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Benton Harbor partnership agreement makes progress, adds schools

Benton Harbor Area Schools


After nine months of a partnership agreement between the State of Michigan and Benton Harbor Area Schools, the results are largely positive. Academic scores are mostly up, but some benchmarks are still falling short.


Three Benton Harbor Schools; the International Academy at Hull, Dream Academy, and STEAM Academy at MLK, are under a partnership agreement program with the state. That program took those three low performing schools, and 35 others across the state and created unique goal-oriented documents meant to make the schools better.

The partnership agreements are a new way for low performing schools to get state and federal assistance to improve without having to close schools or go under the purview of an appointed CEO.

At a quarterly work session Monday night school administrators, community partners and representatives from the state discussed the progression towards the schools’ goals and agreed on new goals as Benton Harbor High School and the Arts and Communications Academy are added to the agreement.

Benton Harbor Superintendent Shelly Walker says they’re encouraged by the early data, but realize it’s just the beginning.

“The data is saying that if we continue this path the change will get at what we’re after, which is improvement for kids. But it is a process and it takes time.”

One benchmark up across the board is attendance. Goals for 18-months were set at 87 percent, all three schools were better than 90 percent last quarter.


Academic test scores in math and reading are up across the schools as well. Negatives come from higher numbers of short-term suspensions and referrals.


Michigan Assistant Deputy Superintendent Vanessa Keesler said Benton Harbor’s data is encouraging for the partnership agreements across the state.

“Benton Harbor was the first to kind of show data and again, it’s early data but it’s moving in the direction it needs to, so that’s a very positive sign.”

Walker said their biggest challenges moving forward are retaining buy-in for the plan, and communicating with teachers and parents the resources that are available through the partnership. The agreements run through the 2019-2020 school year.