April 7, 2011; Source: Detroit Free Press | Having experienced its own almost miraculous turnaround, General Motors is hoping some of its success can rub off on seven metro Detroit high schools. Under a plan unveiled this week and supported by a $27.1 million gift the General Motors Foundation made last December to the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, the selected schools – what the Detroit Free Press describes as "so-called dropout factories" – will be divided into several smaller units that will operate inside each of the seven buildings.
Officials say teachers in the new, smaller schools will be able to spend more time with individual students. Both precedent – and glimmers of hope – for the plan can be found at Cody High School, which was turned into five smaller schools two years ago. At the time, Cody's graduation rate was 60 percent. Since shrinking the school, attendance rates have improved and Cody is on track to graduate 80 percent of its students by 2014.
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"Small schools do work," said Johnathon Matthews, principal of the Academy of Public Leadership at Cody. "We get the kids to come to school and that's the first step to getting them to graduate." According to the Free Press, United Way will use the GM Foundation's gift, which was awarded last December and represents the largest in its history, to "pay for specialists to train educators to help them restructure the school environment, culture and standards, as well as identify community and business partners to provide mentoring and internships."
GM funds will also underwrite early learning community centers that will be located near each of the seven schools. The centers will train parents how to prepare children up to age 5 for kindergarten.—Bruce Trachtenberg