Hamtramck Public Schools has nearly 3,500 students of diverse backgrounds and has a high school, a middle school, and three elementary schools. The Yemeni American News interviewed Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Mr. Thomas Niczay nearly two years ago and recently sat down with him to check in.
By: Rasheed Alnozili & Stephen Coats The Yemeni American News
Hamtramck Public Schools
On the progress since the last interview, Superintendent Niczay said “We continue to thrive financially, we have contracts in place with our teachers, we have contracts in place with our administrators and our support staff. Our enrollment is going up, we are now at 3,280 students (up from 3,228 two years ago). We have no schools on the priority list for having concerns with academics or early warning signals. We have a lot that we’ve accomplished.”
Superintendent Niczay touted the district for continues growth; especially after purchasing a former charter school, school, Academy of International Studies on Hanley Street.
He tells the Yemeni American News “we [the district] have purchased the former charter. We chose a name for it, Tau Beta. Tau Beta is an organization that goes all the way back to 1916, a group of well-to-do ladies from Grosse Point came to Hamtramck and established a community center for the immigrants to come here and learn English to learn medical skills, cooking, sewing, everything that you can imagine that would help the newly arriving immigrants. The whole point of choosing this name is that it’s a welcoming place for immigrants and new arrivals, to show respect to the community and to the immigrants and have a welcoming place for them to come, to serve them.”
Asked on why it wasn’t open in the fall, he said “We could not open in September simply because there were some environmental concerns. The testing wasn’t completed and we wanted to make sure that was addressed before we moved in. The standards have changed and the testing that came back was incomplete. That was taken care of before we put people in that building, kids, and staff. We wanted to make sure it is safe and it is 100% safe now! We had 150 students that were at the Academy of International Studies that are now in Hamtramck Public Schools.”
This might mean that Hamtramck Public Schools had lost an opportunity to gain about 250 students. However, Superintendent Niczay says “We are missing about 100. Those students felt very strongly that that was their school. It was taken away from them and it belongs to the neighborhood and they get the first choice to come back there. I think some want to come back and some that are now used to the new school that they’re at now, the teacher they have and they decide to stay and that’s okay. But I’m very excited to go to the families that were there last school year and say, ‘come on back the school’s open for business for your child’.”
Many districts in the State have an issue of decreasing enrollment but Hamtramck is one of the few districts with increased enrollment.
The superintendent said one of the reasons the district purchased the school on Hanley Street is to give them in a little bit of space for overcrowdedness. At the high school, he says, they have a little bit of room. He told us that he would like to look at building a new school somewhere in the city of Hamtramck.
Drugs usage by teenagers has been a national epidemic and when asked about the issue and its presence in Hamtramck schools, Superintendent Niczay said “There might be, drugs are everywhere, I’m sure there are drugs in Hamtramck, there are drugs throughout the nation. Hamtramck is a drug-free coalition, which I am a member of. We want to help students, families or anyone who has some sort of problem with drugs but to think that Hamtramck is an island that does not have drug issues or students that are fighting that evil, that would be naive to think that’s the case.”
Asked specifically if there reports of drugs presence, he said “We don’t see any gangs and they’re not selling drugs. No, absolutely not! It’s a safe place and there are no drug wars. We had an issue several years back of students smoking cigarettes in the bathroom, we have stopped that, we have eliminated that.”
Superintendent Niczay was asked about the school’s reputation, and he said “It’s ongoing improvement, we want to earn the respect of the community, the parents and that goes with quality teaching, quality administrators, and good test scores. We did very well on the SAT last year, the scores surpassed many of the surrounding high schools which send a message. The bottom line is student achievement. If students are performing, achieving, and able to go on to a college or a trade school that’s successful and that’s parents want.”
The Yemeni American News asked the question “Recently, you went forward and stopped the soccer and football teams from playing, can you explain what exactly happened?”
In his own words, Superintendent Niczay said “it’s a very sad situation for the students, none of the students did anything wrong, I feel absolutely horrible for the varsity soccer team and also for the football team. The football team, after they had clinched the playoffs there was an email that was sent to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) saying that we had some ineligible students on it. We verified that in fact, it was true, the athletic director resigned immediately. Then the soccer team moved on. They were about to play a game at Farmington High School, a playoff game, and the coach brought in a roster to make sure that the names were spelled correctly. It went to the Assistant Principal, the Assistant Principal took the list and based on what happened with the football team sent it down to the counseling office to make sure there were not any ineligible players on that list and sadly there was one player that was academically ineligible. He didn’t play very much, he only played about 10 minutes but nevertheless, we broke the rule so we self-reported ourselves to the MHSAA. With the football team, there was something regarding a transfer student that came from another district whether he was able to come directly or not. There might have been another student, we are still not sure. Academics, honesty, integrity and trust, we need to be able to make sure that the adults in charge have the best intentions for the students to be successful academically. I love sports, I’m a sports guy but sports come second, academics come first, honesty and hard academic achievement are what schools are all about. If we can win a soccer championship, basketball championship, so much the better. But if we can have high SAT scores then we are doing something, then we are providing these young people with an opportunity to be successful in life.”
With regards on how the district deals with ESL parents, Superintendent Niczay said “We have a very good ELL (English Language Learning) director that we hired two years ago, we have principal focus meetings where the parents are brought in once a month with interpreters provided for us to meet with them and discuss what’s going on in that particular school.”
The team of the Yemeni American News noticed a check on the wall when it walked into the superintendent office from a Jewish organization. The team asked Superintendent Niczay and he happily explained “17 years ago with the help of Children’s Hospital we opened up a health center at Hamtramck High School. We used district money to do it in cooperation to provide immunization and health care for all Hamtramck students. As time went on and the money was not the same we were not able to use some of the funds we were using for that so we went to Children’s Hospital and they took it from there. They got their foundation involved and other groups involved and one of them was the Jewish fund and they’ve been contributing money to help run the clinic paying about 90% of the costs and on November 14th the Hamtramck Health Center and the foundation of the Children’s Hospital recognized us for having an outstanding program and was given an award of $25,000 in recognition of what they see we are doing for the youth of Hamtramck.”
In the end of the interview, we asked Superintendent on his future goals for the district, he responded “the goal for the future is to have all of our buildings modernized to make sure they are clean, safe, fully repaired and for academic success for our students. I still come back to the bottom line, student achievement. If student achievement is high, we are a successful organization and we will be successful and we are now. Our best ambassadors are our students going out and conquering the world of work, conquering college, conquering trade school, coming back and saying, ‘I got my education, my background came from Hamtramck Public Schools.”