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Posted on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 5:50 a.m.

Ann Arbor's three alternative high schools change students' lives, leaders tell school board

By Kyle Feldscher


Students listen during a Community High School Class in January of last year.

Lon Horwedel | For

Marcus Buggs’ father was murdered on his ninth birthday. The mother of the Huron High School junior has been incarcerated twice. Until last year, he saw no reason to stay in school.

But attending Roberto Clemente Student Development Center changed his life, he said. He’s now expecting to go to college to set an example for his younger siblings.

“The staff in the last year have opened my eyes that I can do work,” he said. “I’m going to school for a purpose. They can teach me how to reach success, but its my choice to be successful.”

Buggs was among students who took part in a presentation by administrators of Ann Arbor's three alternative high schools to the school board Wednesday night.

Students from Roberto Clemente put on a short performance of a scene from a play and impressed board members.

“There is a perception that we don’t really need all six of the high schools,” Trustee Andy Thomas said. “It’s worth every penny.”

Stone High School Principal Sheila Brown said her school serves a lot of students who otherwise would have no hope.

“We service the walking wounded — every student is coming in with a story,” she said. “But, we believe if they want to be successful, they will be successful. Our kids are fabulous kids and I would contend that we have some of the best in Ann Arbor Public Schools.”

Stone and Roberto Clemente are mostly made up of at-risk students who are either not on track to graduate or need more individualized instruction than they can receive at the district’s comprehensive high school.

Ben Edmondson, principal of Roberto Clemente, said he has seen a marked change since he took over the school at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

He said students and parents have been taking greater responsibility at school, with every parent either attending the school’s open house in September or scheduling a meeting with Edmondson.

“In everything we do at Clemente, we want kids to have a real world experience,” he said.

Community High School, the district's third alternative high school, has become the hub for community resource programs and online classes for all Ann Arbor high schools, said Jen Hein, dean of the school.

She said Community had some of the highest Michigan Merit Exam/ACT scores in the state, something recognized by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in a phone call to Hein earlier this year.

The atmosphere at Community, which allows students to have a say in how the school is run, plays a big role in its success, she said.

“If you come to visit the school, you’ll hear from our students, what helps them to be successful and not so much from the adults,” she said.

The principals talked about dealing with the perception of being an alternative high school, with Edmondson and Brown discussing their attempts to change the stereotyping of their schools.

Neither school had a fistfight during the last school year, with Stone not having one for the last three years. Edmondson said he’s made steps to reach out to the rest of the district.

“There were some prevailing thoughts about things were done here,” he said. “They’ve (the other high schools) been receptive. It’s a learning process that we’re all going through.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at


say it plain

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 : 10:20 p.m.

@Tex Treeder, how could a lottery be an 'appropriate' method for entry into a school that is supposed to be setting itself apart via its pedagogical commitments? The only truly appropriate way for CHS to exist, imho of course, is for students to commit to what they offer--a small school experience along with a commitment to a style of learning and teaching--and *skip* the bigschool one altogether, i.e. no sports or AP courses at what you refer to as the 'warehouse' schools. That would cut down on the demand for entry, and then those who truly *need* or would most intensely benefit from what CHS has to offer can have a better chance then they do in the current silly lottery system. Plus it would save money on those shuttle buses and reduce the costs incurred by the CHS students who use resources at the comprehensive schools *plus* the ones at CHS. Otherwise the lottery winners have truly won the run of the school system, and many of them would do just fine in the comprehensive schools, or else in whatever small-neighborhood school arrangement we could imagine in some parallel-universe Ann Arbor;-)

Tex Treeder

Wed, Nov 24, 2010 : 2:24 p.m.

Clemente and Stone School focus on "at risk" kids; Community has a different mission. CHS is there as an alternative to the larger (i.e. warehouse) schools. Its size allows it to use more personalized or non-orthodox curricula for its students. As such, a lottery is more appropriate for admissions. Again, why don't we at least consider smaller, non-warehouse high schools? Less cookie-cutter curricula, smaller class sizes, more encouragement of independent thought and community involvement all sound like good things to me. According to DonBee's budget info (above), CHS is comparable in cost per student to the warehouses, and in fact comes in less expensive than Huron.


Sun, Nov 21, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

I completely agree with Tony Livingston. CHS uses a lottery to get in, that is not helping the most "at risk" kids. Stone & Clemente are the ones truly helping "at risk" kids and while the cost may be more up front, i think in the long run, it will save society a lot. How many kids are turned down from attending CHS vs. how many are turned down from Stone & Clemente? I also agree that Ballas is where to look for savings.

Basic Bob

Sun, Nov 21, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

@eastsidemom, "Roberto Clemente is an alternative educational program that was established by the Ann Arbor Board of Education in 1974, for 8th through 12th graders, who reside in the Ann Arbor Public School District." Roberto Clemente is located in Pittsfield Township, within the boundary of AAPS.


Sat, Nov 20, 2010 : 8:12 a.m.

skigrl50- I believe Clemente serves the county not just A2 schools...It actually has an Ypsilanti address.

Basic Bob

Sat, Nov 20, 2010 : 7:50 a.m.

"You can't expect every kid to go to a 3000 person school and fit in." OK, how about the real number which is closer to 1700. "Huron, Pioneer and Skyline are just warehouses" Regardless of their size, the students receive an excellent education at these schools. And they are already at their "home school" for AP courses and sports. I understand the purpose that Clemente and Stone serve. But what's the district going to do in two years when the fund equity is completely wiped out? They need to close some buildings, and right now it seems that there are one too many high school and middle schools, and several too many elementary schools for the population. This will reduce the expenses for administration, maintenance, and transportation. We need visionary AND competent leadership.


Sat, Nov 20, 2010 : 2:52 a.m.

I am not even in Ann Arbor schools but think the notion of abandoning alternative schools is not good. I don't know if there are too many schools, but as far as students needing this pull-out program, they definitely do, at every end of the spectrum of learning in fact, both high and low achievers, emotionally troubled, severely gifted, maybe both! Why people are putting dollars to the programs baffles me. It is as if they are comparing healthy medical patients to those who need chemotherapy. No one would deny a worthy patient chemotherapy to save their life. Why deny at-risk students services they need?

Tex Treeder

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:16 p.m.

As for the large school, small school debate: Huron, Pioneer and Skyline are just warehouses, conveniently lumping kids together to save money often at the expense of a better education. I am all in favor of smaller schools, even if they cost a bit more. Perhaps smaller, neighborhood-based schools might be more cost-effective at the high school level as well. The school day could start later and end later and reduce the need for busing. It's ridiculous how early some kids need to get up to catch a bus, just so those same buses can be used for high schools, then middle schools, then elementary schools. How about arranging the school schedule for the benefit of the students and families and not for the benefit of minimizing transportation costs? And if you really want to get radical, why don't we scrap programs like football? I'd rather have money spent on teachers' salaries than on expensive programs that don't really benefit a substantial number of students. Are schools for education or for sports? I think math, science and foreign language education contribute more to society than many sports programs, even though I recognize the positive effect some sports programs can have. But those academic goals are better supported at smaller schools.

Tex Treeder

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

I, too, am cynical enough to think that very few principals would say, "No, my program is a failure." However, I have seen Ben Edmondson in action and I am confident in his abilities to truly lead a school (and the students) to success. Ben Edmondson was the principal for only one year at King Elementary while my child was a student there, and he was a well-needed breath of fresh air. I was extremely sorry to see him leave for another Ann Arbor school. I can easily believe that he has seen a change at Clemente after only a short time because that is exactly what he achieved at King.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 3:39 p.m.

I am sick of people saying CHS should be in with the new building. CHS works because it is in a separate building. The students at CHS do not want to be in a huge building with a lot of kids. I had two boys graduate from CHS and have nothing but good things to says about CHS My boys attended AAPS since kindergarten and both decided a small setting would work better for them. Thank You CHS;)


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

I still scratch my head to figure out why we continue with Community High in that expensive location and we have a new High School recently opened. Cant they incorporate the "culture" to the new building we are all paying dearly. If they system is looking for money - they can sell off that prime real estate and move the children to Skyline. Unless the newness is too inhibiting to their values?


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 12:20 p.m.

All of the high school serve a purpose. There is no question of that. On a per student basis here is the cost of each of the schools based on 2009 Ann Arbor Public School Data: Pioneer ----- $8,247 Skyline ----- $8,744 Community - $8,853 Huron ------ $9,026 Stone ---- -$16,586 Clemente -- $23,228 The easier way to reduce the costs of Stone and Clemente without a direct classroom impact would be to reduce the administration. Moving the programs into a single building to share food services, custodian services, and other support staff would also help. Based on the numbers provided by AAPS, Stone School is large enough to hold both programs. Again according to AAPS numbers both Stone and Clemente spend more outside the classroom than in the classroom (administration, custodian, utilities, maintenance, etc) than they do in the classroom. I do not want to see the programs combined or eliminated, but I would like to see the overhead trimmed. The overhead issue is not just at these schools, but in the district overall. Compared to Plymouth-Canton Schools Ann Arbor Public Schools spend twice the amount per student on non-classroom overhead across the whole district. This based on mandatory filing with the state government (and pulled from the State of Michigan website). Getting to average in these areas for AAPS would save about $2,000 per student or about $30,000,000 for the district. Again the numbers are from AAPS's filing with the State.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 11:50 a.m.

Linda writes: "I like small high schools such as Community High School. I am deeply opposed to high schools of the size of Skyline, Huron, and Pioneer. It is not a healthy environment for our young people." Small high schools work for some, but large high schools have their place too. Huron and Pioneer provide a wider variety of academic courses, clubs, and sports that fit the individual needs and interests of more students. If you don't like football, you can bowl or ski or play field hockey. If you're not into working on the yearbook, you can join the debate team or robotics team or even start your own club. If you're not the 4.0 NHS student, it's ok because you're not alone (not all of us get to be rocket scientists!). Teenagers want to fit in and belong. There's not much chance to fit in if the 12 kids in your class have labeled you as the 'dumb kid.' Individual students have a much better chance of finding their fit and developing supportive friendships in a larger high school. What's important is that we continue to provide all of these educational avenues for our kids. This is Ann Arbor - educating all of our children is our priority! It always has been.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 11:05 a.m.

Each alternative school serves a different need, though I think it makes sense to physically combine Clemente and Stone (though not their programs, necessarily) to achieve far greater administrative efficiency and to sell off unneeded property. I'd love to see Community eliminate its ugly and inefficient U-shaped parking lot & drives, build a big addition in their place -- perhaps with a courtyard to preserve some of the green space --, and offer teachers and staff getDowntown passes. That way more students could attend, but the school wouldn't become unmanageable.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

@ Eastsidemom but why are we funding Ypsilanti School District students to come to our expensive alternative programs when we have so many students that need alternative programming? Why aren't these programs running at capacity?? If they were at capacity, the cost per student would be less...


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:27 a.m.

All of you whining about the cost of small schools are already paying for the lack there of. Just consider how many of your tax dollars go to fund prisons. Now there is an alternative to spending on schools...we should be supporting these students from preschool on. And I would not term Mack as having "an alternative bent". It is more like a a successful bent.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:19 a.m.

Of course the principals would tell you their schools work. What did you expect? The question that needs to be answered is how much the district is paying to run these schools which appear to duplicate services. Did I read that Roberto Clemente has 90 students? Seems like that is a very expensive school. They have a secretaries, principals, counselors, teachers etc? How many staff members to do they have to serve 90 students? What does it cost to heat and cool the building? 90 kids? That seems like a program that could be run out of the bigger high schools. And Stone has 150? Just wondering with all the cuts happening why these programs/schools even exist?

Dr. I. Emsayin

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:15 a.m.

Many Community High Students come to high school from Emerson, Greenhills and Steiner, private schools with small classes and homogenous accelerated-type classes. Others come from Mack Open School, which also has an alternative bent. The high test scores cannot be attributed only to Community High School; many of the top Community High students take AP and AC courses in their home school, Pioneer or Huron. Many take courses at local colleges where they can accelerate. Huron and Pioneer students also take courses at local colleges. So, saying that CHS students earn top scores because of Community High may not be fully accurate. Still, Community High does provide an atmosphere that students like and feel is conducive to learning happily. The small school feel with an open campus agrees with the students.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:07 a.m.

The bottom line is always the cost. It's the monetary cost to run these programs and the social cost if you don't offer programs like these. You can find success stories at every school. Can the district afford to fund the 'gang of 3' without considering adjustments in the way they operate? Just because these 3 schools have shown success doesn't mean that they should be above scrutiny. The people who people who fought to open these schools were those who embraced change. It seems ironic that the folks who attend these schools are afraid to consider further change. The real cost savings in the AAPS should start at the Ballas Building. The administration in this district is just too top heavy.

Tony Livingston

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:05 a.m.

Stone and Roberto Clemente students have a lot of risk factors and it is great to see them get the school they need. However, risk factors are not considered to get into CHS. Many students who are at risk are unable to get in and have to endure exclusion, bullying, and an impersonal atmosphere at Pioneer while students with no risk factors have a great experience with personal attention, communication, acceptance, and a high rate of academic success at CHS. In addition, they are able to take advantage of all of the perks at Pioneer -- sports, music, theater, after school organizations. Of course, no one from CHS is going to mention this.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 9:16 a.m.

Thank you Stone School! As a mom of a student attending Stone, I can say that without you, my daughter would not be completing her final year of school. She has gone from less than a one point grade average to over a three point. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Linda Peck

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 9:09 a.m.

I like small high schools such as Community High School. I am deeply opposed to high schools of the size of Skyline, Huron, and Pioneer. It is not a healthy environment for our young people. I want more of Community and less of Skyline. I want no emphasis on violent sports. I want academics and arts and social skills.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 8:19 a.m.

Did those the Stone and Roberto Clemente principals say how much it costs to educate a student in their buildings? I would hope with 90 students at Clemente and 150 at Stone and with the student-staff ratio being much more favorable than at the comprehensive high schools that they wouldn't have any fist fights. I am curious why on the Clemente webpage just it mention that Ypsilanti High School is a feeder school for Clemente? It costs significantly more money to educate a student in an alternative placement and we can't get all of the students from AA' s comprehensive high schools placed there that need to be there, so why would we take students from out of district??


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

People that bash on RBTO/STONE/COMM don't understand how these kids work. The programs are a success. You can't expect every kid to go to a 3000 person school and fit in. Some kids need special attention to graduate. I thank these schools for increasing high school graduation numbers in my hometown! way to go 3 schools, -C