BH High School gets a lifeline

Benton Harbor High School students gather in front of the high school in Benton Harbor on June 11, during an annual Peace Walk held at the end of the school year. On Wednesday, state officials and school board trustees reached a tentative agreement to keep the high school open. 

BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor High School is out of the intensive care unit and is expected to soon be on the road to recovery.

That’s what Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said after learning state officials and school board trustees had reached a tentative agreement Wednesday to keep the school open.

Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman from the governor’s office, said the high school will not close if school board trustees accept the terms of the plan, which were not released. Brown said the school board trustees need to approve the plan before it’s made public.

Board Secretary Patricia Rush, one of three trustees who traveled to Lansing to negotiate the plan, said she couldn’t disclose the plan’s details. However, Rush said trustees had a productive meeting with state officials.

Rush said school board trustees plan to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Benton Harbor High School to discuss the tentative plan.

President Stephen Mitchell and Vice President Joseph Taylor could not be reached for comment.

Muhammad, a 1993 graduate of Benton Harbor High School, said he’s been receiving calls and texts from officials throughout the state congratulating the city on the tentative agreement being made.

“It’s exciting, but at the same time, sobering,” he said. “(The high school) staying open is great. However, the work is in front of us. We don’t want it to just survive, but thrive.”

Public outcry against the closing of the school has been consistent since state officials released a proposal May 24 to temporarily close the high school and an alternative high school in 2020, due to the district’s $18.4 million of debt and poor student performance. State officials said the high school could be reopened after the debt was paid off and student achievement had risen in K-8 grades.

Muhammad lead a delegation to Lansing on July 11 to object to the closing of the high school. He said he spoke with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that day. 

“Her words mean more to me today than they did yesterday,” Muhammad said.

A statement released by the governor’s office stated they have “identified national experts who have experience turning around school districts that are struggling and we would like to engage in a day of learning alongside the board and community partners.”

Brown said details about the day of learning are forthcoming. 

“The governor, lieutenant governor, and treasurer have listened to Benton Harbor school board members, community leaders, students, and parents about their thoughts and ideas and hope to continue working with them to improve outcomes for students in the district,” the news release read.

The state’s main concern has been “developing a plan that puts students first and improves outcomes for kids in the Benton Harbor district.”

“Today, representatives from the governor’s office and the Department of Treasury had a productive meeting with Benton Harbor school board members regarding a tentative joint plan that requires the district to meet attainable benchmarks and goals to show improvement in academic outcomes among Benton Harbor area students while stabilizing the finances of the district,” it read.

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