Andrews University ready to help Benton Harbor Schools

BENTON HARBOR — Rapidly improving standardized test scores at a school is difficult, but not impossible, according to Alayne Thorpe, dean of the College of Education and International Services at Andrews University in Berrien Springs.

“It depends on what issues the district is facing,” she said. “You have to have a good plan in place and the resources and trained teachers.”

She said Andrews University is prepared to help long-term substitute teachers at Benton Harbor Area Schools to receive the training they need to become accredited teachers. She said she’s been told that many of the long-term substitutes have bachelor’s degrees, just not in education.

In addition, she said her department can give emergency training to long-term subs.

Benton Harbor school officials have said that many students go through middle school and high school without ever having an accredited math teacher. In addition, about one-third of the teaching staff is long-term subs.

State officials released a proposal May 24 that would have temporarily closed the high school until the district’s $18.4 million debt was paid off and student performance on standardized tests in grades K-8 had improved. School board trustees rejected that plan on June 14. 

State officials and three school board trustees agreed to a tentative plan Wednesday that would keep the high school open. Details of the plan have not been made public. The entire school board is expected to discuss the tentative plan at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the high school.

Andrews University President Andrea Luxton released a statement June 21, saying the university “stands in solidarity with the students, parents and community of Benton Harbor Area Schools as they consider and define a way forward.”

“We also support our colleagues and neighbors in Benton Harbor in affirming that an effective school system is essential for a community and that, in particular, local high schools are at the center of the identity and upward mobility of many urban and rural towns across our country.” she wrote. “We believe that a system of effective local high schools is especially important in underserved communities that face multiple social and economic challenges. As a result, the closure of any institution that plays an important role in that community would have a devastating blow on the community’s psyche, with an impact that can reverberate generationally.”

Thorpe said it would be tragic if the high school is closed, with the students sent to eight neighboring high schools and a proposed new charter school.

“A few students might do well and succeed, but so many of them would be lost,” she said. “It could work, depending on the resources. Usually it’s something you only do as a last resort because so many students get lost in the shuffle.”

She said she’s seen schools closed in the Maryland area when she lived there, and it was devastating to the communities.

She said Andrews University officials are ready to help because Benton Harbor is their neighbor.

“This is our community. We feel this is our backyard. We’re a Christian school, and we firmly believe that every student is important,” she said. “No child, no student, no teenager should be tossed away.”

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege