Enter the cafeteria of the East English Village Preparatory Academy and you will see a banner hanging from the banister of a staircase, exclaiming in the school’s colors corn and blue: “Pride of the East Side”.
The slogan pays homage to the former Finney High School, which once stood on the same lot near Warren and Cadieux. Finney, which closed in 2012, used the same tagline.
That pride in the school’s history has not gone away, according to Lionel Johnson, a junior at East English Village.
But among current students and staff at the new East English Village building, there is not as much attachment to the old name, according to district surveys. So despite months of lobbying by Finney High alumni to change the school’s name to Finney, the Detroit school board is set to vote tonight on a district recommendation to keep the East English name.
The discussion is part of a larger effort by district officials and community members to revisit naming decisions that were made when the district was overseen by state-appointed emergency managers, sometimes without the community input. Last school year, at the request of alumni, the board approved a decision to restore the name to Northwestern High School, which had been renamed Detroit Collegiate Preparatory Academy at Northwestern in 2013 under an emergency manager.
This year, the district is recommending that the board approve renaming Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine to Crockett Midtown High School of Science and Medicine. The push to change the name came as its namesake – a renowned neurosurgeon – courted controversy during his tenure as housing secretary in the Trump administration. An overwhelming majority of students, alumni, staff, parents and the community were in favor of a name change.
In the case of East English Village Prep – which takes its name from the surrounding neighborhood – the recommendation to keep the name followed weeks of surveys and community meetings to get feedback from students, staff, parents, alumni and the community. There was a clear division. While 95% of alumni and 85% of community members who responded to the survey were in favor of a name change, 59% of students, 67% of staff and 63% of parents opposed it. according to a report that accompanies the agenda for tonight’s meeting. .
“Sentiment among current students was clear at community meetings and through survey results,” the report said. “Current students are passionately against the name change. This seems at odds with our “students first” commitment to changing the name of the school when the students currently there object to the name change.
Students who spoke to Chalkbeat said they were also passionate about the school itself. They said they were trying to build their own culture and history.
“The school name fits better than the last name,” Lionel said. “It reflects the community we find ourselves in and speaks to the legacy the ‘City has built.”
“The name of the school is linked to the identity of its inhabitants and its students,” said Charles Nelson, a student at East English Village. “By changing the name, we are referring to our previous, prehistoric and obsolete identity and everything that goes with it.”
To appease Finney graduates, the district said, “We can still affirm the voice of Finney alumni by dedicating a hallway or identified future location at the school to Finney’s legacy through a historic walkway celebrating the Finney’s history and alumni.
Finney High School opened in 1928 and is named after Detroiter Jared Warner Finney, an American lawyer and the son of Seymour Finney, one of Detroit’s prominent Underground Railroad bandleaders. In the 1960s, the school became one of the first fully integrated public schools in Detroit. It is this story that prompts former students to restore the Finney name.
In 2012, then-emergency manager Roy Roberts announced a series of closures and consolidations, closing about 32 schools across the city. The district lost more than 15,000 students that year, sending its enrollment below 50,000 for the first time.
Finney and the old Crockett High School, another underperforming school on the east side, were among the schools that closed.
Janie Hubbard, a long-time East English Village volunteer and former parent leader at Crockett High School, remembers how the school’s new name emerged.
On the eve of Crockett’s closing, Hubbard said, Finney’s and Crockett’s parents were selected to serve on a panel to determine the name of a merged school that would serve students on the east side.
Amid heated debate, the district and panel chose the name East English Village Preparatory Academy as a compromise.
The change “left a bad taste in our mouths, and a lot of alumni didn’t want anything to do with the school,” said Keenann Knox, senior pastor of Impact Church of Detroit and Finney’s 1989 alumnus. at a school board meeting last month. .
“It was very political for the emergency manager – who was not voted on but appointed – to disappoint us and steal our legacy and our name and erase it,” Knox said.
But Hubbard said the name change was a way to treat Crockett’s and Finney’s legacy fairly.
“We decided…we were just going to strip everybody’s identity,” Hubbard said. “Everyone was losing, but we wanted to give these kids a fresh start – a new everything – to make them happy.”
Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at [email protected].