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School partnership talks continue in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -

A second meeting was held Wednesday as the city of Benton Harbor tries to save its school district by forming a new partnership with the state.

“Under the right supervision, under the right coordination, we can be an amazing school just like any other school,” said Antquanetta Dawkins, a parent of a Benton Harbor Area Schools student.

Her son is in kindergarten at the International Academy at Hull – one of three struggling schools in the district at risk of being shut down.

Dawkins attended last week’s partnership meeting, and was back again Wednesday for round two.

“When we first started off, I was kind of skeptical,” she said. “But going through the data now in this meeting, and looking at everything that they have put in place, it is doable.”

What’s put in place, so far, is a draft of a potential partnership agreement with the state.

It would keep the schools open and under local control for at least 18 months.

“Our growth goal is 1.5 years growth,” said one of the presenters at Wednesday’s meeting, implying that the district’s new goal is to see students improve academically at a rate of 1.5 years in a regular school year (to catch up from where they’ve fallen behind to).

Nearly two dozen local and state organizations were represented at Wednesday’s meeting at Lake Michigan College – part of a call for alliances to be formed between the district and the community to help the students succeed.

“If we don’t come together and iron out our differences and come together, then we’ve failed this community,” said Mary Alice Adams, a Benton Harbor city commissioner who was at Wednesday’s meeting.

State superintendent Brian Whiston was again on hand.

The partnership would include some state oversight, but would ultimately leave the district and city in charge of improving the suffering schools.

“These are our children,” said Dawkins. “These are our babies. And we failed them and now we have to take back what belongs to us.”

The agreement has to be submitted to the governor by the end of April.

Because a lot of it still needs to be worked out, the district said more meetings like Wednesday’s will be held in the coming weeks.

Dawkins said as many parents as possible should go to the future board meetings to get involved.

She said if you can’t attend, you can reach out to her on Facebook to learn what you missed.  

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