Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Little History

The 1985 reorganization might have been the biggest reorganization in Ann Arbor school history, but it did not involve the first school closings. Other schools had been closed earlier, as one-room schoolhouses were phased out. Between 1960 and 1985, the Ann Arbor school board opened (I believe) nine elementary schools, and closed some others. For instance--when Lakewood opened in 1961, both Wagner and Sullivan schools closed. (One was on Wagner. The other, I believe, was on Jackson Rd.) 

In the 1960s both racial and economic imbalances were becoming more prominent in the Ann Arbor schools, and the flash point for the school district was Jones Elementary School, which was 75% black. Given the lack of fair housing laws and enforcement, and the fact that the schools were primarily neighborhood-based, the segregation is not surprising. (Now, Jones School is Community High School.) Jones School was closed in 1965, and at the time, an advisory committee recommended that no school have a population that was more than 25% black.

The discussions around desegregation continued, and continued, and continued, for the next twenty years. A 1979 committee developed a desegregation plan, and that desegregation plan was passed by the school board in 1980 but was overturned after a hotly-contested school board election. In the early 1980s, Ann Arbor had several schools that were considered by state guidelines to be "racially imbalanced" but the school board was unable to deal with the issue. For instance, Newport and Freeman schools were largely white, while Dicken and Northside were largely black. Bryant and Clinton schools were just a few blocks from each other, but Bryant was largely black and Clinton was largely white. A "Committee on Excellence" was formed, and they issued their report on August 23, 1985. At that point, 19/26 elementary schools (or 73%) did not meet the recommended range for racial composition. The report is available online through the University of Michigan library.

Although the report was "tweaked" by the school board, its major recommendations were approved:
Regarding integration:
Each building in the district shall have a student population which reflects the racial composition of the community. There shall be a black population in each building that ranges between 12% and 27% of the building enrollment. (p. 4, emphases added)
The committee noted that this range met state guidelines, but was actually more restrictive, because the state was recommending a range of 2-32% black, and the committee felt that was too wide of a range.

Supporting recommendations included closing schools to both achieve racial balance and maximize efficiencies and changing from a K-6, 7-9, 10-12 school setup to a K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 setup. In addition, they recommended that the Open School program--which had been split between two schools--be given its own home in a school that was destined to be closed.

The idea was that, in 1985, there were 26 elementary school principals overseeing schools with an average of 260 children, and that by 1986 there would be 20 principal overseeing schools with an average of 380 children, despite the fact that the schools only included grades K-5 rather than grades K-6.

It is worth noting that at the time of these discussions, the "racial balance" discussion was almost exclusively a discussion about the black and white populations. The Asian and Hispanic/Latino populations in Ann Arbor have expanded tremendously since then, but in 1984, the Asian population was highly centered on North Campus and concern was expressed that if all of the students from North Campus were sent to one school, it would create a "third world ghetto."

The report (which I found interesting) discusses a lot of the same issues we discuss today: labor relations, the racial achievement gap, ways to support low-achieving schools, student assessment, alternatives to tracking, magnet schools, the savings that would come from school closings, professional development for teachers, and more.

Given the great demand for Ann Arbor Open today, I had to laugh when I read this:
The elementary Open School Program should be housed in a single site adequate in size to accommodate all the students who wish to enroll in the program. The process of selecting students by lottery should be eliminated. (p. 29, emphases added)
Not all of the recommendations were accepted, but most of them were. One that was not was the closing of Forsythe Junior High School.

I will talk more about what happened to the schools that closed later, but the schools that closed as general program schools included: Newport, Bach, Stone, Bader, Freeman, Clinton, and Lakewood. In the late 1990s, there were some more changes, but if you've ever wondered:
  • why Bryant is a K-2 school paired with Pattengill, a 3-5 school;
  • why kids from Glencoe Hills get bussed to Burns Park, even though several schools are geographically closer; 
  • why the Open School has its own building; 
  • or why we have middle schools that are grades 6-8...
we owe that to the 1985 reorganization. 

Read more about the goals of desegregation and reducing the achievement gap and whether they worked here.

Information in this post came from the Report of the Committee on Excellence of Education (1985), as well as Ann Arbor Observer articles from March 1985, December 1985, and June 1986, and Ann Arbor District Library records.


  1. I heard the story that Burns Park was to be the third school in the Bryant Pattengill Burns Park sequence, it was to be k-1 at Bryant, 2-3 at Pattengill and Burns Park was to be 4-5 but at the last minute Burns Park pulled out.
    Urban legend?
    Interesting history.

  2. The original proposal for Burns Park was this: BURNS PARK Remains open. Students living in Iroquois/S. State area remain. Receives all Braeburn Circle students from Bryant. Receives all Bader neighborhood students.

    (Bader is in Ann Arbor Hills.) So I guess the part about the Braeburn Circle students is the part that gave rise to that story. I think that Braeburn Circle probably got switched with Glencoe Hills so that kids from Bryant could have continuity.

  3. I was a school bus driver during the early 70s and I recall picking kids up in the Kerrytown area (old Jones school district) and taking them to more than 1 school. I remember thinking it odd that they were bussed all over creation. I think that it kind of destroyed their neighborhood connections. That was an unintended consequence.

  4. That is a really interesting point. Because housing is still so segregated, the pros and cons of keeping kids from neighborhoods together and/versus making schools less segregated are often directly in competition with each other and are still being debated vigorously by educators, community organizers, policy makers, etc.

  5. I attended Clinton School from 1979-1985 (K-5), when it closed in 1985, I ended up at Pattengill for 6th grade. The whole school closing/split really hit my neighborhood and housing prices hard. It was even more insane b/c I had an older brother (2 years older) who attended Scarlet (9th grade) while I attended Tappen (in 7th grade)-because the split Clinton kids changed from going to Scarlet to attending Tappen. I heard that the board sold Clinton for 250K---WOW! We could have used that land to build a 3rd high school. What a waste.

    What was unfair was that the wealthier elementary schools seemed to be exempt from the overhaul, even though they were just as "white" as Clinton. For example Lawton and Burns Park had a lot more $$$ talking so they seemed to get a pass (even though Lawton, Lakewood, and Dicken are very close and could have consolidated). Same with Burns Park and Bader and Angell.

    I would also like to say that in my class of 24 at Clinton we had 4 African American children (one of which was one of my best friends), 2 Asian, and 3 Indian children. That would equal 9 non-Caucasian and 15 Caucasian. I don't think those numbers are any different then anything you would see today at Burns Park, Lawton, Angell, Wines...etc.

    1. Wow! Amazing to read this. I too was at Clinton from 1979-1985 and I was one of the 4 black children in the whole school. At a certain point I was the ONLY black child in the whole school.

      What a throwback in time. Now I'm curious who this is because I was probably "one of your beat friend's".

  6. Clinton Anon, Thank you for sharing your experiences as a child who experienced the changes. Grade reconfigurations and moves can be hard--and in fact, that is why Skyline only opened to 9th graders.
    In the original plan, Clinton was to become an early childhood education center, and I'm not sure why that was abandoned. And I'm not sure about whether wealthier schools actually did get a pass--Bader, for instance, was right smack in the middle of Ann Arbor Hills, one of the wealthiest areas in the district.
    As far as using the land of Clinton to build a new high school--two thoughts. First, when you add in the athletic fields, you need a lot of space for a high school. And second (and more importantly) the district had bought the land that Skyline is on in the 1960s in case they wanted to build a high school sometime in the future. So 30+ years later, the land was there.

  7. I found a reference to Sullivan School at the web site of the Viking Sewing Center -

    "The little red schoolhouse that was once snuggled in a cluster of trees is now nestled inside Viking Sewing Center, and still carries on the proud tradition of education. Our classroom is in the actual space that was once Sullivan School. Remnants of the original structure can still be seen, as evidenced by the beautiful original brick work in the front hallway and tongue and groove ceiling in the classroom.
    We are fortunate to have some original pictures and historical documents, and would welcome any information you might like to share about our very own "little red schoolhouse".

  8. Hi...I was wondering if anyone could help me to find pictures from Clinton Elementary. My husband went there in 1971 before he was transferred to Bryant Elementary. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Clinton Elementary School is now the Jewish Community Center and Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor--search for images that way and you will probably find it. There are also pictures at the Ann Arbor District Library, and you might find them in the Ann Arbor District LIbrary web site, in the section for old news: Clinton Elementary School is now the Jewish Community Center and Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor--search for images that way and you will probably find it. There are also pictures at the Ann Arbor District Library, and you might find them in the Ann Arbor District LIbrary web site for old news: