Monday, August 22, 2011

Charter #2: Arbor Preparatory High School

My initial idea in writing about the charter schools in the county was that I would provide the same information about each charter school, and that I would go alphabetically. Well, I'm sticking to my plan of going alphabetically, but that basically makes it impossible to provide the same information for each school, because this next school has not even opened yet! It does, however, allow me to provide some very basic information, and make some observations.

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Arbor Preparatory High School is a charter school that is part of the for-profit National Heritage Academies (which has two other established Washtenaw County schools--Fortis and South Arbor--and one other school that is set to open this year on the same site as Arbor Prep--East Arbor). It is set to open in the Fall of 2011 with up to 250 ninth and tenth grade students, at the corner of Merritt and Hitchingham Roads.
One thing that is very interesting about the development of this school is that it is only the second charter high school in the county that is really focused on high school students. The other is Washtenaw Technical Middle College, which is chartered by and run in concert with/on the campus of Washtenaw Community College. Two other schools--Eastern Washtenaw Multicultural Academy and Central Academy--have much smaller numbers of high school students.

The school is part of the National Heritage Academies and is being run by a charter management company, PrepNet. The newly-appointed principal, Matthew Hudson, was formerly an assistant principal at South Arbor. The web site looks very bare at this point. The only parts that are fairly well filled out are the athletics and college planning sections, and I assume those are basically boilerplate from PrepNet. As with all National Heritage Academies schools, there is a "moral focus curriculum," and they offer art, music, library, and physical education.

If you want to see the proposed budget, you can find it here. Operations and Maintenance is over half the budget! Only about 1/3 of the budget is devoted to instructional services. This may be a function of the fact that they are moving into a new building, but I'm not sure if this is the building budget or not.

In the article about the principal, there was a lot of discussion in the comments about why all these schools have "Arbor" in their names, when they are actually located in Ypsilanti. It's a good question, and I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

The school itself is chartered by Bay Mills Community College, which is Michigan's first fully-accredited, tribal (community) college, and if you're wondering how or why a small community college that doesn't certify teachers is in the business of chartering schools, I think the answer is: money. When Michigan first started allowing charter schools, they put caps on the number of schools that could be chartered. Bay Mills is on Indian land, and is therefore not subject to state law--so they didn't have a cap. So would-be schools were interested in Bay Mills because there was no cap, and Bay Mills was interested in the schools because the schools pay an administrative fee to the charterer. Based on the Bay Mills web site, it appears to me that other chartering authorities do a much better job of supervision. The role of Bay Mills as a charter authorizer has been a matter of some controversy, deserving of its own post.

This is also where I tell you that unlike my search of the EMU web site for chartering documents when I wrote about Ann Arbor Learning Community, I could find very little on the Bay Mills Community College web site (no charter documents). Nor could I find information about the charter on the state web site (when I looked a few weeks ago) because at that point it was still showing up as a "proposed" school.

And because I'm still a little bit murky on the corporate behind-the-scenes information (and I'm not sure if it's supposed to be easy to find this information or not), I can't tell you very much about PrepNet or about the proposed school. However--I'd be interested in tips on how to research our local charter schools, so if you know, please do tell--either in the comments or via an email message.

What I can tell you is this: there are two kinds of charters--non-profit and for-profit. Ann Arbor Learning Community, Washtenaw Technical Middle College, Honey Creek. . . they are organized as nonprofits with local boards of directors. In contrast, Arbor Preparatory High School is part of a much larger, privately-held, for-profit venture.

I have to tell you that I am completely and totally murky on why we permit for-profit ventures in education. Fundamentally and philosophically, that seems wrong to me. In charter schools, some of the profit may come at the expense of teacher salaries, which are lower than other public schools--but the same could be said of many non-profit private schools where tuition is significantly higher than the per-pupil allowances of public schools. In other cases, I don't even understand how the profit accrues. In any case, if there is "leftover" money in education (a.k.a. surplus or profit), then we should plow it back into the education of students.

That does not mean that there won't be demand for Arbor Preparatory High School, or that it won't be successful. (I believe that the other local NHA schools have waiting lists.) Feel free to come back to this post in a month or two and write about your experiences with the school.


  1. In case anyone else wants to email me, my email is rlk234 (at)
    It can be found in the right hand bar in the "About Me" section, which is kind of far down the list... Just Birch, I will send you an email.

  2. Well, my freshman just attended orientation at Arbor Prep this morning. I'll let you know how things turn out!

    Three kids, 22 years of k-8 public schooling between them. Sixteen years of for-profit charter and six school of choice years.

    We also considered the WISD IB high school. Wondering what you think of high % of out of WISD/county students are enrolled there.

    So far, I like what I see at Arbor Prep. Smaller class sizes, enthusiastic teachers and a truly amazing person, Miriam Snyder as president of the board.

    Obviously a new venture. Will take a few years to adequately judge performance. Stats were available on the other options open to us and I'll take my chances with Arbor Prep. The for profit elementary schools served them well so I expect the same for high school.

  3. Anon--there are a high % of out of WISD/out of county students at the WISD IB school? I didn't know that and I think that is very interesting. Also a little perplexing. Within the WISD member districts, students who enroll have their per-pupil funding count toward their district. I wonder how that works for out of county students?

    I hope you will come back and post more about your freshman's experience--I will definitely be curious. (I mean, I am curious right now, but obviously you can't report yet.)

  4. I too was very surprised that WiHi was accepting students from Wayne County (mostly Canton). Not sure how funding will work. I know that the IB program is well respected and popular in other areas of the US (Florida!) as well as around the world. I felt that WiHi was not advertised well enough in it's home district therefore a lot of seats remained available to out of district students.

    When I have something substantial to report on Arbor Prep I will post.

  5. I'm back to give an update on Arbor Prep.

    Kids are happy with the school.

    So far, so good. Class size is varied. Some classes 17-1 but some 24-1.

    Are the classes challenging? Yes, some more than others. Some are too challenging given the poor state of Middle school science curriculum!

    Really impressed with most of the staffing. Some are fantastic TEACHERS. That is to say they are actually teaching their subject to the students. While there are expections to every rule (and there is at Arbor Prep too)the teachers are doing a good to great job with the kids. Offering tutoring to those who need it as well.

    I was hoping that the student body would be a bit more self motivated as opposed to parent motivated but I guess you can't get everything you want all of the time.

    It will be interesting to see how things are as the school grows. I hear that interest for incoming Freshman is very high.

    Test scores, college acceptance rates and student character will eventually tell Arbor Prep's story.

  6. This seems awfully shady. I am looking for a job and trying to get out of the charter school loop, but it's very nearly impossible. There should be more information about PrepNet out there, and how much the CEO makes, etc. :-(