Cornerstone gets OK to merge three schools in a turnaround bid

Two young children stand in front of a yellow school bus.
The network is asking Grand Valley State University to authorize a new school. Above, students being dropped at Cornerstone Lincoln-King Academy in 2019. (Koby Levin / Chalkbeat)

Cornerstone Schools, one of Detroit’s largest charter school networks, will consolidate three schools into one new K-12 program in what its leaders say is an effort to boost flagging academic performance.

The network is creating a new school called Lincoln-King Adams-Young Academy, which will have an anticipated enrollment of 1,400 students across three campuses. The school will replace Cornerstone Health and Technology High School, Lincoln-King High School, and the network’s Adams-Young elementary building. Many students currently attending school in those buildings will be able to stay in place, though most will see major changes to school leadership and staff. Teachers at the schools being consolidated will receive offer letters to join the new school, Cornerstone officials said.    

Trustees of Grand Valley State University, which oversees Cornerstone and dozens of other charter schools in Detroit, voted in favor of the proposal on Friday.

The changes come after GVSU officials called Cornerstone Health and Technology High School, which will close under the plan, a “weaker school” due to poor test scores and high teacher turnover.

Cornerstone has no plans to change its curriculum or emphasis on character-building — its schools mostly perform above average in Detroit, although well below the statewide average.

The network’s founder said that changes in leadership — including his own return to a top role — will help reverse lackluster academic results.

Clark Durant, 72, founded Cornerstone as a chain of private schools before converting them in 2009 to publicly funded charters. In January 2020, he took over as CEO of the Cornerstone Education Group, the nonprofit that runs five schools in Detroit.

“I’m coming back to be the CEO with an enormous mission focus and outcome focus for these kids,” he told Chalkbeat, explaining why he expected GVSU to support the plan.

In hiring new school administrators and staff, “I’m looking for people who no longer see this as a job, but as a real calling and are prepared to spend the time, and the energy, and the commitment, to change the reality for these children,” Durant said.

Don Cooper, assistant vice president for charter schools at GVSU, noted that the changes will alter the oversight structure in the Cornerstone network by putting students in the new school under the authority of a single school board. Currently, Lincoln-King shares a school board with Washington-Parks Academy, another Cornerstone school. Cornerstone Health and Technology High School had its own school board. 

Under the plan, students from Lincoln-King High School, Cornerstone Health and Technology High School, and the network’s Adams-Young elementary campus will all technically attend the same school.

According to Cornerstone’s application to start the new school, students in grades K-8 will go to class in the current Adams-Young Building. The current Lincoln-King building will host students in 11th and 12th grades, and the current Cornerstone Health and Technology High School will host students in 9th and 10th grades.

Read the full application here.

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