More than 50 residents of the Dales neighborhood, along with city and school officials, packed the media library at the Digital Learning Center Thursday evening for a meeting about the school.
The public forum was initiated by neighbors who have had concerns over recent criminal activity that happened outside of the school on Allen Street, formerly known as the Taft Education Center.
Last December, a student was shot in the leg outside the school in what police called a "robbery gone bad." This past October, several students were arrested after a fight outside the school. A gang-related fight was reported the following week.
The Digital Learning Center is an alternative high school that took over the building at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. This electronic approach to learning is what Ferndale Public Schools Superintendent Gary Meier calls "an evolution of adult and alternative education programming.”
Though 800 students attend the DLC, no more than 250 are present at the school at any given time, school officials explained.
The students are sorted by groups - the ‘A’ group attends class all day Monday and Tuesday, and in the mornings only on Wednesday. The ‘B’ group attends class Wednesday afternoon and all day on Thursday and Friday. The ‘C’ group, made up of about 200 students, is online only.
Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins said 33 staff members and a resource police officer are employed at the DLC, compared with 50 staff members and one police officer to watch over 1,200 students at the Ferndale High School and Middle School building on Pinecrest.
The students at the DLC live in multiple cities other than Ferndale including Berkley, Detroit, Macomb, Romulus, Oak Park and Madison Heights, said
DLC director Renee Heard.
Crime statistics presented
Chief Collins showed statistical charts to those present at Thursday night's meeting. With a map displaying the area within 1,500 feet of the school, he compared data from 2011 and 2012. Last year from Aug. 22 through Nov, 8, six assaults happened within that area; two of those were associated with Taft.
Since the beginning of this school year, three robberies happened within the map; two were associated with the DLC.
After seeing the data displayed by Collins, many of the residents expressed concern that the police department was not taking into account incidents that happened after-hours and during the night, as well as by students' friends who do not attend the school.
One resident said, "The Dales were a sleepy, little neighborhood until the school came here."
Others were concerned as to how the DLC is working with its students to address the issues that have been happening there.
"We're working for the good of the students who attend school here as well as the good of the neighborhood," said Superintendent Meier.
Second meeting scheduled
There will be another public forum held on Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. Those with questions or who are interested in learning more about the DLC can call the main office at (248) 586-8910.
DLC director Renee Heard said school officials would like to hold regular monthly meetings in the future. She also expressed desire to form a School Improvement Committee, inviting residents to come and represent the community.
Ferndale City Council member Melanie Piana, who is also a resident of the Dales and helped organize the meeting, suggested that certain steps need to be taken in forming a neighborhood group. These steps include figuring out the boundaries of the neighborhood, identifying the challenges present and creating a plan, as well as establishing a committee.
Residents expressed that at the Dec. 5 meeting, they would like more information on the graduation rates in the past of Taft students, the percent of those attending the DLC that are Ferndale residents, the resources being used to address the crime issue and exactly how the school benefits Ferndale directly.
Piana said at the end of the meeting that tonight was not about “finding solutions but figuring out” the steps to head in the right direction.
Anyone who notices any suspicious activity in their neighborhood is asked to call 911 if it is an emergency or the non-emergency line of the Ferndale Police Dept. at (248) 541-3650.
You can also find out more information by visiting the Dales Facebook page.