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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2014/03/13-miles-to-marshall-part-1-the-bus-ride-tough-times-lead-very-different-high-schools-to-merge/

Talent & education

13 MILES TO MARSHALL: Tough times lead very different high schools to merge (chapter 1)

Samantha Price, a Marshall junior, and Chris Bell, an Albion sophomore, are adjusting to life in the same school. The success or failure of the high school merger is likely to have implications across the state. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Samantha Price, a Marshall junior, and Chris Bell, an Albion sophomore, are adjusting to life in the same school. The success or failure of the high school merger is likely to have implications across the state. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

The distance between Albion and Marshall can be measured in many ways: in miles, in money, in history, in skin color. Claiming a seat to herself on a bus plowing through the predawn darkness, De’Jhannique Straham put in her ear buds and gauged the gap between communities in her own way.

She stared out the window and listened to music as the bus exited Albion, rolling past what she called “all these run-down homes and businesses that aren’t open anymore. We get to Marshall, and the businesses look like they’re doing well, there are a lot of cars in front of them. The homes are bigger and nicer.”

Seven months ago, De’Jhannique and 159 other teens from low-income, predominantly African-American Albion High School began making the 13-mile journey to middle-class, overwhelmingly white Marshall High School. Since then, they’d hand-jived in “Grease” and twerked at Homecoming. They’d made friends and lost sleep. They’d studied more than ever for worse grades than ever. And they taught their new teachers the meaning of resilience.

Their journey is a story of race, poverty, community pride, and the Titanic-hits-iceberg dynamics of school funding in Michigan. Their story matters because their success or failure will likely play out again and again across Michigan, as school districts are forced by financial crises to collaborate, consolidate or close.

It is Albion kids on the bus today, but others will likely join them.

The soundtrack of De’Jhannique’s trip is the same each day, “Still Standing,” by Monica, a song that helps the senior believe in herself even when things are tough. “I know academically this is a good choice,” De’Jhannique said. “But sometimes it’s hard.”

It may be only 13 miles between Albion and Marshall but for the kids on the bus and the adults in charge, the journey has not always been easy.

A trip to the unknown

Mercedes Pace didn’t want to make that trip last spring, when the plan to move to Marshall was announced. She didn’t know about budgets or care about test scores or anything else the adults were arguing about. She was a 16-year-old cheerleader, and she wanted to fit in. She doubted that she and her Albion classmates would be accepted by kids in Marshall, a lot of whom seemed awfully rich by Albion standards, and who were virtually all white.

Some students from both schools were on edge about what would happen when 160 Albion students joined about 800 Marshall teens. Albion senior Shatoria Nicholson worried whether the Marshall kids would be racist. Marshall senior Megan Zoss feared Albion kids would come in and try to “take over the school.”

Parents were more outspoken. Marshall parents asked if the district’s test scores would go down when the Albion students walked through the door, damaging the school’s academic reputation. Some worried the high school didn’t have enough security. “You’ll get masked questions,” recalled Marshall Superintendent Randall Davis. “Behind it were issues of racism.”

Some Albion parents were more blunt. “They’d say ‘My child has never been in a majority white classroom, I don’t know if they’ll be accepted,’” said Albion Superintendent Jerri-Lynn Williams-Harper. “I’m 55 years old – I thought we were done with that.”

What people didn’t understand, Williams-Harper said, is “this isn’t about black and white, about your town and my town. It’s about the kids.”

It was also about money.

Two schools, one problem

The two Calhoun County communities, shoulder-to-shoulder along I-94 between Jackson and Battle Creek, were roughly the same size (under 10,000 residents), but had vastly different upbringings.

Albion was a factory town that had been hemorrhaging students and money ever since the factories began closing in the 1970s. By 2012, fewer than half of Albion’s children were attending Albion schools. The rest had fled to surrounding districts through schools of choice, a law that allows students to attend almost any school district in the state, if that district has room and is willing to accept outside students. White, middle-class families were opting out of the town’s schools, and taking their $7,000-a-year student allotment with them, leaving Albion’s public schools overwhelmingly black and poor.

Albion students were such easy pickings the neighboring districts of Springport, Homer and Concord sent school buses through the city’s neighborhoods each morning, practically bumper-to-bumper with Albion buses.

District enrollment dropped from 1,175 to 734 in five years, the equivalent of two busloads of kids leaving town every year. The district closed six school buildings in 15 years, and still couldn’t fill its remaining classrooms.

“Albion was strip-mined by school of choice,” said former Albion teacher Lisa Waddell. “We’d start out with 100 kindergartners, and by 7th grade, we’d have 40.”

Those who remained were often from the poorest families with few options. “They all wanted their children to succeed,” Waddell said. “But they had no idea how to help a teacher.”

Racial minorities made up 36 percent of Albion’s population in the 2010 U.S. Census, but 68 percent percent of the school enrollment. 100 percent of the students qualified for free and reduced lunch. Test scores dropped, and Albion became a regular on the Michigan Department of Education’s list of most troubled districts.

Students weren’t learning, and its funds were gone. “We had nothing,” recalled Albion Superintendent Jerri-Lynn Williams-Harper. “We were so broke, I said I can’t pay everyone on the payroll.”

Marshall, meanwhile, was having its own financial troubles. Marshall had always been a wealthier community than Albion, with patent medicines and railroads providing the cash for block after block of stately, late-19th Century homes that are now form a National Historic Landmark District.

The median household income in the Marshall school district is 80 percent higher than that in Albion schools. Six times more Albion families are on food stamps than Marshall residents.

None of that insulated Marshall schools from budget problems. The district was facing a projected deficit of between $1.2 million and $1.8 million for the 2013-14 school year – a problem faced by more and more districts across Michigan, urban, suburban and rural. Despite good test scores and sparkling facilities, the district had lost 372 students to school of choice, the equivalent of $2.6 million leaving town.

Marshall High School. New students from Albion began the school year behind their Marshall peers academically, and are adjusting to classes they say are more rigorous. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Marshall School Board President Vic Potter grimly described the two districts’ financial straits as “two death spirals.”

With Albion out of options and Marshall on the verge of major program cuts, the two frustrated superintendents – Williams-Harper and Davis – met behind closed doors in October 2012.

“You know, Randy,” Williams-Harper said, “I just need my babies to go to your school.”

13 MILES TO MARSHALL
Read chapter 2 – A new world: Hard classes and difficult lessons for Albion teens

Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011, after winning more than 40 state and national journalism awards at The Detroit News. See more stories by him here.

60 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Big D

    This is a good news story, with a liberal spin. Who’d a thot?

    wrt Albion, “Those who remained were often from the poorest families with few options. “They all wanted their children to succeed,” Waddell said. “But they had no idea how to help a teacher.” Brilliant over-simplification. Albion…home to 1400 student liberal arts school Albion College, hotbed of liberal thought. I wonder how much of the faculty live/school kids in Albion? Further from Battle Creek than Marshall thus less attractive as a bedroom community for cereal company executives.

    Both school systems were struggling? It’s really hard to keep spending more on your employees as your enrollment dips. But you certainly can’t put off the MEA…their members vote for you.

    Schools of choice is a positive construct, would be better with broader availability of charter schools, all band-aids until RTW works its inevitable healing effect.

    1. J.Roo

      Your post is simply painful to the eyes. School of choice is great? Does your old high school still exist? Would you care if everyone just up and abandoned it? The people with money give up and go leaving those too poor to try to fix it?
      Charter schools? We don’t need a model where we make someone rich, we just need investment in what we already have. Too easy for you to blame a union than to accept that p eople give up to easy and only think of themselves.

      1. WolverineDad

        Yes, school of choice is great! Why shouldn’t parents be allowed to choose the public school that works best for their child? Schools of choice and charter schools have been the best things to happen to this state educationally in the past century. And your comment about charter schools only existing to make people rich is nothing more than an MEA talking point.

        1. Sharon

          School of choice hurts public schools and communities in the long run. People choosing to live in a community should support their schools. Money sent to other district weakens the public school. All people need to step up and fix the schools instead of running away from the problem. No matter how you cut it, when it come to Marshall the down fall came when administration chose to do away with a school run maintenance/ janitor service and gave a superintendent a raise even though that person was leaving on the idea that more money would attract better candidates for the job. If these people had kept their jobs they wouldn’t have not been forced to move out of district to find other jobs which also causes a domino affect .Finance 101 You give an incoming superintendent the fee Not the outgoing. The misuse/ tax proposals to upgrade the schools’ look is deplorable. It’s not the look of a school that brings people, it’s Academics and an excellent Athletic program.

        2. S. Michelle

          HOW does schools of choice benefit ANYONE????? It just shows that if parents want their kids to live in a home, but not be part of the community!!!! Show me exactly how Schools of Choice has made anything better I this state. It has allowed for the dissemination of an entire school system that MIND YOU, just 7 years ago housed the same amount of students as Marshall, and we actually used to have sports teams that were amazing!!!! Not even a decade ago, yet this article ( among other sites ) feel the need to talk about how poor and diverse Albion is……darn right, and STRONGER THAN ANY OF
          YOU!!!!!

      2. Bonnie

        Public schools run by unions have the most money and lowest grad rate and test scores. We sent our daughter to school of choice because there was no discipline and very poor academics. Every family had the same choice. Race had nothing to do with it. We refused to sacrifice our daughters education to the political correctness god. Period

    2. Race to the Top

      Your comment is idiotic, partisan, conservative, jibberish based in no reality or fact. If it’s broken than a liberal arts professor or union is responsible? Here’s a thought, maybe it was the Koch Brothers or the NRA that was responsible. That makes about as much sense as your comment.

  2. Rebecca

    This is 2014; people need to look beyond the color of a person’s skin! We must, otherwise we will not survive as a country. Look to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, where ethnic cleansing and other types of racism have created millions of refugees. Why can’t we learn? This is a nation of immigrants who should be the most tolerant as each had their own hurdles to jump to be accepted in the Americas. Wake up people! Our prejudices are growing our own terrorists.

    1. mymy my

      Get real….you cannot be as dumb as you sound….your comment is not even applicable!

      1. David Zeman

        please be nice

  3. ED R

    I grew up in Coldwater, just 24 miles south of Marshall and graduated with the class of 1954. We belonged to the Twin Valley athletic conference along with Marshall, Albion, Adrian, Hillsdale. Sturgis, Three Rivers, Battle Creek Lakeview, and East Lansing. My class started the first tennis program at Coldwater HS and by our senior year we were very competitive. I recall vividly driving some of my teammates to Albion for an away match. Like Marshall, Coldwater had virtually no black families. The only blacks in town were at the State Home & Training School just north of town. And…I don’t recall any blacks on the tennis team at Albion as well.

    However, I also had a dance band that would play for area high school dances. Albion HS was one of our gigs. I don’t recall seeing any blacks at the dance but, back then, race just wasn’t any issue and some likely were there. In retrospect, I guess the reason that race was not an issue is…there were no blacks in town. Just an observation from a senior citizen.

    1. John Q. Public

      Pre-Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, and “… back then, race just wasn’t any issue…”

      Yeah.

    2. MyMyMy

      You sound just like a typical…privileged white outsider…Race was a big issue back then…I want to Albion High…am black….I was an athlete…I was in the Twin Valley…I was hit with eggs in Marshall…signs reading the “Spooks” are in town (playing in Marshall on a Halloween week game)..treated and looked at as if inferior….You are obviously ignorant!…

    3. S. Michelle

      Dumbest post !!!! So over people from being called ‘ blacks ‘. You have been sheltered far too long America!!!!! In 1999, my tennis partner was a black girl, still one of my greatest friends. Does it matter what color they are?????? It never did to a kid from Albion.!!!!!!!!!

      1. Rhonda Roberts

        Thank you S. Michelle. It’s people like Mr. French who have nothing better to do but to stir up mess. You know nothing about these children or their family.

    4. Rhonda Roberts

      The children have adapted and adjusted. Don’t they have enough to deal with? What was the purpose for this article? I am a parent of an 11th grader. My daughter is doing well in school and it’s not because she goes to Marshall High. I’m reading all the comments and it pains me to be referred to as “black.” Come on! African American sounds better. Regardless of color. All children deserves a decent education.

  4. John Rose

    Thanks for the article, Here is to the hope that the students attending Marsall High School succeed, As the article states..it is about the kids. A major strength of our public education system is providing this service for all. It seems like we are going to a sitaution of having two different public school systems, one for the “haves” and the one for the “have nots”. Doesn’t this look an awful lot like “Brown vs Board of Education”Supreme Court ruling? We should learn from our history. It is aslo in the best interest of our country to provide educational opportunity for all not just the privaledged .

  5. Gene Tang

    It’s too bad our cultural problems are considered dependent on skin pigmentation. I believe community problems stem more from parenting and community values. Unfortunely, it’s unlikely that a change in schools will change that. This experiment will be interesting as much for its effect on the culture in Albion as the students.

  6. Laura

    Ron French, i would be ashamed if i were you. This is the most inadequate representation of the Marshall and Albion school joining i have ever heard in my life. i am a Marshall High school senior and this is not how the school looks and acts. For starters the buses are on the south side because the parents pick up their kids on the north side, you would of known this if you did your research. Plus there are “white” kids that ride the bus, there are even some Marshall seniors who do not own cars that ride the bus home. Also you make it seem like we have never had African Americans or Spanish children in our school before this combination occurred. Sure if you drive down main street Marshall looks like a “rich white town” but there are poverty areas located in Marshall if you opened your eyes. Ron French you make it seem like we hate all the Albion kids, we don’t. if you would of done a better job researching for your horrific book maybe i could stand it, but i can’t. i forbid myself to buy/read something that can’t ever accurately display how my school runs. I hope your book fails because this whole thing is filled with lies and twisting of words.

    1. David Zeman

      Dear Laura,

      Thank you for your passionate comment about Ron’s reporting today. As the editor of this story, I’d like to address your central concern — how the Marshall students and the city itself are portrayed. The impression I got from Ron’s reporting was that there was plenty of wariness on the part of both student bodies BEFORE the merger took place. This is of course not unique to Marshall and Albion.

      But I think the story also makes clear that these anxieties ebbed among most of the students once they were together and got to know each other. That is a positive reflection on kids from both towns. The story is filled with examples of Marshall students, teachers, as well as your superintendent, being both welcoming and generous toward the new students from Albion.

      The suggestions of masked racism or, at the least, uneasiness among some parents with majority black and majority white students being brought together in the same school did not come from Ron’s imagination or sense of things. It came from the mouths of Marshall students and leaders, talking about their own conversations with others in the community. It’s worth noting that Ron also quoted several Albion parents and students who entered this merger with grave doubts about the friendliness of the Marshall community, only to emerge seven months later with those doubts extinguished.

      I do think we tried hard to report and write these stories with nuance, to portray both communities in a detailed, three-dimensional way. And it pains me that you believe we may have come up short in your reading of these articles. I hope you will take the time to read this again and look for some of the mitigating factors that I’ve cited above. Going into a community and trying to reflect all the dimensions of its values and its people is really difficult, even for an experienced and talented writer like Ron. I thought his portrayal was both fair and ultimately flattering to Marshall and the people who live, work and attend school in your city. At the same time, I appreciate your perspective, obviously, and we will leverage that perspective in discussing this story and moving forward with stories in the future.

      Thank you for writing Bridge and please don’t hesitate to contact us or contribute comments to our articles moving forward.

      Best,

      David Zeman
      Editor
      Bridge Magazine
      dzeman@bridgemi.com

      1. TeacherGirl

        At first glance, this is a good series. But upon further scrutiny the weaknesses show. This paints hard-working, well-educated Albion teachers in a very poor light as well as stereotyping both communities. Additionally, with further research, you would have discovered that Marshall has an alternative high school. How many Albion kids were sent there? Could be a reason why the transition appears to have gone so well. This is really a heart-breaking story for those who know and love Albion and have watched their community disintegrate before their eyes. This series was not sensitive to that fact and neglects to mention that legalized racism and segregation through schools of choice led to this destruction in the first place.

        1. been around

          The demise of AHS over the course of the last decade has many causes including the closing of foundries and other businesses. The racism that contributed to its decline is however the fault of whites and blacks. It is called the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. Whenever attempts were made to raise academic expectations the school board was besieged by the community, which saw higher standards as racist. Many teachers at AHS had no stomach for demanding more from their students because of the backlash that would come from students and parents. Many of those teachers also didn’t believe that black students could achieve at a higher level so why bother. The students knew that their teachers and principals didn’t want much from them and children will rise or fall to the level of expectations that adults have. So, gradually AHS became a holding tank for ill-behaved youth and white flight turned into black flight. It was a courageous and correct decision for the superintendent and the board to close AHS.

    2. Nancy Smith Matheson

      Laura: As a former MHS student I applaud your posting. You spoke out against “bad press” when you knew an entirely different side–the inside. Unfortunately there will always be a racist attitude among adults, both black and white. It’s really about “fear”. Throughout history blacks have been shown to have the negative impacts on a community, i.e. crime, slum neighborhoods, etc., White people fear that it will happen more in their communities. How to turn that around I have no idea. There is such a huge difference in the entire thought process. Parents fear interracial relationships that may result in mixed marriages. For years I lived in a huge affluent subdivision, there were blacks and whites, but to us we were all one.. Caring about our children, our homes, etc. Really no one thought anything about color and this was in the South. I have to be honest with you Laura while I don’t want to be a racist I must be on some level. I do think there is more risk for black crime, they have to accept that fact and as a community try to change it even humorist Bill Cosby tries to get that across. I have seen neighborhoods go downhill for lack of caring or a different priority in standards of living. I wish all blacks had the attitude that my black friends in the subdivision had, they don’t they have a chip on their shoulder they just lived their lives. Whites people throughout history have been terrible racists and treated black people horribly, for that there is no excuse. As you grow and experience more in life you will see the tremendous wall that has been erected by BOTH sides. I have black friends today and love them dearly so much so that I don’t see their color at all, perhaps that’s part of the answer. Blacks and whites both have to become color blind. I wish you much success in your future you are a special young lady.

    3. Brenda

      Laura, I love your comment! My son attends Marshall High now and he is from Albion. He has not had a bad word to say about Marshall High! He was accepted with open arms. Made the baseball team and is learning more then ever! The only people that matter here, are the students. If they don’t have issues with this merger, why should anybody else! The public and the writers/editors need to stay out of this. This is between the students and guess what everybody, “They do not have a problem with it”!!!!!

  7. TJ

    Thank you for the article. I know many people usually leave comments when things strike a negative chord with them but I wanted to say I appreciate the follow up on the situation as I myself am a former Albion Alum. We love our High School. We were so sad to see it have to go but many of us understand that the whole merger will be better for the students in the long run from both communities providing many more options for students willing to take advantage of them and be competitive on a more global scale. I think the state of Michigan education had to change. I don’t think school of choice was the answer. I would like to see the numbers across the state of Michigan as to how many school buildings lie empty and how many are being rebuilt to accommodate overload. I know it’s a transition, but it seems like such a waste. What are communities to do with all those empty buildings?

  8. James Gladstone

    Great article which articulates what I’ve been wondering about. My Dad was MHS captain of the basketball team (1928-29) & his life-long friend, Win Schuler, was also on the team. I grew up hearing stories of the Albion-Marshall sports rivalry, but also knew from an early age that that (greatest) generation treasured the friends they had in both communities. Because of the wonderful education I received in Marshall (Crary, Sherman, old Central into Madison Jr High, & the “old” MHS), I was a teacher in many places. My wife (who also was blessed with an excellent public school education in IL) & I have taught in diverse communities – Chicago; Westville, Carmel & Indianapolis, IN; Winter Haven, FL; Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, Flint, Saginaw & Frankenmuth, MI. We taught kids (in both public & Lutheran parochial schools) of every background, ethnicity & socio-economic status – the way our excellent teachers taught & treated us. If the family & parents are behind their children, & ensure they fulfill their responsibilities, education will happen. I hope, trust & pray that all the families that make up the new tapestry fabric that is MHS will become friends, mentor & respect one another. In 2016, my class will have our 50th class reunion celebration. As a retired church musician & music educator, I hope we get the chance to observe & hear the MHS choirs, bands & orchestras, not just the sports teams, & see how the Albion-Marshall family is growing & functioning. Remember all, the public schools were “founded” under an old oak tree on the hill where the Harold Brooks historic home sits @ N. Kalamazoo Ave. & Prospect St., when Marshall was part of the Northwest Territory (pre-Michigan). Let’s do everything to keep our precious heritage alive & healthy in the 21st century. Peace!

  9. Amy

    While this is a fairly good recounting of what has happened within the community of Albion over the years, I do feel like it lumped all the families who didn’t use school of choice into one category: poor people who would have also left if only we had the financial ability and resources to do so. The fact is, there are quite a few families, not all poor and not all black, who CHOSE to send their children to Albion Schools because they felt that they received a wonderful education from caring and dedicated teachers in a diverse student population.

    1. AHS GRAD

      Yes!!! Great point to add!

    2. Race to the Top

      I agree with Amy 100%.

    3. Virginia~AHS C/O '84

      I agree with you, Amy!…as I read the article I became angry at the fact that Albion was portrayed as “black and poor”!!!…what?!…like any other community we have poverty…but also some middle class AND well to do!!!…my whole family and my children graduated from Albion High School, my son a member of the last AHS class to graduate (2013) ….we NEVER contemplated using School of choice because “We Believe in Albion”!!!!!

  10. Carina Hilbert

    I had the honor and privilege of teaching at Albion High School in the last year and a half it was open, and I count that time as some of the best in my teaching career. My heart broke when the school got closed, and it was so hard to see it all end. I wasn’t there long, but I was there long enough to realize that my colleagues were some of the best teachers, students, parents, and community I have ever known, as evidenced by the test scores going up as much as they did in just two years and all of the students who have gone on to do so well in their colleges and careers.

    It is good to read that my former students are doing so well and that the transition has gone better than many of us feared. That just goes to show that the students of Marshall High School and the former Albion High School Wildcats have class and honor. May they all continue to succeed and grow.

    1. Race to the Top

      It is unfortunate that teachers and schools are evaluated by how high their test scores are, but that is the reality that we live in. A teacher like C. Hillbert at Albion can move ACT English scores from 15 to 21 in just a few years, while a Marshall English teacher will be judged superior (and paid more) because their scores are 23 or 24, even though they are both great teachers. It is a myth that Albion did not have good teachers just because their test scores were not as high as others, and they lost students over the years. Many other factors contributed.

  11. Snickers

    The greatest commandment is “Love One Another”. A teacher at Hughes reminds me of that…no matter race, color or finances, she treats all kids 100% the same, 100% special…like we should treat each other.

  12. Nancy McAdams Breeze

    I lived in Albion with my Dalrymple-principal husband from 1961 – 1968. Such a beautiful little town! Just beginning to try and deal with endemic racism.

    So sorry to hear about the economic disaster there now. It is encouraging to see how the principals and students have rallied and ‘done the best they can with what’s available.’

    This is a most inspiring story, creatively told!

  13. marcella

    this so called 13 miles to marshall is not right because its making albion look bad and marshall look like a high class place NO!!!! we r all equal and deserve to be treated the same way many other people might think different but i just thinks its wrong

  14. Tammye

    I agree and disagree with the article as well as several comments. I grew up in Albion and went to school here from start to finish. I also grew up in a neighborhood with different races so we learned diversity I at an early age. I am white, raised by a single mom who taught us everyone was equal.

    I have family in Albion as well as Marshall and happen to know first hand there is poverty in both places.

    I also agree that school of choice has hurt Albion tremendously and for buses to be allowed to come into a town and transport children to neighboring schools I feel is just wrong. I also agree with the comment that there are families who still have children who attend school here by choice and my granddaughter is one of them. To imply the only kids left here are the poor kids who’s families have no choice is simply untrue especially since we have made it so easy by allowing these buses to come and pick them up. I also agree if more people would have chosen to devote more into our school system to better it rather than sending their children elsewhere and just bad mouthing APS the system would not be in this condition. I have several friends who work for APS from teachers to para-pros to kitchen workers and all are good people who work hard to make it a better place for our children to learn and grow. Last of all, I agree if we are making the choice to live in a community we should also support that community in every way possible and that includes its school system.

  15. Kyle Williamson

    Hey everyone,

    I graduated from Albion High School in 2011, and am currently a student at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. As I have read through these articles I am deeply frustrated by the blatant racist and classist statements that have been made. What is also shocking is the fact that this article was written by an adult who did not take into account any of the social implications this is going to have. With the constant negativity around Albion high school students coming to Marshall we have only set them up for failure. These students are going to internalize what is being said about them, which will in turn psychologically and academically put them in a disadvantaged position. This article didn’t even acknowledge the fact that these students of color are already at a disadvantage having to fight against institutionalized, structural, and individual racism. ( tied to this I believe is classism as well, but I would rather acknowledge racism first keeping in mind that these two identities are not separate and intersect at various points.) I witness the affects of institutional racism at “one of the most progressive and liberal institutions in the nation”. This article has done nothing but slander and cause communal harm to our students of color as well as our white students. As you spout off this rhetoric the white students also internalize these racist sentiments. Which will once again continue the cycle of socialization allowing the systems of oppression tied to whiteness and anti-black racism to persist. I am saddened to see parents, adults, and other students causing harm to students rather than assisting these students. This has done nothing but cause harm, instead of writing a article about the problems, how about you start fixing them.

    A post racial society does not exist-or has it, and when we continue to not address the issues of blatant racism in things like this we continue to become part of the problem…. This was written between class passing, because I have viewed these articles to be extremely problematic. As a student leader here on campus I facilitate and lead dialogues around race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion. We cannot be colorblind, nor can we ignore the identities our students hold. We don’t need equality, we need EQUITY. If every receives a size 8 shoes everyone is equal, but it won’t fit everyone. We as educators, parents, and leaders need to be able to adapt to our communities specific needs, and some times that requires having hard conversations around very uncomfortable topics, and being aware of the space that we take up.

    I hope this sparks some thoughts, and if you plan on responding please respond and not react. These issues take time, and a lot of emotional energy.

  16. Jon

    I have a question…….

    Why is “race” or “racism” always the focal point for the majority of topics covered or discussed/debated anymore?

    I grew up in Albion. I went to Dalrymple Elementary (my favorite teacher there was Mr. Evans (black)). After 3rd grade, my parents moved me to St. John Elementary School. I preferred Albion public schools. I had also been in an “elevated” 3rd grade class split with some of the 4th graders at Dalrymple and, as a result, did the 4th grade work. I ended up with the same textbooks at St. John in 4th grade but couldn’t convince my parents to have me skip 4th grade or at least switch back to public schools.

    After 7th grade, we moved to Homer. Upon graduating 8th grade at St. John, I had to make the switch to Homer High School. I hated it. I would have much preferred Albion. Going into Homer I scored higher than the vast majority of their students on any of the assessment tests that were given. There is no better “level of education” in Homer or Concord or Springport. They are all small towns with average educational systems. In many areas, they were much worse than Albion. A lot of the kids there are hillbillies who are much more suited to farming or blue collar jobs (or, in some cases, not even employable for anything) than academic pursuits or white collar employment.

    So why the mass exodus from Albion schools with school-of-choice? For a lot of the white kids that switched schools, their parents wanted them away from the blacks – who were, in their minds, ruining the community. To an extent, they were right. The “bad” blacks were ruining the community.

    I know that I will be called racist for making this point but it’s true. Does being truthful make someone or their comments racist? If so, I am (and always will be).

    Parents wanted to get their children out of the Albion system (where there was a great deal of trouble – mostly from black kids (and the white trash kids, as well)) and into a system they didn’t think was “as bad” as far as that type of thing was concerned.

    Here’s where you (the people now calling me racist) are wrong.

    There are MANY great black (they are not “African-American”, by the way – there are probably more white African-Americans in the United States than black, to be honest) people in Albion! I have a lot of black friends and some of my best friends are black and I would trust them over a vast majority of white people. This is my disclaimer for those that are ignorant to what I’m saying.

    The biggest problem faced by many blacks is that black people are actually the ones doing the most harm TO the black population. It’s not white people (except in the instances where they tolerate and/or go along with all of it). All of them that go around wearing droopy jeans, speak in a manner that makes one wonder if they even know English, make every instance something doesn’t go their way a matter of race, sponge the social programs instead of getting a job or starting their own (legal) business and being a productive member of society, etc. are the ones that are causing the problems. Again – don’t get me wrong. There are a great number of white people that I would put in the same classification as the group of blacks I’m stereo-typing above. Unfortunately, you SEE much more of it from the black people because they intentionally make it that way. They are PROUD of it. They also like to point out they are members of the “black community”. There shouldn’t be a “black community”. That’s a large part of the problem, in general. They complain there is so much racism but, all the while, the majority of what they espouse is racist. NAACP? Black History Month? United Negro College Fund? How would a NAAWP be received? Or White History Month? Or a United White College Fund? They would be labeled as EXTREMELY racist organizations and, more than likely, shut down by the government and/or destroyed by protesters. Would they even allow all-white schools in the U.S.? We know there are definitely “black” schools…..

    To do away with racism, do away with racist organizations and “protected classes” and quotas, etc.

    Never mind that the article sheds a very deceptive light on the histories of Albion and Marshall, respectively.

    Never mind that Albion used to be an industrial town with many things you couldn’t find in Marshall or other towns nearby (Albion had J.C. Penney, Western Auto, Grant’s and many other retail stores that Marshall has never had).

    To try and make it look like Albion has been historically “poorer” than Marshall is a blatant disregard for truth, and quite offensive.

    Going back to education……public schools are the worst place to receive a quality education. Yes, I’ll blame unions and I’ll blame the quality of teachers and every other thing that is a reason for this. They are reasons. Just because you say they aren’t or don’t believe they are doesn’t make them not. As far as school of choice, people should be able to send their children to any school they prefer. Schools should not be run by the government. They should be run as a business and, as such, would have to be successful or face shutdown. Gearing up your program to score high on a test (can anyone say MEAP?) is a terrible way to “educate”. Pennfield did this and the results have been atrocious, to say the least. Schools are more concerned with being politically correct and following silly new-fashioned rules than legitimately educating children.

    I have ranted a bit longer than I intended so I will stop here. I doubt this will be well-received but, then again, most things I say/write aren’t. ;)

    1. Kyle Williamson

      I don’t think you understand how institutional, structural, and individual racism all work. You spouted off a ton of racist rhetoric, which is what I hear from a lot of students as well as adult who don’t take accountability for the various privileges and advantages they receive just for the color of their skin. Once their privilege comes in to question they scramble to defend it at all costs. As a white man a lot of damage to communities of color are deeply embedded in white supremacy that are implemented in the United States and around the world today. Whiteness and racism is pervasive, and like I said very hard to confront, especially when you hold those specific identities.

  17. Jon

    The problem is, I do understand it – all too well. I fear those who are “fighting so hard” to end it are the greatest cause of it.

    I don’t think you really understand this – but you make a great point about the difficulty in confronting it.

  18. MHS student

    Ron I must say this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. YOU are tearing apart our school because of this bullshit paper of yours. If you even had the slightest clue as to anything that went on inside of our high school this paper would be fantastic because it’s nothing but great things. They aren’t Albion students anymore they’re Marshall students we’re all on big family here at Marshall. I suggest if you want to write a book you should interview EVERY student at Marshall and see how much of a change it is. I’ve gone to Marshall my whole life and I’m glad we got to join schools because it’s the best experience I’ve had yet in my high school career and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Your causing a huge disruption between our student because everyone who did come from Albion believes that we had something to do with this stupid book. Maybe if you weren’t so damn ignorant and got your facts straight life would be good. I’d like to meet you in person, come to Marshall for a day and share with us and let us share with you how we feel about this writing.

  19. Rachel

    I am currently a student attending Marshall High School, and I must say that the wording of this article has caused many problems throughout our school. Problems that vary from harsh, cruel words being expressed towards students, staff, and the writer, to crying in the halls from misunderstandings of this article. Doing more research and reading of the article, I picked up some major pieces to what you were trying to say. However, many of my fellow classmates have not grasped this concept.
    I believe that Jon, or whoever is in charge of this article, needs a chance to re explain themselves. Because this article, whether for or against the merge of Marshall and Albion, is worded cruelly and has hurt many relationships in our school.
    You might not feel that the hurting of our relationships is your problem, and that you were just attempting to write a persuading and strong article, but you also need to understand that these problems wouldn’t have occurred if this article hadn’t been posted.
    So please, for the sake of The Albion and Marshall students and faculty, explain what your real intentions for this article were, and hopefully many things will resolve.
    Thank you.

    1. Ron French

      Hello Rachel, I appreciate you and other Marshall students sharing your thoughts about the article. You and your peers have written with passion about your concerns about the article, the views expressed by myself as well as teachers, parents, administrators and students who are quoted in the article, and the impact you feel the article has had on the school. I fear I’ll never be able to adequately address all of the concerns expressed in these comments. I will attempt to address your question, Rachel, about the intentions of the article. I’ll also address a few of the issues raised by other students in these comments.
      The origins of this article date back several months. The superintendent of an intermediate school district in another part of the state suggested that Bridge should examine how well the merger of Albion and Marshall high schools was working. His impression was that it was a great success, and that it could be a model for the rest of the state. That’s important here at Bridge, which is a non-profit publication focusing on public policy – in other words, we write about things we think will improve Michigan. On Jan. 23, I attended a presentation in Grand Rapids by the superintendents of Marshall and Albion, in which they talked candidly about the challenges of the collaboration, and the success it had turned out to be. Marshall’s principal, along with two students who in the end were quoted in the article, also participated in the presentation. Their point, and the point of this article, is this: Schools across Michigan are struggling financially. Some will close if they do not find ways to collaborate with neighboring districts. And the Marshall-Albion collaboration is the guinea pig. If it is successful, more districts will likely have the courage to do this. and when they do, it’ll be a benefit to students from both communities.
      For that story to be told, I needed to put the Albion-Marshall collaboration in context, such as 1) the collaboration only happened because of financial struggles; 2) the cause of those financial struggles; 3) the impact of those financial struggles. Once that was established, the story could chronicle how the merger was playing out for students.
      I’m saddened that you view the article as cruel. I can tell you that, among readers outside of Marshall and Albion, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive – the schools are viewed as courageous for taking the step, Albion students as resilient for meeting the challenge of a new school, and Marshall students as the accepting, color-blind people all us old people wish we were. But to portray that inspiring picture without also admitting that things aren’t perfect yet would cheapen your achievements. I spoke to quite a few students, and with every student, I asked what their concerns were last spring when the merger was announced, and how they feel now. A few said they were happy from the start; a few said they were unhappy then and are still unhappy; the majority said candidly that they had some concerns, but that it’s turned out much better than expected. That is the string that runs through this story – and I mean the story you are living, not my article – that the fears of some weren’t borne out; that of course there are problems, but those problems are outweighed by the good. I’ll tell you what I told English teacher Julie Smith, along with your principal and the superintendents of both districts – the students at Marshall High school – from both communities – are an inspiration.

      1. Tony Tabiadon

        Trying to look at these ‘chapters’ objectively, I can see were from the outside looking in that they couuld be seen as a bit positive. From the inside though you’ve really ruffled some feathers. Let me start with your reply here. Your last paragraph in this post, this, THIS is what should have been said repeated in your stories. The responses you are seeing from within these communities is because we think you painted your picture with too broad of strokes and the stories felt sensationalized, overly dramatic and we’re tired of that in the media.
        Students from both districts stood up in public forums last year to address board members, teachers, parents and local journalists. Overwelmingly these students repeated, we know there are differences between our two schools. We know there are differences between our two communities. Don’t dismiss or trivialize these differences but don’t let them be road blocks to building bridges. How can you expect the students to come together if the adults keep focusing on the differences and playing what if? What about all the things the two communities have in common? If the adults will get out of the way, the students will find how to make this work. And they have.
        These Mr French are the points I believe you didn’t adequately present, and they are the most important ones of all for those of you on the outside looking in to take away with you. No place is perfect including Marshall and Albion, however this is home to us. So please, come in, ask your questions, try and learn from our successes but tread lightly because these students are not statistics, they are our family. Whether from Albion or Marshall, we are proud of our students. We have high hopes and great expectations for them, as we did for their older siblings and will have for the younger ones. Diversity is not a negative, it’s the world we all live in. Every student at Marshall High School is different in some way from their friends and classmates. Don’t look upon that as a negative or display it as a sterotype, accept it as the fact of life that it is and move forward.

  20. Another MHS student

    Are you trying to make an intriguing article or properly articulate to others the affects of the Albion-Marshall High school merger. To me, it appears as if you are attempting to make an interesting article. To get to the point quickly, one should not represent to have an accurate representation of our town and the Albion-Marshall merger in a week, the time Mr. French took to write this article. There are many errors in the article. This is not a fair representation of the merger.

  21. Concerned Grandparent

    If only the administration and teachers were as concerned about children with learning disabilities as they are in trying to protect “their kids” against what? I have not had a positive experience this school year in trying to get my learning disabled grandson the help he needs and deserves. By the way, I am a white grandmother raising a grandchild of color. In my experience with Marshall High School, race does matter.

  22. B-Mack

    It’s funny how you believe you have all the statistics about Albion but you know nothing us! This community may not have a lot of job opportunities but that does not mean Albion is poor and not a good community. We have great and outstanding African-Americans in the city of Albion and by writing this article you are the most ignorant and ill minded person I have ever known and you disgust me. You did nothing but talk our city our city down you are nothing but a piece of trash and I hope one day you’ll see the light because your head is in the clouds

  23. Ashlin

    I posted this to Facebook earlier and so many of my friends and family said I should post it on here that I am posting it.

    “I don’t usually go on “rants” on Facebook, but this time I just really cannot seem to hold in my thoughts. First of all, as a graduate from Albion High School who has gone on to pursue an education at Albion College and made Dean’s list first semester, I am highly offended by some of the comments made in these four “chapters.” I can understand what was trying to be accomplished by these articles, however I am not fond of the ways they tried to reach these goals.
    If we are all going to be stuck in a world where everyone has to point out a difference in money and skin color, we might as well be stuck in the past, not learning from the mistakes our ancestors made.
    “Our Albion kids have more hurdles, whether it be academic or economic. Our rich Marshall kids I guarantee have more resources than our Albion kids. Why wouldn’t they have more success?” This is probably one of the pieces that bothered me the most. Why does everyone have to point out money differences? Or why does that mean that your kids get to be more successful, I was born and raised in Albion, and went to Albion schools my whole life. I would like to think that I am just as successful as the students that graduated from Marshall in the Class of 2013.
    “But they can’t know what they haven’t been taught.” I know that people cannot know what they haven’t been taught, but do not tell me that my teachers in school did not teach me anything! I worked my butt off to accomplish the things that I did in school, my GPA, getting accepted to all of the colleges that I did, BEING A PART OF THE CLASS THAT RAISED THE ACT SCORES BY TWO WHOLE POINTS FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR! None of that would have been possible if my teachers did not teach me anything. So don’t tell me they did not do their job! In some of the classes that I have taken at Albion College so far, I have known things that my Professors are talking about because of my previous teachers. Some of the students in those same class struggled with the things that I already knew from my high school education.
    “You become what people expect of you.” Are you telling me that my teachers never had any expectations for me, or the other students?! I can guarantee you that my teachers had higher expectations of me than my parents did at times! My teachers STILL have expectations for me, and I am not even in their classrooms anymore!
    Yes, there may only be one Albion student in an AP course this year. Maybe that is because there were no classes offered at times or to students that wanted to take AP courses. I know for a fact that there are many students who are signing up for all the AP classes they can take next year. Where is that information?
    “Closing a town’s high school, and busing more than 150 poor, mostly black kids to a middle-class, white school…..” Seriously, who said it was okay to say this?! Why must we always focus on color and money? Can we just say busing more than 150 ALBION STUDENTS? Instead they have to be “poor, mostly black kids.”
    “Last spring, before the merger, the staging of “Happily Never After” at Albion High School involved a couple of chairs and a canvas painted like a brick wall.” Is there something wrong with putting on a small production? If I remember right this whole thing is about the student’s right? I mean that is what everyone is saying, well I was in Happily Never After and we had such an awesome time putting that on. Just because it is bigger does not make it better.
    “Differences extended from the dance floor to the school parking lot. Many Marshall Juniors and Seniors have their own cars, parking in the student lot on the east side of school. Most Albion students ride buses that pull up on the school’s south side – separate entrances not by color, but by income.” Again, who said this was okay? So they go in different doors does that REALLY make a difference?! NO!”

  24. MHS SENIORS

    This article came off as very racist and untruthful. You twisted the words of teachers and students such as mrs smith and mr young by only putting the section of their statement that fit the point of your article! You should be ashamed! You didn’t do any correct research! It was way to early to publish this article! Instead of Albion and marshall being closer as a senior class were drifting apart because of your article!!!! I hope your proud of your article!

    1. Carlen Kernish

      Push through it guys, and ask tough questions of each other and yourselves, questions that maybe you’ve never had to ask before. You’re all awesome! Love wins. Mr. French seems to be giving you all a huge compliment. The timing might be tough, but timing is never easy. The questions should never stop. I mean, you’re all going to college, right?

  25. marshall 05

    As a former Marshall student I agree with Amy 100%. There is more than meets the eye in Marshall but I do know that the majority of Marshall is racist. I can recall a time that the cops came to my apartment door and asked to speak to the black man who they had seen walk into my apartment because there was rumor of a suspicious black man looking in windows downtown. I asked when this was they said half hour ago. Funny that my friend had been at my place for the past 3 hours but they didn’t care they still questioned him because he was a black male. This is why I moved out of Marshall. I just hope that this merger will help the current generation fix the mistakes of the past and curent people who protect the town.

  26. Chris Bell

    Hey Ron, Ummmm I dont know why you would write such a thing about us . I didnt know you were going to talk about the Albion kids like that. And if thats the case I never would have agreed to let you Interview me or take my picture which by the way was Horrible you should have told that Dude to pick a Diff. one! Back on topic Why just Why did you do that. You dont understand that what you say not only makes Albion people look bad but also Marshall people too, it makes them look as though they dont care which some have shown not to be true. Think before you go publishing Crazy stuff and then when you have thought go back and Re-read it being Considerate of others feelings and what they will think/ Say/Do.

    1. Carlen Kernish

      Chris, you guys both look good in the pic! I can’t imagine how difficult this transition must be for everyone. This space here, right here, is the internet. The school you go to everyday, that is the real world. Obviously those places meet, and I believe every word you said (except about the picture (: ), but the only place that ultimately matters is the real world, your school. Mr. French has written about a lot of big issues. He was ultimately, it seems to me (I only read the first article), trying to say how awesome the students at MHS are. I wish you tons of luck as you and your classmates work through a tough time.

  27. Gayle Wireman

    Mr. French,
    I have read your article and all of the responses to your reporting. While I understand your intent was to provide a journalistic article that shows other school districts within the State of Michigan that school consolidation can be successful, what I think you failed to understand was the impact you were going to have on two small communities and how passionate the residents and students in these communities would be about the words you chose to use.
    Albion has learned to be a tight knit community depending on itself. We are a community (family) that has lost large businesses, a hospital, and now a high school all well maintaining pride and ownership in the community. We take great pride in what we call diversity, not a small primarily black low income community, which are the words I believe you used in your article when referencing Albion. The students in our school system are well rounded and better prepared to deal with diversity than almost any other school district in this area. We have teachers in our schools that care about our children, and regardless of what you believe or reported our students have received a well-rounded education while attending Albion Public Schools.
    Marshall has had its challenges also, and although the community has been stereotyped as being “white, and rich”, the community is far from being that affluent and has its own diversity. Although, the median income of Marshall is well above Albion, it still has low income families and struggles with the closure of businesses and empty store fronts.
    As a Marshall graduate who sent her kids to Albion Public Schools, I feel confident in saying there has always been a rivalry between these two schools, which I believe caused concern in both communities when the school districts began talking about consolidation. However, both communities raised a group of kids that were willing to set cultural differences and stereotyping aside in an attempt to make this consolidation positive and successful. Our kids welcomed each other with open arms and I believe there are many adults that could take a lesson or two from this generation by setting aside the cultural differences and welcoming each other with open arms.
    As for the quotes from Mrs. Julie Smith, I hope that you have reported them out of the context she said them in. Otherwise, I am very disappointed that an English teach could not find a more politically correct way to express her thoughts. I personally find the comments of Mrs. Smith offensive as reported and it causes me great concern with regard to the education students are receiving in that classroom.
    Ultimately, I believe the Albion – Marshall School consolidation had reached the point of taking a raging fire at the beginning of the school year and letting it burn down to the point of embers. Your article on the other hand is fuel, and your reporting poured that fuel on these burning embers, which in turn has caused a raging fire again. As a result of your reporting, we now again have two communities hurt by your words and a group of students that are trying desperately to put the flames out on this raging fire while dealing with the hurt caused by your reporting.
    Overall, I am disappointed with your use of words like “poor, black, white and rich” and the implications of segregation due to buses using one entrance while students who drive to school using another entrance and how this segregation is due to income levels. As a parent I have tried to teach my kids to think about who they will be hurting with their words before they say something, I wish you could have thought about the hurt you were going to cause the generation being affected and the hurt communities struggling to heal before you reported this story. Had you done that, I believe there would have been a lot less tears in the ocean today.

    1. Carlen Kernish

      That was so thoughtful. I still feel guilt for leaving Albion Public. I think, and hope for the kids who go to MHS, that this series may have started a conversation–the type our nation still needs to have.

  28. Carlen Kernish

    I’m a white guy, I’m 26, and I live in Albion (and I’m racist–oh, the pratfalls of our primitive, judgemental, stereotyping brains). I went to Albion schools. I have a parent who moved to this community the year I was born to teach at the high school. That parent retired, taking away the chance for me to have him as a teacher and, sadly, he took an excellent theater department with him. I was given a choice by my parents, one of whom ran an excellent theater department at LHS in BC. After a month of consideration, I made the difficult decision to leave the only friends I knew in the name of what I (re: the person who is me) saw as an educational opportunity. It was hard. I had no friends in my new district, and everyone looked exactly like me on the outside. Where was I? What had I done? I hunkered down into my studies, made a bunch of new friends, and graduated as the Valedictorian. I’m from Albion, and I’m a product of Albion Open School, ironically closed, Washington Gardner Middle School, and Lakeview High School. I was offered a full ride to Albion College after competing against many scholars, an opportunity which I humbly accepted after scraping my jaw off the floor. Sorry for all the ‘me me me,’ I’m almost done, promise…I’m 26, were almost there. I graduated top of my class with a degree in Communication Studies (see, everybody makes mistakes). I subbed at Albion High School. I learned lots from the challenge and hope the kids did, too. Then I ran the Albion Chamber of Commerce for a year, but was too young and afraid to make bold choices and really open my mouth about my community. Moved to Kalamazoo for a government job after that, then back to Albion to work with at-risk youth. I do theater in Marshall, and have had the wonderful opportunity to work with Marshall residents and their children. The kids just closed ‘Grease’ at MHS, and did an admirable job. The kids at MHS are awesome. They’ll all be so much more awesome in the years to come.

    Basically: great series, Mr. French. Hopefully folks have started to calm down in the comments section as the series goes on. I look forward to reading the rest! Kudos.

  29. RL

    This article was uncalled for! This article is beyond racist!!! I graduated from Albion High and I’m proud of it! The person who wrote this should be ashamed of themselves! You wonder why Albion High School kids didn’t care for Marshall kids. You teach your kids to think they are better than them!

    1. been around

      For Everyone Who Prefers To See The Glass As Half-Empty:

      Can’t you appreciate the positive change that has specifically been made in the relations between Albion and Marshall and in general across our nation in regards to race? 40 years ago it would have been unthinkable for a black student who lived in Albion to attend Marshall HS. If AHS had been closed in the ’60′s, ’70′s, ’80′s, ’90′s and perhaps even into this century there would have been no merger, and no place close by for Albion’s black students to attend high school. In the 60′s and ’70′s there were riots after many sporting contests between the 2 schools, and the level of racial animus was extreme across the board. Those of us in the older generation who carry those memories should not hold our children hostage to our past hurts. I applaud the leadership of both districts for making this bold move and trust that the younger generation of Marshall and Albion will not allow racism to tear you apart as it did to so many of your ancestors.

  30. Race to the Top

    After allowing for the information in this article to sink in, one question still lingers in my mind. According to Mr. French, Albion schools lost 441 students over a five year period through school of choice, while Marshall lost 372. Albion’s loss of students was attributed to many factors including “poorly trained teachers”, “failing test scores”, and poverty. How did Marshall high school lose so many children if their school has such great test scores, and “sparkling” facilities. I know that more Mar Lee 8th grade students go to Olivet than Marshall as well. No explanation was given for Marshall’s “death spiral” and I wonder if someone could offer me an explanation please.

    1. Jon

      Maybe they didn’t like the name change…..

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