Privately managed public school academy raises achievement for minority students

International Academy of Flint
The International Academy of Flint provides foreign language classes, an intensive reading program, and leadership training through a variety of programs to its 700 students.

The International Academy of Flint, now in its third year of operation, is posting dramatically improved test scores, while serving a traditionally under-served and under-achieving population of students.

The school, which operates as a public school academy, is run by SABIS Educational Systems, Inc., a private management company that develops and operates kindergarten through 12th grade schools around the world. The SABIS name originates from the names of partners Leila Saad and Ralph Bistany, who run the company. SABIS uses a specially developed curriculum that focuses on foreign languages, on-going progress assessments in math and English for students, and innovative extracurricular programs.

The worldwide SABIS School Network educates about 16,000 students in countries as diverse as Lebanon, Germany, and Egypt. The company opened Flint's International Academy as a public school academy, chartered by Central Michigan University, in September of 1999 and today serves approximately 700 students in kindergarten through ninth grade.

The academy serves a diverse population. More than 70 percent of the International Academy student body are African-American, and nearly 75 percent are from low-income families whose children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Nearly 15 percent of the student population is made up of students with disabilities that qualify them for special education programs, and many students enter the academy one to two grade levels behind in both reading and math.

Despite these challenges, students at the International Academy of Flint are making huge academic gains. In just one year, the difference between reading and math scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test have been notable. In 2000, only 27.8 percent of 4th graders at the Academy achieved "satisfactory" math results, while only 22.2 did the same in reading. The following year, 45.2 percent scored "satisfactory" in math and 36.1 percent in reading.

School director Mark Weinberg is quick to point out that students still have a long way to go in order to meet the expectations of parents and the standards set by SABIS. "It takes time to make up that lost ground," he says. "We're doing all this with an eye on the fact that our mission is to prepare these children for college."

One way lost ground is being regained is through the International Academy's SABIS reading program. Students who enter the school not reading at grade level are supported in the classrooms with extra assistance from paraprofessionals, and ongoing assessments alert teachers to which students need additional assistance. The Academy provides after-school reading labs and summer school sessions for students who need continued help. Grades one through five require a minimum of 20 minutes of sustained silent reading per day.

The SABIS educational program uses a computerized academic monitoring system to track individual student and class progress. This system provides teachers with reports based upon scores from weekly tests that monitor mastery and retention of learned concepts and detect gaps that may form in children's learning and/or skills. This information helps teachers and students pinpoint areas that need emphasis before new material is introduced. The school sets achievement testing goals for its students, and participates in annual national achievement tests for each grade-in addition to the MEAP-to track student progress.

The International Academy offers a myriad of extracurricular options to its students as well. For example, it offers students the chance to participate in a Student Life Organization, which operates as a student-based mirror of the school administration. It is run by "prefects"-student representatives who monitor a variety of areas, such as academics, activities, discipline, management, and sports. The prefects manage everything from hall monitoring to the production of an impressive student newspaper.

"Student Life is a fundamental part of our program," Weinberg says. "All of our students are encouraged to take on real jobs and responsibilities to ensure the school runs smoothly. They do everything from tutoring one another to managing the vending machine operations."

"They even organize and plan their own clubs and activities," he said. "It's the best way for them to learn about teamwork, responsibility, leadership skills, and the connection between mistakes and consequences. As a result, they make the school a better community for themselves."

The school also provides opportunities for students to travel overseas and participate in SABIS programs with students from around the world.

During one summer vacation, five International Academy students, along with students from other SABIS schools in Germany, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, traveled to Bath, England for a 17-day leadership training camp.

"The trip was cool because they taught us languages," student Joseph Thompson told the Flint Journal. "I taught them how to play basketball and they taught me how to play badminton. I never played badminton before. I thought, 'This game is cool.' I'm going to try to get it going [at the Flint academy]."

The International Academy also prides itself on its parental involvement strategy. The school conducts parent surveys and offers parents year-round informative seminars on subjects such as the use of technology, the SABIS curriculum, and homework policies. Parents are invited to Student Life presentations and "Evenings with the Director" events that allow parents to discuss school issues with administrators.

For more information on SABIS Educational Systems, Inc., visit the company's web site at For information on the International Academy of Flint, visit