison Preparatory
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
MADISON HEIGHTS — Community High School, an alternative school for at-risk youths, will now be called Madison Preparatory High School, or Madison Prep for short, starting with the 2012-13 school year.
The sign outside the building already reflects the new name. But other changes, made with student input, will also be in effect this fall. It’s all with the goal of preparing students for college and beyond.
“One of the things that sold me on this school district when I was interviewing (to be superintendent) was the work happening at Madison Prep,” said Randy Speck, superintendent of Madison District Public Schools.
“In my first visit to Madison Prep, I saw kids who were excelling because they needed a different learning environment,” he said. “The work the teachers do, they have almost like a family setting over there. It’s safe for those kids — they have an opportunity to learn in ways they didn’t in a traditional setting.
“I think what this rebranding does is it gives them a new sense of pride,” Speck continued. “The students were part of the process. They bought into it, and their pride shines through.”
Perhaps the biggest change is how marking periods will be handled: Madison Prep is switching from six six-week terms to three 12-week trimesters, in effect doubling the length of a marking period.
This change instills greater discipline in students by conditioning them to think in the long term. Previously, students would sometimes put off any serious effort to succeed because a fresh marking period and a second chance was always right around the corner.
“Many of our students are starting to look at community colleges and other post-education facilities, and very few of the schools go in six-week periods. Instead they have semesters or trimesters,” said Leslie Renne-Kegebein, principal at Madison Prep.
“We’re trying to get them used to common learning schedules,” she said. “If you go to college, you won’t have a chance to fix your grade in six weeks. You’ll have to stay with that class for a while, learning rigor and how to get yourself embedded in it.”
There is also a dress code now. The code includes black, navy or khaki slacks for the boys, and similarly colored slacks or skirts for the girls, the skirts being fingertip-length when their hands are down at their sides. All students must wear white or light blue collared shirts, short-sleeve or long-sleeve, tucked in for both boys and girls. The boys must wear belts; at some point, the girls may be able to wear blouses. There are currently no restrictions on shoes, since shoes are expensive. Hoodies and T-shirts are prohibited.
It sounds like a big change, but the students were surprisingly receptive.
“As it turned out, the students were all in — it was a definite majority vote where they were excited to do a dress code and try it,” Renne-Kegebein said. “It wasn’t like I imagined when I proposed it: I thought they would balk and say, ‘Heck no, we’re going to another school.’ Maybe a handful said that, but most thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, and it might even be cool.”
The benefits to a dress code are numerous, Renne-Kegebein said. When you look professional, you feel professional and act professional. In addition, it spares teens the self-conscious ritual of fretting over what to wear each day. It also eliminates any competitiveness over wearing name-brand clothing as a sign of wealth. The dress code places more of the focus where it belongs: preparing for success in the future.
While the marking periods and dress code have changed, and there is a new mascot — the phoenix — to go along with the new name, much stays the same. The school is still at the same location and features the same colors of white and light blue.
The focus is still on helping second- and third-chance students achieve their full potential. And the potential is great, as proven by students like Amanda Persico, who recently graduated with a full ride to the University of Phoenix to study system securities.
Madison Prep, formerly called REACH and named Community High since 2000, had 175 students enrolled in its last year as CHS in 2011-12. They were served by a staff of seven teachers teaching a full curriculum. The graduation rate is about 80 percent.
“The whole reason for students coming to alternative schools is very often they’ve done everything they can, despite whatever circumstances were in the way” — family troubles, attitude issues, low self-esteem, possible substance use — “and they’re just not making it,” Renne-Kegebein said. “So alternative education, for me, has always meant a different choice: not a quick fix, but more of a way to figure out how to engage a student and get back their confidence.
“Their potential is not always evident, but we all know it’s there,” she said. “It’s just a matter of helping them find it and filling in the gaps so they can start over.”
Madison Preparatory High School, previously known as Community High School, is located at 27107 Hales in Madison Heights, and can be reached at (248) 543-5465.
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