No one talked about — unless asked, and then only in hushed tones so the 238 children who attend school there couldn’t hear — the Detroit school board’s recent vote to close the building at the end of this academic year and to relocate students and staff.
“It’s always in the back of our minds that this school is going to be closed,” says secondgrade teacher Thomas DiLuigi, a 28-year veteran of the east side school. “But if we were to dwell on that, the children would be affected and they’re our main priority.”
As one of the 34 recently announced Detroit public schools to be closed during the next two academic years — to cut operating costs and help close a multimillion-dollar hole in the district’s roughly $1.2 billion budget — Berry’s history as a place of learning is about to grudgingly end. Those schools will be joining the 25 other vacant schools owned by the district that are waiting to be rented or sitting, sometimes decaying, in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Watching enrollment fall from 175,168 students in 1997 to 115,047 this year, district officials had to come up with criteria to use to determine which schools would be shuttered, says Darrell Rodgers, the district’s chief of facilities maintenance and auxiliary services and chair of the facilities realignment committee. They settled on enrollment trends, student capacity in each building, how each school was progressing academically and the condition of the buildings. About 40 of the district’s 232 schools are operating at less than half of their student capacity.