Community responds to school board’s vote to rename district, buildings

By: Bria Brown | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 14, 2017

 Students show their support for the East Detroit name before the school board meeting June 5 at Eastpointe City Hall. The school board recently voted to rename the district as Eastpointe Community Schools as of July 1, and will change the names of buildings and programs.

Students show their support for the East Detroit name before the school board meeting June 5 at Eastpointe City Hall. The school board recently voted to rename the district as Eastpointe Community Schools as of July 1, and will change the names of buildings and programs.

Photo provided by Francesca Lucido

EASTPOINTE — East Detroit High School alumni, parents, coaches and current students who attended the Board of Education meeting June 5 at Eastpointe City Hall were not in favor of the recent vote to change the district’s name, and the names of buildings and programs, and they spoke out during a pubic hearing.

The board voted for the name change during its May 22 meeting. The June 5 meeting was held for the board to vote on a resolution to effectuate the name change.

After the public hearing, the board voted 5-0 in favor of the resolution.

According to the school board president, Jon S. Gruenberg, the board is using money from district property being sold to cover the costs associated with changing the names.

The properties being sold are the Deerfield building for $420,000 and the Roosevelt building for $625,000, according to the district.

“As far as the money, it’s been a lot of issues about money. We have a couple property deals in the works of buildings we are no longer using,” said Gruenberg.

“The problem is, it’s one-time money. When you get one-time money like that, it really needs to be spent on one-time expenses, because it’s not reoccurring revenue that you get every year,” he said.

East Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Ryan McLeod told the Eastsider in an email June 9 that both properties were vacant.

“Deerfield has been vacant and was most recently the previous site of the administration building. Deerfield is being considered for a housing development. Roosevelt has been vacant and was the previous site of an elementary building. Roosevelt is being considered for possible community use by the city of Warren,” he stated.

Longtime Macomb County resident and East Detroit High School football coach Roland Bell expressed his concerns about the name change to the board.

“I speak before you today with great concern for the direction of our school system — particularly the high school,” said Bell.

Bell said changing the name would “alienate the alumni of the school so very rich in history traditions.”

“It will be an unneeded financial burden of an estimated $175,000 to $250,000 to change signage, letterhead, internet sites, scoreboards, team and club uniforms, and other unforeseen costs, such as attorney fees and changing contract language. That’s just a rough guess on my part,” said Bell.

McLeod stated in an email a definite amount hadn’t been determined yet.

“The district is in the process of obtaining quotes for various items related to the name change (signs, uniforms, etc.). Since the district is maintaining the school colors and mascots, some uniforms and other items will not need to be replaced or updated. In addition, some of the updates for the name change were already planned expenditures as part of our ongoing maintenance plans,” stated McLeod.

EDHS sophomore Karah Tanski said she was upset about the rename.

“I’ve been going to East Detroit Public Schools since I was in preschool, so I’ve been here for a long time, and it’s always been East Detroit. When I heard you guys were changing it, I was kind of upset about it. It’s who I’ve been since I was 4 years old, and I’m not good with the change. Now all of a sudden, everything I know is just changing now,” said Tanski.

“I get why you guys want to, I totally understand because of the reputation … but we can fix a reputation in other ways,” she said.

Tanski also said that the board could use the funds in other ways than changing the names.

“That’s really big for me. Our teachers work so hard and they’re not getting paid enough. Our sports teams, they don’t get as much money as I think they should. I think instead of trying to change the name to something that we don’t even know if it’s going to fix anything, spend the money on things that will be better used,” she said.

Daniel Kirkland, EDHS alumnus and varsity girls soccer coach, felt the rename wouldn’t change what the students have done to “rise to the occasion.” 

“Over the last three to four years, our students have (risen) to the occasion. They got us out of the bottom 5 percent. Changing the name to something else isn’t going to change what we’ve done,” he said.

EDHS alumna Natalie Ward used her public hearing minutes to object to board members’ reactions to the comments.

“I had a speech planned, but after hearing what these kids had to say, and watching the school board react, I don’t think a lot of you are listening to these kids, watching you guys’ faces. These kids are really concerned, and they don’t want to lose what their school already is. It’s been East Detroit for years; changing the name isn’t going to change how people look at it. Just because society looks down on anything in Detroit doesn’t mean you need to get rid of it,” she said.

Elena Michaud spoke from her experience of being an alumna, parent and band booster.

“East Detroit means something; my siblings went to East Detroit. My friends and parents graduated from East Detroit. I’m an East Detroiter. The name change, that doesn’t change who we are. We are East Detroit,” she said.

EDHS sophomore Keegan Koiuula plays football and baseball for the school. 

“I put on the jersey every game because I want to make a difference. I don’t want our name to be different. I have pride for who I represent,” he said.

“I’ve done the little things to show how much I love this school. I think that changing the name doesn’t change who we are, it changes how we are seen. The name is like sweeping the problem under the rug. We’re hiding it, but we all know it’s there. Just because East Detroit turns into Eastpointe doesn’t mean we’re not what we were,” said Koiuula.

Keith Ward, a parent and EDHS alumnus, gave kudos to the students for speaking out and for their academic strides. 

“I’m extremely proud of these students for standing up in what they believe in; that’s what we’ve taught them. That’s what that building has taught them,” he said.

“We elected you to those positions. You’re doing things that are upsetting the students, teachers and the community. Change is great; these kids have made strides in the last few years. These kids got us out of that bottom 5 (percent), and these teachers got us out of that bottom 5 (percent), not you. Now you’re taking their pride away from them,” said Ward.

EDHS junior Allan Macovis said he thought the name change was a good idea when he first heard of it, but then he changed his mind.

“When this discussion first began to change the name, I was all for it. But having seen my fellow classmates, having seen the staff defend what they think is right, it’s a horrible idea to change the name. It’s a part of our heritage. It’s a part of who we are. I think if we change the name to Eastpointe (Community Schools), it takes the spirit away from us,” he said.

Recent graduate Ni’Chelle Malone was also not in favor of the name change.

“The changing of the name won’t change who we are or what we do as a community. There are so many things that are changing, and I feel that this is not one thing that should be added to everything that is changing,” said Malone.

Board of Education members Karren MacKool, Chineva Early, Randy Wilson and Taylor Monday applauded the students for their remarks, but they all wished they had heard their concerns at previous meetings before the board voted on the renaming May 22.

“I wish I could’ve heard how you all felt about all of this before we voted to change it, sincerely. All of the meetings are posted and I wish I would’ve heard from you,” Monday said June 5.

MacKool spoke to the Eastsider June 9 and said she also posted information about the agenda on her personal Facebook page.

“I feel like we put the notices out that we have public board meetings that are televised on the first and third Monday of the month, and I don’t think people paid attention to the agenda,” she said.

“I love the fact that the students and the community came out to speak their mind. It was nice to see them concerned about something and have such pride in East Detroit High School, because I share in that pride. The board just felt it was time to move forward,” said MacKool.