excerpt

When an outsider arrives to shake up a school system, a tightrope walk follows

IMG_1114

What could $100 million do for an urban school district plagued by low performance, a slow-moving bureaucracy, and deep student poverty? That’s what Newark set out to learn in 2010, when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged that sum to the small city’s schools. Journalist Dale Russakoff followed the twists and turns of that process and in “The Prize,” out this week, she documents the politics, policy shifts, and unfulfilled promises of the $100 million gift.

This excerpt comes from early in superintendent Cami Anderson’s tenure, which began after officials couldn’t agree on a hire and former New York State Education Commissioner John King turned the job down, and illustrates the characteristics of urban education that she hoped to upend in Newark as well as the consequences of that upending. Many of those consequences — including intense community opposition to school closures and the concentration of especially high-needs students in certain district schools — have unfolded in New York City as well. Read to the end for a chance to win your own copy of Russakoff’s book.

The Newark Public Schools has its headquarters in a drab, ten-story downtown office building occupied mostly by state agencies. The school district fills the top three floors, crowned by the superintendent’s suite and a photo gallery of its many occupants stretching back to 1855. The early leaders sport high collars, bushy mustaches, and wire-rimmed glasses. Over time, styles change, but through 118 years and eleven superintendents, two things remain constant: everyone in the photographs is white, and everyone is male.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 11.32.11 PM

Then, in 1973, comes a line of demarcation — when Newark’s first black mayor, Kenneth Gibson, appointed his first superintendent — and for the next thirty-eight years, everyone is black — five men and two women. Then, in 2011, comes Cami Anderson — white, blond, and much younger than the others — jarringly out of sync with everyone before her. And while every superintendent for 156 years gazes out from a formal portrait, Anderson stands against a blank wall, smiling, her hair slightly mussed, as if she had paused momentarily for a snapshot while attending to something else. The camera angle is tight, so her face fills the frame, exaggerating the anomalies. Anderson had arrived in Newark as a life-sized challenge to the status quo.

She made this clear when, early on, she refused to hire the girlfriend of one city councilman and fired the cousin of another one. “The trading post is closed,” as she put it. Her image as an agent of change was evident even in the way she introduced herself.

“Hi, I’m Cami,” she said to parents, principals, and teachers, even to students, displaying a lack of deference to local custom. All adults in the schools — from janitors to superintendents — addressed each other as Mr. or Mrs. or Dr., a veneer of respectfulness undisturbed by the district’s tarnished history. “Hi, I’m Cami,” Anderson greeted a middle-aged African American male teacher in a summer school classroom early in her tenure. “Okay if I just walk around?” He nodded assent.

Dressed in khaki slacks and a peach-colored blouse, peace symbols swinging from her earrings, her blond hair in a ponytail, Anderson headed like a bullet train for the very back of the room, where several young men were laughing loudly, basically ignoring three plastic boxes of dirt on a lab table in front of them. They were attending summer school at Science Park High School, the elite magnet school during the rest of the year. The state-of-the-art science lab was crowded and cacophonous, with thirty-five students squeezed around lab tables. All had failed freshman earth science and had to pass it in order to get back on track to graduate. On the whiteboard, the subject of the unit was identified as wetlands.

“Hi, I’m Cami,” Anderson said to the students at the back table. “Can you guys tell me what you’re doing?”

They clearly had no idea who she was or what she was doing there.

“No,” one boy shot back, as if telling her to bug off. Anderson squared her shoulders, authority figure–style, and turned to the boy next to him, who snapped to attention. With a nod toward the plastic containers, he said respectfully, “This is a wetland.”

“Why are you making a wetland?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“What did you guys do before today?”

He thought for a while. “This,” he answered, again nodding at the dirt.

Just then another boy wandered by, wearing a T-shirt that said on the front, “How to Keep an Idiot Busy. (See back.)” The back had the same message, ending, “See front.”

Anderson asked the teacher how he determined if students were grasping what he taught and how he adjusted his approach to reach those who didn’t. He gave a rambling answer, mentioning quizzes and interim assessments, then blamed the students. “It’s tough to do environmental science in urban districts,” he said. She told him that the boys at the back table didn’t understand the lesson. In their case, he had another excuse: “They’re special ed.”

Needless to say, these were the wrong answers, signs of a mentality Anderson had been crusading to purge from education since witnessing its crushing effect on her adopted siblings. Anderson understood only too well that it was hard to teach kids who were accustomed to failing, who lived in poverty, who lost friends to violence, whose fathers abandoned them, who burned with anger, who struggled with learning disabilities — but that’s what made teachers so vitally important. If a teacher didn’t expect his students to succeed, if he saw them as losers and gave up on them, what chance did they have to break the mindset of failure that had landed them in summer school in the first place?

Next, Anderson went into a geometry class. There were only eighteen students, almost all girls. They were working intently in groups, calculating the altitude of a rhombus. Their teacher, a young African American woman with six years of experience, radiated competence and purpose, moving throughout the room, checking everyone’s progress. These students had not failed anything — ever. Rather, they were in summer school to get ahead. “I wanted to spend my summer doing something useful,” a girl who attended Arts High School, a selective magnet, told Anderson. “I didn’t want to have zero period,” said a girl from Technology High, another magnet, referring to classes scheduled before the regular school day began. “So I decided to knock it out of the box right now.” Anderson asked the teacher where she taught during the school year. She named one of the most troubled high schools in Newark, adding quickly that she hoped to transfer soon to a selective magnet. This was another factor in the failure equation. Teaching the best students was a reward, sought by almost everyone in education. Talented teachers won the honor, and struggling students got the leftovers.

“Well, that was instructive!” Anderson declared as she walked back to the school office with Edwin Mendez, a vice principal during the school year who supervised multiple summer school sites. She asked for a candid explanation of how the system worked: How did these students and teachers end up here? Mendez outlined a bizarre bureaucratic procedure in which all Newark schools sent lists of failing students to the district at the end of the regular school year, only three days before summer school began. The roster sent to each summer school site was invariably inaccurate — Science Park High had 2,400 students on its summer roster, of whom only 1,176 actually enrolled. Another high school had 1,860, but only 900 showed up. Moreover, he said, many students were incorrectly assigned to classes they had passed, not those they had failed. The reason? “Somebody didn’t do their job,” said Mendez, using a generic explanation in Newark for why systems failed.

As for the teachers, Mendez explained, the district office conducted a “mass posting” of all available summer school jobs, everyone applied at once, and the best teachers got the advanced classes, because those required a higher level of academic rigor. The weak teachers got the classes — and the students — no one else wanted.

“That’s totally backwards,” Anderson declared. “The kids who failed the first time around need more rigor. We need the strongest teachers with the weakest students.”

West Side High School in Newark
West Side High School in Newark.

She took notes on everything Mendez said, thanked him for his candor, then headed off to observe kindergarten through eighth grade at Speedway School, about two miles away.

“Hi, I’m Cami,” she said jauntily to the Speedway security guard.

The older African American woman looked over her glasses at Anderson and responded without expression, “I’m Ms. Grimsley.”

Cami Anderson grew up in “lily white” Manhattan Beach, California, as her mother described it, and attended the University of California at Berkeley. But nothing about her upbringing was conventional.

She was the second child of Sheila and Parker Anderson, a child welfare advocate and the community development director for Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. Sheila Anderson managed a large child welfare agency in Los Angeles and occasionally brought into her home severely abused and neglected children who were difficult to place. In some cases, they stayed. Beginning when Cami was a year old, her parents adopted nine children in ten years, later having another biological child, bringing the total to twelve. Cami’s place in the birth order changed seven times, her mother said.

The Andersons raised their large family in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. One adopted child was born addicted to heroin and struggled with physical and emotional pain. Another had been hospitalized from severe physical, sexual, and chemical abuse. Two were orphans from Vietnam, each born to an African American GI and a Vietnamese woman. Everyone had laundry duty, dinner duty, and other jobs, all assigned at Sunday family meetings. Those with afterschool activities were responsible for arranging their own rides. Cami Anderson said she never felt put upon. “It was just who we were.”

All of the children went together to school, where the adopted siblings were among the only students of color. Anderson recalled being upset as early as elementary school that teachers found some of her siblings unmanageable and punished them. At home, her mother tapped their strengths, she said, by breaking tasks down to size and setting clear expectations. From an early age, her mother recalled, Cami was her siblings’ defender. “Cami understood them and wanted to explain to the rest of the world how much they’d been through,” Sheila Anderson said. “She became the interpreter.”

Her distinctive personality emerged in middle school. Anderson became passionate about acting and theater through classes at Santa Monica Playhouse, where its founder and director, Evelyn Rudie, used improvisational exercises to push children to tap their inner selves. Rudie then created characters in plays and musicals that allowed young actors to express onstage who they really were. “Cami was always cast as the hardass,” recalled Rebecca Donner, her writer friend, who met Anderson at the playhouse the summer after sixth grade and has remained close ever since. “She played the person from the wrong side of the tracks, very assertive and tough, who wouldn’t let anyone push her around.”

Anderson’s breakout role came at age eleven, when she starred in a musical as a fearless cowgirl defending her town against three rough, leering bad guys. While belting out a song, “You’ve Got Another Think Coming,” swinging the microphone cord like a lasso, she slugged her way across the stage, leaving all three bullies unconscious — one draped over a ladder, another stuffed in a whiskey barrel, the third sprawled on the floor. The curtain fell with the loudmouthed little blonde standing alone and triumphant in her shiny red cowboy boots, having single-handedly saved the day. It was, Donner recalled, “a show-stopper.”

As an educator, Anderson similarly styled herself as lone champion of the defenseless, speaker of inconvenient truths. In New York City, under Klein, she was senior superintendent for five years, responsible for 30,000 students in alternative high schools and 60,000 more in prison, drug treatment and teen pregnancy programs, suspension centers, GED programs, career and technical training, and adult education centers. The position gave her critical distance on aspects of Klein’s reform agenda, particularly charter schools. As Klein championed the expansion of charters, Anderson saw no benefits reaching her own students. She told of trying in vain to find a charter school that would serve incarcerated students, blending social services and no-excuses academics.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In Newark, it quickly emerged that while Anderson had all the credentials valued by the reform movement, she differed with her bosses on the role of charter schools in urban districts. She pointed out that charters in Newark served a smaller proportion than the district schools of children who lived in extreme poverty, had learning disabilities, or struggled to speak English. Moreover, she had the same concerns Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon expressed about charters disproportionately attracting parents she called the “choosers” — those with time to navigate the charter lotteries and to foster a striving attitude at home. Charters were under the control of Cerf, not Anderson. They drew from the same student population as the school district, but the state alone decided whether and how much they would expand and whether to close those that performed poorly. The local superintendent’s only role was to react. In cities like Newark, where the overall student population was static, growth for charters meant shrinkage for the district. Newark charters now were growing at a pace to enroll forty percent of children in five years, leaving the district with sixty percent — the neediest sixty percent, according to Anderson. Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg had searched the country for a leader of education reform in Newark, but in practice, Newark had two school systems and she governed only one of them. Anderson pointed out that she was expected to turn Newark’s public schools into a national model, yet as children left for charters — and state funds followed them — she would be continually closing schools and dismissing teachers, social workers, and guidance counselors. And because of the state’s seniority rules, the most junior teachers would go first, without regard to merit. Anderson called this “the lifeboat theory of education reform,” arguing that it could leave a majority of children to sink on the big ship. “Your theories of change are on a collision course,” she told Cerf and Booker. “I told the governor I did not come here to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic,” she said. “I did not come here to phase the district out.”

Surprisingly, Cerf, Booker, and Christie had no plan for ensuring a stable learning environment for children in district schools as they advocated aggressive expansion of charters. They couldn’t answer Anderson’s questions: How many district schools will have to close? Where will displaced children go if there is no longer a school within walking distance? (With its long history of neighborhood schools, Newark did not provide school busing.) How will district teachers address an increasing concentration of children with emotional and learning challenges? Had anyone calculated a sustainable size for a diminished Newark district? In shaking up the bureaucracy, reformers said often that they were prioritizing children’s education over adult jobs. But in their zeal to disrupt the old, failed system, many of them neglected to acknowledge the disruption they were going to cause in the lives of tens of thousands of children.

Excerpted from THE PRIZE: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff. Copyright © 2015 by Dale Russakoff. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

new year

Here’s what Carmen Fariña’s top deputies have on their plates this school year

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

As the person responsible for 1.1 million students, 75,000 teachers and 1,800 schools, Chancellor Carmen Fariña can’t have eyes everywhere.

She has surrounded herself with a small team of key advisors tasked with executing her vision — a group that has stayed put during Fariña’s tenure. As Fariña’s fourth school year kicks off, here’s what her core group of deputies have been working on, and what’s on their agenda this school year.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Dorita Gibson

Dorita Gibson, Senior Deputy Chancellor, Division of School Support

Salary: $225,948

Her story: Gibson has served at virtually every level of school leadership — after starting out as a teacher in Queens over 30 years ago, she rose to become an assistant principal, principal, and a high-level superintendent. She’s helped lead big changes in the way the education department supports schools, re-empowering superintendents to directly oversee principals instead of the more diffuse system of networks that were created under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

She’s also partly responsible for overseeing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $383 million Renewal turnaround program — an ambitious effort to improve schools that have long struggled, which is approaching a key three-year milestone. But despite being Chancellor Fariña’s second in command, she has managed to keep a fairly low profile and rarely appears in the press (except when she does).

What’s on her agenda this year: The education department is dramatically expanding the number of schools with embedded social services — known as ‘community schools’ — this year and Gibson will be responsible for making sure the rollout goes smoothly. She’s also working on efforts to make the city’s specialized high schools more diverse, and oversees the city’s network of field centers designed to provide teacher training and other support services to schools.

PHOTO: New York City Department of Education
Corinne Rello-Anselmi

Corinne Rello-Anselmi, Deputy Chancellor for Specialized Instruction and Student Services

Salary: $216,219

Her story: A nearly 40-year veteran of the city’s public school system, Rello-Anselmi got her start as a special education teacher at P.S. 108 in the Bronx. After a dozen years of teaching, she worked her way up into supervisory positions, eventually becoming the school’s principal and revamping its literacy program. She made the jump to administrator in the Bloomberg administration, and was promoted to deputy chancellor to help oversee reforms designed to integrate more students with disabilities into traditional classrooms.

Advocates have repeatedly pointed out problems with the city’s special education system, including lack of access to key services. But some say Rello-Anselmi tends to be open to criticism, and is receptive to proposed fixes. “She has acknowledged the problems,” said Maggie Moroff, a special-education expert at Advocates for Children. “She’s not closing her eyes and wishing they would go away.”

What’s on her agenda: As the city continues to push all schools to serve students with a range of disabilities, Rello-Anselmi has said she will provide training and support to help schools adjust to the change. Although a working group is responsible for overseeing fixes to the city’s notoriously dysfunctional special education data system, Rello-Anselmi will be watching those changes closely.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose, Deputy Chancellor, Division of Operations

Salary: $197,425

Her story: Before joining the education department in 2009, Elizabeth Rose had a 20-year career in the media industry including at Vault.com, a website that ranks employers and internship programs, and the vacation planning site Travelzoo. After turning to the public sector and cutting her teeth under Kathleen Grimm, the long-serving official in charge of school operations, Rose was elevated to deputy chancellor in 2015. She has frequently been called on to manage difficult problems, including the city’s much-criticized lead-testing protocol, and a controversial rezoning on the Upper West Side.

Joe Fiordaliso — who sat across the table from Rose during the Upper West Side rezoning negotiations as the District 3 community education council president — said Rose was particularly adept at handling contentious conversations with parents. “I’ve never heard a word from her that doesn’t have purpose,” he said. “She’s not someone you’re going to knock off her game.”

What’s on her agenda: Amid a citywide homelessness crisis, Rose is responsible for connecting the one-in-eight students who have faced housing insecurity with social workers and other services. She’ll also supervise the rollout of the city’s universal free lunch program, which began this school year, and would be involved in any new rezoning efforts.

Josh Wallack with schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Josh Wallack, Deputy Chancellor of Early Childhood Education and Student Enrollment

Salary: $200,226

His story: Before working for the education department, Josh Wallack helped run early childhood programs at the Children’s Aid Society, and worked as legislative director to then-city councilman Bill de Blasio. So it wasn’t a surprise when he was tapped to supervise Mayor de Blasio’s signature effort to provide free pre-K to every city resident — a program that has widely been hailed as a success. Wallack, who was the first administrator to carry the title “chief strategy officer,” was later promoted to deputy chancellor of strategy and policy. But more recently, his title was changed again — to deputy chancellor of early childhood education and student enrollment.

Wallack has also spearheaded other high-profile projects, including the education department’s diversity plan, which some advocates criticized for not going far enough to support integration. Matt Gonzales, who has pushed the city to more aggressively address school segregation, said he respects Wallack (and once had the chance to talk with him in a more relaxed setting when they were stuck in a Texas airport together). “I’ve found him to be really interested in learning about the work that we do,” Gonzales said, “despite it being part of my job to push him as hard as possible.”

What’s on his agenda: For the first time, New York City is offering some families access to free preschool for three-year-olds, with plans to make it universally available by 2021. Wallack will oversee that effort, and will help the education department manage programs for children as young as six weeks old. He’ll also be responsible for carrying out the city’s diversity plan.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Phil Weinberg

Phil Weinberg, Deputy Chancellor Division of Teaching and Learning

Salary: $205,637

His story: Phil Weinberg began his career at Brooklyn’s High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology — and wound up staying for 27 years. After rising to principal in 2001, Weinberg ran Telly “like the beloved mayor of a close-knit town” as the New York Times once put it, building “learning communities” within the school that helped shepherd students to graduation. In 2014, Chancellor Fariña plucked him from that post to head up a resurrected “teaching and learning” division that had been dormant for years.

His tenure got off to a rocky start, with some early staff turnover under his watch. But he was seen as a key hire to advise Chancellor Fariña on the high school world, where she has less direct experience. He’s also managed many of the mayor and chancellor’s highest-profile initiatives, from universal literacy to making computer-science classes available to all students by 2025.

What’s on his agenda: Weinberg will be responsible for making progress on many of the mayor’s key “equity and excellence” programs, including making sure more high school students have access to AP classes, expanding algebra instruction to students before they reach high school, and ensuring students are reading on grade level by the end of second grade.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Milady Baez

Milady Baez, Deputy Chancellor, Division of English Language Learners and Student Support

Salary: $198,243

Her story: A veteran educator and native of the Dominican Republic, Milady Baez started as a bilingual teacher before rising to assistant principal at Brooklyn’s P.S. 314 and principal at P.S. 149 in Queens. She rose to the role of superintendent under the Bloomberg administration, and oversaw more than a dozen schools and bilingual programs. Chancellor Fariña pulled Baez out of retirement to run a new office dedicated to English Language Learners, roughly 13 percent of the city’s student population, and was promoted to deputy chancellor in 2015.

The city has been under pressure from the state to expand bilingual programs, where native English speakers and English learners take classes in both languages, and Baez has been working to reach an ambitious goal of making those programs available to all English learners by 2018. She has earned praise from some, including Teresa Arboleda, president of the Citywide Council on English Language Learners. “I think she’s sensitive to the needs of that population,” Arboleda said. “She gets it.”

What’s on her agenda: Baez will be responsible for continuing the expansion of bilingual programs and helping train principals to better serve English learners.

Struggling Detroit schools

Scores of Detroit schools are empty eyesores. Here’s why it’s so hard to bring them back to life.

PHOTO: Anna Clark
Blackboards in the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School still hold memories. The school closed in 2009.

The school building that Detroit Prep founder Kyle Smitley is trying — and struggling — to buy for her charter school is far from the only one sitting empty across the city.

A wave of about 200 school closures since 2000 has pockmarked the city with large, empty, often architecturally significant buildings. Some closed schools were repurposed, most often as charter schools; others were torn down. But most remain vacant, although the exact number is unclear.

Vacant schools can become crime hubs or crumbling dangers. But even if that doesn’t happen, they are disheartening reminders of Detroit’s struggle to prioritize education for its children — at the heart of communities where good schools could make a big difference.

Most residents would like to see the buildings come back to life, if not as schools, as something. But even as developers rework other vacant structures, these school buildings are rarely repurposed.

Understanding why illuminates the complexities facing Detroit’s main school district’s effort to get itself back on track.

For one, school district policies — some of which were created to discourage flipping and the opening of charter schools  —  have made selling these buildings difficult.

Smitley, the co-founder of two charter schools, wants to move Detroit Prep into the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School by fall 2018. Detroit Prep opened in 2016 in the basement of an Indian Village church and will eventually serve 430 K-8 students.

“We’d like to be part of a positive story for Detroit, and turn a decrepit building back into a school that serves the neighborhood,” Smitley said.

Smitley is preparing to do a $4 million rehab on a building where flaking paint litters the hardwood floors. Lockers gape open. Natural sunlight floods classrooms where instructions from the last day of school are still chalked on the blackboard: “Spelling Test … George Washington Carver Reading – Timed  … Clean Desks … Take Books.”

Landlord Dennis Kefallinos bought the former Joyce school from the public school district in 2014 for $600,000. The general manager of Kefallinos’ company told Chalkbeat that they planned to repurpose it for residential use when the market seemed right, or wait a few more years to re-sell it for a large profit.

But another challenge of repurposing schools is that their complex layouts and their residential locations far from downtown do not easily adapt to other uses. And the market for former school buildings was flooded with closed public and parochial schools in recent years, which further reduced demand.  

Some developers have transformed empty Detroit schools into apartments, luxury condominiums, or a boutique office building. However, these were former Catholic schools, or, in the case of Leland Lofts, sold to a private developer more than 35 years ago. Catholic schools generally have smaller footprints, which are more manageable to renovate, and they do not have the same deed restrictions as more recently closed public schools.

PHOTO: Anna Clark
The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School in Detroit closed in 2009.

In the case of Joyce school, Smitley’s persistence and the intervention of a mutual friend convinced the Kefallinos company to sell to Detroit Prep. She agreed to buy the building for $750,000, and to pay the district $75,000 on top of the sales price, per a condition in the original deed.

But the status of the sale is uncertain, as she and the district spar over the law and whether the district can halt the sale of the building — which it no longer owns.

On the northwest side of Detroit,  two Detroiters have been trying for years to buy the former Cooley High School to turn it into a community center, as part of the much-lauded Cooley ReUse Project. This summer, it was crowdfunding the last $10,000 it needed to finally become Cooley’s owners.

But on August 31, the project’s social media account announced that “after meeting with Detroit Public Schools Community District’s (DPSCD) new leadership, it has been confirmed that Thomas M. Cooley High School is no longer for sale. We were told that Cooley will be secured and redeveloped by its current owner, DPSCD.”

Donations are being returned to the contributors. In the meantime, the 322,000-square-foot building is vulnerable to theft and vandalism, destabilizing its northwest Detroit neighborhood.

The Cooley and Joyce schools were built when Detroit schools faced a different challenge: capacity. They opened during the fast-moving period between 1910 and 1930 when 180 new schools were built to keep up with growth. In 1966, the district peaked with 299,962 students. Since then, it has shrunk to fewer than 50,000 students.

No matter who owns a closed school building, its revival depends on its security. Failure to secure it results in profound damage by scrappers, criminals, and natural elements. That will either add millions to the cost of rehabilitation or doom it to demolition. It also threatens the neighborhood.

John Grover co-authored a major Loveland report, spending 18 months investigating 200 years of archives about public schools in Detroit, and visiting every school in the city.

Boarding vacant schools with plywood isn’t enough, he learned. As its buildings were continually vandalized, the district escalated security with welded steel doors and cameras, though even these are vulnerable. Securing a building properly costs about $100,000 upfront, and $50,000 per year ever after, according to the Loveland report. In 2007, it cost the district more than $1.5 million a year to maintain empty buildings.

Chris Mihailovich, general manager of Dennis Kefallinos’ company, said that it hasn’t been cheap to own the empty Joyce building. Taxes are high, security is expensive, grass has to be mowed in summer and snow has to be shoveled in winter.

The Joyce school is in better condition than most, which Grover credits to its dense neighborhood. “At least up until a few years ago, a retired cop lived across the street, and he watched the block and would call in if he saw anything,” Grover said.

But he remembered the fate of one elementary school in east Detroit that was in a stable neighborhood when it closed.

“It became like a hotbed for prostitution and drug dealing,” he said. “There were mattresses stacked in the gymnasium. It definitely had a negative impact on the neighborhood. … I can’t imagine people would want to live around that, and those who could get out did.”