EASTPOINTE — East Detroit Public Schools saw a record increase in students after opening enrollment to neighboring counties last spring.
The board’s decision to open enrollment was met by mixed emotions from the community, but with the district’s enrollment numbers from count day Oct. 17, school officials remain confident they made the right choice. Netting a 180-student increase, or 5 percent, from last year to this year, EDPS saw the largest growth in the county.
While a portion of the increase is a result of the school’s section 105c Schools of Choice status, which allows students from Wayne, Oakland and St. Clair counties to enroll in the district, the majority of the increase came from students living in Eastpointe.
“We actually have more new resident students than school-of- choice students — about 89 percent are new residents and about 11 percent are school-of-choice,” said EDPS Superintendent Joanne Lelekatch.
The numbers may be the result of a marketing campaign the district launched earlier this year that detailed a variety of new programs, in hopes of increasing enrollment and keeping current students in the district.
“We were marketing what we really have here — we have these great, quality programs,” Lelekatch said, listing the district’s new Advanced Placement programs, wraparound services and more.
“In other years, we assumed people knew the quality and value provided by East Detroit Public Schools. Now we’ve turned the corner and it’s our job to tell the great story of East Detroit Public Schools.”
Because districts are funded in part by student count, when it came time to do the budget for the 2012-2013 school year, they decided to play it safe and plan for another decline in enrollment.
“We tried to budget for our revenue so we wouldn’t budget for and plan to have more than we would be bringing in,” Lelekatch said. “Budgetarily, because we budgeted for a decrease, it’s actually like an increase of 350 students.”
This means the district should see a surplus in revenue at the end of the year, and in difficult times, higher counts and more funding is always a plus. But now that the new students have started to settle into the district, staff and teachers are realizing that they bring a whole lot more to the district than any amount of funding.
“The kids that are school-of-choicing into this district are bringing a lot more than what the community had anticipated — they’re motivated and involved and they’re bringing a sense of gratitude to us,” said Sarah Strohbeck, the ninth-grade counselor at East Detroit High School. “Opening the district to Wayne County has brought in wonderful kids that are seeking a better opportunity.”
One of those kids is 15-year-old Jamez Groce. He transferred to the district from Detroit Public Schools.
“The people out here care about our education,” Groce said. “I really didn’t have no work or homework or nothing out there. Here I do. I actually got better grades when I came out here. Out there, I had four D’s and one F and then I was actually a low student out there, but out here I am actually getting B’s and A’s. Out here, I have never had an F yet, or a D, or a C.”
Groce struggled to find help at his old school, saying he felt like many of the teachers didn’t care whether he understood what was happening in class, or even if he was there, but at East Detroit, all of his teachers genuinely seem to care. It’s a good feeling, but even better is feeling safe.
“You don’t have to worry about the violence around here like out there, because out there I had always fought somebody,” Groce said. “It would be like on a Friday and I just walk out the school by myself and then I get bumped and I’d have to fight them.”
It was fight or get jumped and be labeled an easy target, and it was self-defense, but that didn’t make him feel any better about it. In his freshman year of high school, Groce knows firsthand that street fights can easily turn lethal.
“I had some of my family members (die) because they was fighting and then somebody shot them and they had died,” Groce said. “That’s what happens everyday out there.”
In a way, the new district is like a new life for many students — one with more opportunities and fewer dangers. For Groce, it’s a life outside of his father’s shadow.
“I have finally broke my father’s chain,” Groce said. “He was a drug dealer. He never made it in life. He’s in jail right now. I don’t know why he never tried to get his GED or his high school stuff. I am only the second boy in my family to make it to high school.”
Students like Groce inspire Strohbeck. They’ve faced hardship and fear and still remain dedicated to bettering themselves. They take pride in the school and choose to come every day, no matter what it takes.
“We have students that get on a bus at 6 a.m. every morning in the city of Detroit and take two connector buses to get here at 7:30 a.m.,” Strohbeck said.
“They get up every morning in the dark and take the bus to get here and then they do it again in the afternoon. Those are the kids we are getting. They make a conscientious effort to get here and they do. They get here every day and they are on sports teams and in clubs. They’ve brought such a blessing to our building.”
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