‏Dr. Soranno of Melvindale-North Allen Park District: We are a happy collaborative family full of potential for growth and success

Our community is changing, new Yemeni Americans are moving into new areas including Melvindale, right next to Dearborn. The Melvindale school system is adjusting too. Here is what we learned from the superintendent about these new developments.

By By: Rasheed Alnozili and Stephen Coats
The Yemeni American News

We met with the Superintendent of the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Public Schools, Dr. Kimberly Soranno who has been on the job since April of 2016 and previously served as the curriculum director for the district. On her major accomplishments, Superintendent Soranno said that huge steps have been taken; creating a school district that produces fine working individuals and aspiring college students.

With regards to the district’s staff, she said “We have made tremendous strides in getting our teachers trained over the past 7 years when we’ve had an influx of bilingual students in our district. We have 23 teachers that are ESL endorsed now. We always make sure our teachers have the tools that they need in the classroom for students.”

About 7 years ago, the district began getting more bilingual students in the district. Previously it was primarily Hispanic kids but we were only at about 17% at that time. Then there was like an explosion and we went from about 17% to about 30% pretty quickly by starting to get some Arabic speaking students in, many from Yemen and then now we are 50% bilingual.

“With that change has come parents who are willing to work with their children, who want the support of the schools and are willing to support us at home by doing the things we ask them to do. Our bilingual students are like little sponges, they are learning very quickly! We looked at the data from the state WIDA test and from that assessment we were 6 percentage points above the state and 3 percentage points above the county. So we feel very confident that we have the right learning things in place in classrooms.” Dr. Soranno said.
When asked about the diversity in the district, she explained “It’s a very tight community. We feel very confident that we have diversity in our high school and all the children get along. Our focus used to be primarily football now we are football and soccer. We are building a stadium whereas before we would concentrate just on how our football players felt and we have to make sure that it is the standard that is needed for our soccer players as well.”

Dr Soranno with alnozili

YAN – How do you deal with families from a new culture, how do you communicate with them? How do you face that problem?
Asking Superintendent the question about families who are shifting to new cultures and the communication issues that they run into, she said “When parents come up to the school and they have questions we make sure that we have an interpreter there for them so that they feel welcome and they feel comfortable asking the questions. We just hired a Yemeni Assistant Principal, Nagwa Ali, and she’s wonderful. She helps a great deal but we also have people who have come up through the community who also speak the language and feel comfortable with the parents and because they feel comfortable with them when they feel comfortable with us. What we’ve learned is that the parents just need the information.” Nagwa Ali was the Dearborn Public School’s last year’s Teacher of the Year.

Drugs problem have been a national epidemic and in particular in our Southeast Michigan. As far as Melvindale area, Superintendent Soranno explained “We are very blessed because our school board has a zero tolerance to any drug issues. So in the past if there has been anything ever found on a student or a student has ever brought anything to our schools they were suspended or expelled and they are not allowed to come back to our schools. Of course, kids make mistakes and they sometimes think that it is okay and it’s NOT okay. I would never be so presumptuous to say that we don’t have drugs but if there ever is anything we take care of it. We never turn our eye from it… and we involve the police when we do find anything.”

When the Yemeni American News asked Superintendent Suranno about the major challenges Melvindale is facing, she replied “I had a meeting with the union and the thing that we are facing and everyone in the state is facing is a teacher shortage and because we have a teacher shortage we have a substitute problem. That’s my biggest problem right now.”

“But when someone says, “How are you doing today?”, I say I am really living my dream. I have a board that has supported everything we have asked for and I have a really good school district going here, people who are really committed to children. I am living my dream. I wanted to be a superintendent, I studied to be one, and I wanted to see if what I believed could come to fruition and I see it coming to fruition. I was raised in a family where there were no waifs; we take care of our children in my family. And when I went into education I saw some holes in that. Not everyone puts their children first. I put kids first!”

When asked if the district compares itself to other neighboring districts, Superintendent Surrano added “I know Dearborn is very committed to its students just like we are. We have looked to Dearborn many times in guiding us in our bilingual program because they have so many years experience before us. I think Dearborn does a tremendous job. But I also think that we are doing a very good job as well. I believe what we have to offer is we are smaller so we can put more concentration on the students that we have. We have more newcomers from a select area of the Arab American community. We’re mostly from Yemen so we don’t have that conflict between the different regions I think that Dearborn might be experiencing because mostly Yemeni Americans have settled in this area.”

When asked about prospects of graduates and having a shot at Ivy League colleges and universities, Superintendent Suranno said “I have three administrators at the high school that are go-getters, they are awesome. For three years in a row, all of our students have applied to a college. We’ve had 100% of all of our seniors apply to a college now they may choose to go to a trade school or whatever they choose to do but they’ve all been encouraged to look to their future. Some people are clothes snobs, car snobs, I’m an education snob, I own it! Because of that, I got my doctorate because nobody ever told me that I couldn’t. I believe that anybody can achieve. We had a young man two years ago that came from Yemen and he came as a sophomore year and he didn’t speak English at all and he graduated in our top 10 and he is going to University of Detroit-Mercy. We have children in our schools, 20, 30, 40 that go on to places like Cornell but the sky’s the limit.”

Lastly, Dr. Soranno left us with this message, “I really believe that if you come from a solid home and your parents support you and build you up you can do anything.”

* Adel Mozip contributed to this story