ust over five years ago, Detroit Enterprise Academy was ranked one of the bottom eight in Detroit. Chanavia Patterson came aboard as principal in 2013 in hopes of changing the K-8 school’s trajectory.
“Detroit Enterprise had been in the newspaper for basically being a poor performing school academically, and there were a lot of concerns with culture,” Patterson says. “Academically the school was struggling. There was a lack of structure, a lack of culture, a lack of community involvement – just a not very great place for students to learn.”
Patterson’s first task in her position was to assess culture issues among staff and among parents. She put new policies and procedures in place to ensure attendance was a priority for both students and staff.
“There was a large amount of turnover that first year from staff. We had parents who pulled their kids out because they didn’t want to adjust to what the expectations were,” Patterson says.
The beginning of the school’s transition wasn’t easy. Attendance dropped to under 300 students, academics hadn’t improved and the school environment still wasn’t where she had hoped. However, after bringing on more staff during her second year, Patterson began to see the change she had been working toward. Struggling classrooms were assigned two teachers to increase the exposure students needed to catch up to their grade level.
And others are noticing, too. That includes Excellent Schools Detroit, which has dubbed Detroit Enterprise a “Recommended School,” and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which just named Patterson its administrator of the year – the first Detroit winner since 2010.
To Patterson, seeing her students flourish and excited about learning is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.
“Having students come to me and ask me to order books that they want to read, that brings me to tears every time it happens,” Patterson says “They come to my office door and say, ‘Hey, I want to read this book. Can you order it?’ And you know that I’m getting right on Amazon to order it for our kids to have it. My job is to ensure that love of reading continues and stays with them.”
Patterson says her mission is for every student to leave Detroit Enterprise proficient and performing at grade level.
“Our goal was to tell parents that ‘If you kept your kids here for three years with us, they will be at grade level if they had been below grade level.’ Then we had some students that came in above grade level, so my goal for them is to help them extend their academics so they could continue to be ready to go to that next grade level and their college prep.”
Her recent recognition as one of the highest-performing charter-school principals in the state is a strong testament to that.
“I will definitely say our kids have a lot more confidence in where they go to school, our parents have a lot more confidence in where they send their children to school,” Patterson says. “Our teachers are proud to say they work at Detroit Enterprise, and the community feels good about where they live.”
Detroit Enterprise Academy is a free public charter school for K-8 students managed by Grand Rapids-based National Heritage Academies, which runs 48 academies in Michigan. Learn more at detroitenterprise.org or 313-823-5799.