Local charter school making a difference

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published September 7, 2011

 Principal Thomas White has been at Eaton Academy for three years. In that time, he said, there’s been only one senior who didn’t graduate, and overall, the school has had a 98 percent graduation rate in its six years since opening

Principal Thomas White has been at Eaton Academy for three years. In that time, he said, there’s been only one senior who didn’t graduate, and overall, the school has had a 98 percent graduation rate in its six years since opening

Photo by Sara Kandel

EASTPOINTE — It’s not located in Detroit, but with 90 percent of students coming from south of Eight Mile, the 98 percent graduation rate that one east-side school boasts raises the bar for schools in the city and suburbs alike.

Housed in St. Veronica’s old school building, Eaton Academy in Eastpointe is a K-12 Title 1 charter school, meaning 86 percent of the students who attend the school are at or below the federal poverty level, making their high graduation rate even more rare when compared to other Title 1 schools. But, being a charter school, Eaton’s student body is considerably smaller than most local public schools.

“A lot of people think that charter schools are private schools you don’t have to pay for, but no,” said Principal Thomas White. “The difference between a charter entity and a public school entity is that you actually have to go through an authorizer.”

The authorizer Eaton goes through is Central Michigan University.

“We aren’t just accountable to the Michigan Department of State, although we are accountable to them, we are also accountable to Central Michigan University and what they want, which is usually above and beyond what the state wants,” White said.

The additional standards required by CMU and an emphasis on technology and college preparedness among staff has led to Eaton meeting Adequate Yearly Progress assessments each year. Their mark this last time around was a B.

But for White, while the B grade is good, it’s not good enough.

“We aren’t happy with those results because we want to be 100 percent.”

To help reach that goal, White has introduced Orange Grove software into the school. The software will allow teachers to get instant results from MEAP and MME tests, so they can tailor their teaching based on those results. Also, this year at Eaton, students will begin preparing for the ACT in grade six with the use of the ACT Plan and Explore software that develops age-appropriate equivalents of the test for students in grades six and up.

“We are dynamic when it comes to putting cutting-edge technology into the classroom,” White said. “We have the Cadillac of Smart boards, which is the Promethean board, in every single one of our classrooms, and each floor is equipped with a cart of 25 Net-books.”

Netbooks are similar to laptops and allow teachers to let students who are having difficulties learning a concept work through it with online games and exercises, so the rest of the class can move forward.

Despite the rigorous academic expectations at Eaton, the school overall is much like any other. During orientation on Aug. 30, students laughed and joked around with each other, and many made a point to stop and say hi to teachers.

The school has offered them an educational experience that is more personalized, where they can create clubs and learn at their own pace.

“It’s a smaller setting here, and we are able to more closely focus in on individual student instruction,” said fifth-grade teacher Shelly Chuhran. “In larger systems, kids can get lost in the shuffle, but in this setting, we are in close contact with the other teachers and parents, so we can more closely monitor and address how a student is doing.”

The high school at Eaton has an advisory board that’s sole purpose is to maintain communication between students, teachers and parents, monitor and evaluate progress, and teach character traits.

“Character traits are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility,” said Cecilia Holland, the chair for the advisory board. “We want to make sure all our students are college bound in education and character, and we tell them that all the time.”

Holland said parent involvement plays a big part in the school’s success. On Sept. 1 the school had a parent-student picnic, where families were treated to picnic eats and fun games, and a spaghetti dinner for parents and students is being planned for late September.

At a time when many local schools are struggling to keep up with increasingly difficult state standards and classrooms are so large teachers can have a hard time just remembering each student’s name, the small-town hominess and high-tech capabilities of Eastpointe’s newest school are bringing in waves of success.