First Year Challenges

In its first year, the 2012-13 school year, the Highland Park Renaissance Academy faced a number of challenges. Not only were officials not initially aware of just how egregious some of the previously discussed facility, financial and academic challenges were, HPRA has also faced a lawsuit as well as organized protests in its first year.

The charterized district is defending itself as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Highland Park school district, the State of Michigan, the State Board of Education, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction, The Leona Group and Joyce Parker. The lawsuit was originally promoted as defending students’ “right to read,” and argued that Highland Park students attending the district prior to its conversion to a charter school system had been subject to academic neglect.[42]

Later, the ACLU lawsuit has expanded to include other arguments, including suggesting that Leona should never have been selected to run Highland Park schools. In its documents, the ACLU has claimed that the state “should know” that Leona “is incapable of producing appropriate results.”[43]

In interviews, HPRA Superintendent Pamela Williams declined to discuss the specifics of the ACLU lawsuit, but did note that dealing with it had taken up a considerable amount of time and resources.[44]

During the 2012-13 school year, a number of books that the schools were not planning to use were thrown out. Some Highland Park residents found the books in a dumpster near the school, and organized protests around the issue. Protest signs included “Dump the [emergency manager], not the books.” [45] HPRA staff members say that they are having difficulty removing trash from the pools — which were filled with broken furniture — for fear of triggering more protests.[46]

HPRA staff members say that another large challenge during the beginning of the 2012-13 school year was making sure parents and students knew that Highland Park schools were still open. Approximately 260 students showed up during the first week of school.[47] According to the latest enrollment tally, however, 859 students attend the charter district.[48]