In the Dales, Talking Taft

In the Dales, Talking Taft:  First Neighborhood Meeting Has Lots of Questions, Some Answers

(Janet Lawless, Nov. 17, 2012)

In a Ferndale  “Dales” neighborhood meeting Wednesday night organized by Melanie Piana, Ferndale city councilwoman, over 50 residents, including Digital Learning Center school staff,  the school’s police liaison, and Mayor Dave Coulter, attended to hear presentations from Renee Hurd, school improvement Coordinator, Gary Meier, Ferndale school district representative, and Police Chief Tim Collins about school program changes and safety at the high school.  Most importantly, residents gathered to voice their serious concerns about the safety and community ramifications of recent crimes occurring at the Digital Learning Center, formerly the Taft alternative school.

The meeting was held in the library of the Digital Learning Center (DLC). The “Dales” as it is locally called, includes Allen Street, Alberta, Meadowdale, Gardendale, Farmdale, and nearby streets. A more precise definition of the neighborhood was tabled as a definition that needs to be agreed upon.

Ms. Piana opened the meeting by framing objectives for the meeting, including gauging interest in a Dales neighborhood group, discussing changes at the Taft school, and addressing residents’ complaints.

Ms. Heard opened the presentation by promoting the new Digital Learning Center and the diversity of education offered by Ferndale Public Schools. Ferndale now offers Ferndale High School, the University High School, and  the Digital Learning Center, established to meet the needs of alternative students who have struggled with conventional high school. She emphasized that the Digital Learning Center (DLC) offers a student -centered education option which builds one-on-one relationships and develops viable transition plans for at-risk students to earn viable sustaining wages upon graduation.

She further explained that the school provides intense student coaching, allows students to work at their own pace, and gives them access to community supports needed to succeed with their education. Detroit, and the entire Midwest, has a high school graduation crisis.  Detroit currently has one of three lowest graduation rates among Midwestern cities.

The DLC serves students from throughout the Detroit area, drawing students from Madison Heights, Warren, Brownstown Township, Redford, Taylor, Southgate, Hamtramck and Ferndale.

Police Chief Tim Collins then discussed the crimes that have occurred at the Center within the last year and presented figures comparing crime rates in Ferndale as a whole, and crime rates in areas within 1500 feet of DLC and the other Ferndale high schools.  He first discussed a fight that occurred several weeks ago in which two young men fought, others jumped in, and a police officer was knocked to the ground.  Six people were arrested in that fight. Helicopters were called to the scene and circled the school area. A knife fight between two students occurred in the hallways of the school just this past week.

Last December, in a what he called a ’simple robbery” an individual approached and held up a fellow student, and shot the victim in the leg. Following this incident, a “community liaison“, a full-time police officer, was installed at the school, and increased patrols have been allocated to monitor the school at key times. Chief Collins stressed that the police’s goal, like the school officials, is to provide a safe environment for both students and the community associated with the DLC.

Presentations were punctuated with pointed questions from attendees, on topics such as increased car theft crimes, criminal background records and check of DLC students, student loitering, the actual number of Ferndale students that are served, and the actual benefit that the school offers the community.  One attendee pointed out that after the shooting and student fights, she had to contact school officials to have her young daughter’s bus stop moved from directly in front of the school, just a few yards from the site of the shooting.

The issue of whether or not the school should remain open was mentioned by the passionate group of residents, mostly perturbed by the “dog and pony show,” as one attendee called the meeting.

Presenters and school officials responded by trying to assuage questioners with reassurances that everyone’s goal is safety for all.  The officials said they welcome questions and calls from residents, and even asked for volunteers from those gathered.

Councilperson Piana wrapped up the evening by setting another date for further meetings, asking for assistance in organizing upcoming meetings, and acknowledging the concerns voiced during the evening. The next meeting will be held Dec. 5 at Taft/DLC at 6:30pm.

For more information on the Dales Neighborhood group, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheDalesNeighborhood.

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