Part one of a three-part series on education in Detroit.
“Every day is different,” says Mr. Looney, principal of McGivney School, a strict disciplinary academy (grades 7-12) in Detroit. “You come in one day, there could be a frickin’ brawl in the hallway. I mean like, fifty kids, and you’re just like, 911? Yep. You can’t do anything about it.” “7 Mile” tagged in magic marker on a projector screen, “Fuck U!” meticulously penned into the hallway wall—“the kids love writing on anything but paper,” he reports.
McGivney is owned by the non-profit Holy Cross Children’s Services and chartered by Wayne RESA which segregates them from the ubiquitous corruption found within Detroit Public Schools. Recently years of gross mismanagement of funding and resources have been coming to light (retired staff left on the payroll, millions spent on buses for sports teams while infrastructures decay, new schools built as the population dwindles, ten thousand sweatshirts donated to one hundred students, it goes on). McGivney is overseen by the same intermediate school district as much of DPS and the educational standards are the same throughout the state. McGivney’s status as a charter school offers little more than protection from fraud—the money is never enough, the books are outdated—but proper management of funding offers smaller classes, personal attention, social workers and support on staff with teachers who are eager to engage their students.
“You have to be more articulate, or particular with them,” says Mr. Nichols (pictured), who teaches history, social studies and art. “They’ve been coming in here, some of them—even some of the rough ones—‘can I get my assignment?’… Sometimes they might get it and not do anything, but they ask for it. One guy, I said, what’s the matter? He said he just couldn’t get into it today. He does do work, but today he just couldn’t get into it… some days I don’t feel good. I can understand.”
A College for Creative Studies poster, hung by Mr. Looney, adorns a wall of the tiny library. “They don’t hear about art school. Never been exposed to it,” he says. “No one cares about that stuff. They just think you go to school to push a bunch of numbers and read.”
Next week Coach Harvel discusses the struggles that many schools in Detroit face on a daily basis.
dialogue with Mr. Biolchino: http://songsfromthemoon.com/2010/12/28/mr-biolchino/
photos of McGivney: http://songsfromthemoon.com/2010/12/21/mcgivney-school/