Dr. Dib Saab, the treasurer of the Dearborn Academy, used to think charter schools are about money. But after 22 years of experience at Detroit Public Schools, he says that’s a “misconception”. Saab says the Dearborn Academy is not only accountable to the states, students and parents, but also towards the authorizers – in the Dearborn Academy’s case, that’s Central Michigan University.
Yemeni American News / Dearborn
“Like for example, Central Michigan University observes and checks every single progress report, money and everything,” he said. “And if the school didn’t achieve the minimum of a standard goal of the state, they show the weakness.”
Saab added that the reports details potential shortcomings and makes them clear, raising the standards of accountability.
He said if there are persistent problems in the school that does not improve in two or three years, the authorizers can withhold the authorization. The academy’s treasurer added
“We hire the audit company who’s doing the auditing every year and you know it cost us about $12,000 just to make sure we are on the right track with spending with everything,” Saab added. “I didn’t see any kind of business or open Charter School to make money, as like open grocery store. No. It’s not.”
Saab said fulfilling the school’s mission is a long-term process that could take years.
“What we do is monitoring and checking our mission if we are working on the right track of our mission, which is providing the best opportunity to our multicultural population,” he told the Yemeni American News.
Diverse student population
The school principal Afrin Alavi also stressed the importance of diversity at the Dearborn Academy, saying that the students who come from multi-ethnic backgrounds are what makes the school unique.
“The kids love you to death… they will never do anything to upset you,” Alavi said. “They will make sure that you’re not disappointed in them and when they make a choice that’s not the best choice, they’re pretty good at facing up to it and apologizing. I just need to give them a look and they know that they have done something wrong and we will forward.”
Alavi dismissed the notion that charter schools hire less qualified teachers, stressing that having a teaching certificate does not necessarily make a teacher automatically qualified.
“The qualified teacher might not have their teacher certificate – not to say that our teachers don’t – but they might not have their teaching certificate, and they’re super, super qualified to be in the classroom and working with kids,” she said.
Alavi said people who are skeptical about charter schools would bilingual visit the Dearborn Academy.
“I’m going to ask them to come in and spend the day with us,” she said. “We will change their mind very quickly. I have had professors that have come into the building and left here saying you’ve changed my mind about what charter schools are about.”
Melissa Lathrup, the Dearborn Academy’s curriculum coordinator, said she chose the school because of its diversity that celebrates all cultures. She echoed Alavi in praising the students.
“Our students population is very welcoming to celebrating and honoring different cultures. So that’s something that makes us a very unique charter school,” she said.
“So we are very close with our students and our families. We are a family here at TDA. We’re not just a staff or a school. We would like to see definitely more parent involvement that’s something that we wish would happen more, but we are very welcoming and want our parents involved on our students lives.”
Lathrup said she does not see a great difference between charter and public schools, as both sets of educational institutions works towards a common goal – teaching students.
“The one thing that we’re very grateful at this charter is that we have a lot of support. So we have a school psychologist. We have a social worker. We have a very deep ESL (English as a second language) program. So that’s something that we are very grateful for,” she said.
Lathrup added that charter and private should be on the “the same team”.
ESL teacher Tahani Alhaddi said she cherishes “the sense of family the focus on students and their improvement and progress” at the Dearborn Academy.
She said working with students who are not fluent in English strengthen the ties with their parents.
“We do build a really strong relationship with the families, and I think due to the fact that they do understand that their kids struggling in schools because of the language and they look at me as the venue or the one to-go-to to help them out,” she said. “We do construct a really good relationship.”
Alhaddi said the school caters to the needs of the students.
“I think we are more flexible when it comes to the curriculum itself and resources and, we do focus on students more,” she said.
“I do believe the location of the school – because it is on the borderline of Dearborn and Detroit and – it’s collecting students from all over which is I consider a plus and the mix is good. That diversity is good.”
Waseem Younis, the president of the American Institutional Management Services (AIMS), which manages the Dearborn Academy, also stressed focusing on what the students, saying that charter schools have “a little bit more autonomy”.
“We do things a little bit more different, so we can focus on things that we feel that our population would like to see and would like to be part of,” he said.
“For those that oppose charter schools, the only thing that I tell them is to walk into Charter Schools and see how they are being ran, and they’re not that much different than traditional schools. A lot of great things are happening.”
He added that The Dearborn Academy offers “choice” outside the geographical limitations of the public system.
“We don’t have boundaries on where you live,” Younis said. “There is equity and all, so that’s the biggest takeaway because a lot of times you know Dearborn Public Schools is such a great district,but if you live outside of their district lines you can’t attend.
“If you live in the south end of Dearborn, you can’t attend a school in west Dearborn that you think is better so that’s why sometimes there are some limitations with Traditional Public Schools.”
He emphasized, however, that all educators are in the profession together for the students.
“We’re all in this together to the point where we’re trying to educate our future, America’s future, so we’re trying to create global citizens where they can contribute to society.”
Younis said he was too old to attend the Dearborn Academy after his father founded it more than 20 years ago, but his three siblings did attend through Eighth Grade.
“The oldest she finished her master’s and is currently in law school. Then the next one, my younger sister, is going to med school, and my brother is finishing up his Bachelor’s and is considering to go to law school… my dad invested in the community, invested in the school and you know he believed so much in it that he sent his own kids there,” he said.
Luz Celina Herra, a parent with three children at the Dearborn Academy, praised the school’s inclusivity, saying that parents receive all communication from the school in Arabic, Spanish and English.
“I tried to find out different schools, but I saw it is a good school, and because it’s reliable, comfortable, and secure for my kids. This is what I’m looking for,” she said.