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Posted on Fri, Jun 7, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

End of an era: Willow Run School District has final day of classes

By Janet Miller

Related: Students, staff reflect as Ypsilanti Public School District dismisses for final time

At the beginning and end of every school year, Willow Run Middle School special education teacher Sue Littlefield reads Dr. Seuss’ timeless picture book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” to her students.

But when she read the book to her class Friday morning, it took on a much more weighted meaning.

After 70 years of educating children living near what was once the plant that produced B-24 bombers for World War II, the Willow Run School District will dissolve.

On the last day, Willow Run students hugged their teachers, said their final farewells for the summer and prepared to return to the Ypsilanti Community Schools, a merger of the Willow Run district with Ypsilanti Public Schools. The consolidation officially takes place July 1.

Littlefield’s students are feeling the sadness that comes at the end of something important.

“I’m a Willow Run girl,” said Littlefield, who has taught 29 years in the district. “It’s sad to know that the family you’ve built will end…but I’m also a step-mom, and I have talked to my students about blending our Ypsilanti and Willow Run families together.”

Working-class Willow Run has long been the underdog, but for many staff and faculty members, that’s what’s helped build the community family.

“From its humble beginnings, it has a mystique to it, dating back to the war,” said Isaiah Daniel, intervention specialist and middle school basketball coach. “By a lot of people’s standards, I’ve only been here a short time — 14 years — but a lot of people touch you, and you touch a lot of people.”

Instead of moving to the adjacent Willow Run High School, most of the 101 eighth grade students will attend school across town at YCS High School, which now houses Ypsilanti High School. While new school colors (black and Vegas gold) and a new mascot (the grizzly bear) have been chosen, a name for the new high school has not, said Natalie Turner, assistant principal of Willow Run Middle School.

The new high school will be divided into smaller learning communities, including one to focus on fine and performing art, as well as one for science, technology, engineering and math.

The current Willow Run middle school and high school campus will house the new district’s middle school program, with fifth and sixth graders at the current middle school and seventh and eighth graders at the current high school. Of the 29 Willow Run Middle School teachers, 13 will be returning to the new district, Turner said.

Turner herself just learned she has been assigned as the assistant principal of the high school. Interviews still are underway for a new principal.

While adults were worrying about job assignments and the loss to history, students had more immediate concerns.

Eighth-grader Amari Jenson, a football and basketball player, is fine with the merger, but knows the sports teams will the more competitive. That doesn’t bother him. “It’s nice to have competition,” he said. “There are a lot of changes. Change is good.” (But) it's not just the school that’s going down,” he said. “It’s the Flyer pride that’s going down. When you say 'Flyer pride,' you represent Willow Run. We’re going to have to find a chant for the grizzlies.”

Eighth-grader Mia Thomas said she has a few worries. As a female member of the football team, where she won an MVP award, she’s worried she won’t make the YCS High School team.

She’s also voiced concerns about about the potential for fights. The two school districts have been cross-town rivals, and she’s afraid that will spill over into the classroom. Turner said teachers and administrators are aware of those risks and are working on programs — including a Restorative Practices program that deals with conflict before it escalates — that will address the challenge of bringing rival schools together.

As sad as it is to see the Willow Run's era end, it will serve the district’s students better, Willow Run Middle School Principal Delores Jenkins, who is retiring, said shortly after she read the announcements over the loud speaker minutes before school was dismissed for a final time. The move is overdue, she said.

“The area will become a draw. It will be a new future for the entire area. Kids will be learning in small communities, and it’s going to be good. We’re going to get some new hope here.”



Sun, Jun 9, 2013 : 3:57 a.m.

I hope they take good care of WR's sports' trophies. A lot of great teams, especially the basket ball teams from the 60's and late 70's and early 80's. Remember Dave Hart? He was captain of the state championship team from 1968 was later captain of the 1971-1972 Michigan team.

Anthony Clark

Sun, Jun 9, 2013 : 4:24 a.m.

Yeah, hopefully they keep the Flyer heritage and history alive. Unfortunately, I fear it will be lost within a few years.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 6:20 p.m.

While change is always met with mixed emotions, this is a change that needed to happen years ago. Ypsilanti is one community and the division into three school districts has served to divide not only the unity of a community but duplication of services, administrations, curriculum, buildings, and resources. The sad part is that it took financial failure for change to begin. May this change be the beginning of unity and success for all.

michael Limmer

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 10:19 p.m.

Now it's time to merge Lincoln with Ypsi, then Ypsi into Ann Arbor. One school district per county, just like Florida. Less overhead, more for the children.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 8 p.m.

willowrunistillcare, Thank you! You nailed it exactly. We now have a chance to end the back-biting and move forward together. The community of Ypsilanti is in this together and it's up to us to make this succeed. Thanks for the positive attitude!


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

All teachers have to clean out their classrooms every year at the end of the year. So this is no surprise to me and should not be to anyone. As for a final day? Yeah, bittersweet, but we all knew this would end some day. Glad to see a lot of WR teachers not returning. Most were not that great to begin with.


Sun, Jun 9, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

Not being negative. Being brutally honest about some of the teachers WR high school. Scary.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.

Some people just can't help but be negative.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 1:57 p.m.

I volunteered at Willow Run High School this past year in their Bright Futures Program. I worked with an excellent group of students and educators in the Friends of Rachel program. The goal of the group was to prevent bullying behavior and to promote a safe and supportive school environment. I am sure this group can carry the same message in the new district. I hope they can help the student body put their rivalry aside and realize that they are one school community now. I know for teenagers these rivalries can seem absolute, but I am confident that the students from both schools will end up making more new friends than enemies.

Jay Thomas

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 5:54 a.m.

The Willow Run school district died because Willow Run has little to no tax base (like Pontiac, Detroit, etc, etc). I wonder how many people there actually pay their property taxes. In Detroit only half do -- which is the real reason that city is bankrupt.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

I doubt that ALL taxpayers pay their taxes in any school district. I think YOU know better than that. However, as a 30 year resident of Superior Township, I value my neighborhood and my neighbors, many who have lived here as long as i have. We are dedicated to our neighborhood, to our children, our area schools and churches. I see no correlation to Detroit at all. If you do, well.......that's on you.

Jay Thomas

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

That isn't what I said, Cash. But I certainly suggested that some do not. Is it really so fantastic that half of Detroiters don't pay a dime in property taxes on their property (quoted in the Detroit papers) but everyone in Willow Run is paying? I think you know better.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 10:37 a.m.

Wow, a bit condescending? Why do you assume people in this district do not pay taxes? Unbelievable!

David Wanner

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 3:03 a.m.

Man I went to St. Alexis there and now that is gone, the school across the street is leveled, the old and now the new Willow Run is gone. So much for Ypsi Township.

T Wall

Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 2:38 a.m.

We all have had a teacher at sometime in our life that stood out from all the rest. A teacher who remembered your name and always had something special to say to you when you came to school sad. To many of the Willow Run students the school became their second home and sometime their first home because of that special teacher. I know one of those teachers by the name of Sue Littlefield who was mentioned in the article. Two years ago we Honored Sue at our Golf Outing with our Lifetime Teaching Achievement Award. Each December Sue and other great special education teachers find the time to write hardship letters about their students for the T.Wall Foundation ( Because of these great special education teachers we can purchase beds, furniture, clothing and gifts for the holidays. Without the closeness we have with Sue and the other special education teachers in Washtenaw County, these families would receive no assistance. These special teachers listens to their parents at conference time and takes a special concern for all of their students who are in need. Sue Littlefield is an amazing, caring and loving person. The majority of Willow Run teachers truly care about their students. I know because I spent the best 30 years of my life teaching in Willow Run. Many of the teachers in Willow Run become a second parent to their students. That is why the tears flowed today.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 4:12 a.m.

I must say as a parent, i am very sad to see WRCS winding down. and i would like to thank all of the teachers that put the heart and soul into the district. Sue Littlefield will always hold the honor of being the very best special education teacher i have ever known. we met when my oldest , now 22 began kindergarten, and she was great then , but when she began teaching sp ed, that is when she lit up the brightest.. with patience , caring, understanding, love, and tenderness tolerance and devotion, she has guided many many of willow runs sp ed students to a brighter path and an understanding of life.. never one time have i thought her unfair. she is in my book a great, example of teaching excellence.


Sat, Jun 8, 2013 : 2:36 a.m.

It's going to interesting come the start of the new school year.

Jim Pryce

Fri, Jun 7, 2013 : 9:56 p.m.

Ypsilanti Public Schools is gone too!. I hope the new community school is going to be good.