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Charter high school abruptly shuts down, just weeks before school starts

Brett Levin
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
University YES Academy told parents and students this week that the high school was shutting down

Tregan Bradley, a rising senior at University YES Academy in Detroit, had been hearing rumors from his teachers over the summer.

“One of my favorite teachers, she told me that they’re not sure if they’re going to be opening up the high school, like around July or June,” he says. “I called her, I was checking in with her, because I was missing her and stuff.”

But some of his friends were caught completely by surprise Monday night, when administrators held a meeting to break the news: University YES Academy was shutting down its high school, and would now offer only K-8 going forward.

“I just told one of my friends yesterday, she just found out,” Bradley says. “And she’s kind of mad, she doesn’t know what school she’s going to. She’d already bought her uniform and everything.”

Bradley’s been going to this charter school since he was in the sixth grade. Now he’ll be starting senior year in a brand new school, without his friends.

“We was planning on graduating together. But now most of us are separated. It’s bad, because I am going to miss some of the staff members, and I’m gonna miss some of my friends, because we won’t be able to see each other as much," he says. 

For Bradley’s mom, Cheryl Grandberry, it’s been a frustrating experience.

“For his last year of school, that he spent with all of his classmate – they all have to go find other schools. Now you’ve got to get to know people all over again. What about graduations and prom? So like I said, it was disappointing for me, as a parent.”

Metro Times reporter Allie Gross say security told her she wasn’t allowed into the parent and student meeting last night. Her Twitter feedprovides some great snapshots of parents' and students' reactions as they came out of the meeting Monday.

This, of course, isn’t the first sign of problems at University YES Academy.

The school got a notice back in May that its charter would be revoked by its authorizer, Bay Mills Community College – which is in the Upper Peninsula, about 342 miles away from the charter school.

Authorizers like Bay Mills Community College get a portion of their charter school’s public funding.

Then in June, the University YES Academy school board announced it had struck a deal with its authorizer: If the school got a new company to come in and run its operations, that would “return the Academy to good standing with the Authorizer.”

Enter New Paradigm for Education, a Detroit-based management company that runs a handful of other charter schools in the city. It will get 13% of the Academy’s per pupil state funding, according to CEO Ralph Bland.

Bland says he understands the closing is difficult for students and their families.

“We understand that it’s not a happy announcement,” he says. “And that our focus is making sure that every student and their family is supported, and that we take care of their concerns quickly, about getting into schools and making sure they’re quality schools.”

Bland says the school board made the decision to close the high school. While none of the board members responded to requests for comment, Bland says this choice was primarily about not having enough space in the building for both K-8 and high school.  

“Well previously, from my knowledge, it was a space issue at the school,” he says. “And it was definitely some spatial constraints…I do know the school was struggling a little bit academically, and the middle school…So we were brought in to make that right.

“We do think families were aware of the spacing issue here at the school, since it was K-12 in one building.  In Detroit in general, it is limited space as it relates to high school facilities.”

Bland says teachers who worked at the Academy last year will have to reapply for their jobs, now that there’s a new management company. He says some of them have already reapplied.

Update: The state's charter school association, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, says it will be holding an enrollment fair Thursday for those who are now searching for a school, and released the following statement about the high school's closing. 

The students and families at University YES Academy deserved better. The timing is terribly unfortunate and should never happen like this now or ever. Informing students and parents just two weeks before the start of classes that their school is closing is something that is totally unacceptable. Parents and students have been left scrambling to find a new school. This is unacceptable and we’re ready to do everything we can to help them in that process.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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