Skip to content

Marygrove partners celebrate opening of elementary school, elevate model for educational and neighborhood renewal


Today, representatives from the Marygrove Conservancy and its partners celebrated the opening of The School at Marygrove Elementary with a panel discussion around the next steps in building a cradle-to-career educational continuum on the campus of the former Marygrove College. This latest milestone for the P-20 Partnership was a moment for partners and community members to also look ahead to the campus transformation and neighborhood renewal.

Community partners celebrated The School at Marygrove Elementary grand opening with a panel discussion featuring Wendy Lewis Jackson, Managing Director, Detroit Program, The Kresge Foundation; Ann Kalass, CEO, Starfish Family Services; Dr. Elizabeth Moje, Dean, U-M School of Education; Tom Lewand, CEO, Marygrove Conservancy; and Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The P-20 Partnership is comprised of the Marygrove Conservancy, Detroit Public Schools Community District, Starfish Family Services, the University of Michigan School of Education, and The Kresge Foundation.

The School at Marygrove Elementary officially opened on August 29, welcoming Kindergarten, first, and second grade students on campus.(See the progress of the P-20 Partnership from 2018 to now here and see students arriving for their first day here.)

The elementary school’s building underwent a $27.7 million renovation and now represents leading national practices in student and family-centered building design while still honoring the historic legacy of the 1940s building that formerly housed Immaculata High School and the Bates Academy. It had been vacant for more than a decade before its renovation.

The School at Marygrove Elementary uplifts natural light, creates project- and place- based learning spaces to support the focus on design thinking for social justice, and spaces for staff collaboration. Metro Detroit-based Barton Malow led these renovations and also served as construction manager for the Marygrove Early Education Center.

Teacger with yard-long pointer looks attentively to a lesson on a large computer monitor with a classroom of 10 or so young students (perhaps second graders) seated on a rug looking on.
A School at Marygrove Elementary classroom last week. (Photo by W. Kim Heron for The Kresge Foundation)

The renovation of the Liberal Arts and Immaculata buildings on the Marygrove campus into high school and elementary school facilities, respectively, for The School at Marygrove also provides a model for revitalizing historic educational buildings. They were funded through Historic Tax Credits, New Markets Tax Credits, and unique philanthropic guarantees that provide significant subsidy and patient capital.

“The momentum of progress on the Marygrove campus is a testament to what we can achieve when organizations and community come together around a common vision to address common challenges,” said Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of The Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program. “The opening of The School at Marygrove Elementary is a milestone in the creation of a cradle-to-career educational continuum that is also a new anchor for the revitalization of community. And in that, it offers important lessons for Detroit and the nation.”

Continuing campus momentum with transformative educational experiences

The opening of The School at Marygrove Elementary represents another milestone in the development of the full cradle-to-career campus, which was first announced in September 2018. Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and the University of Michigan School of Education opened the first component in August 2019 with the inaugural ninth grade class of The School at Marygrove. A new grade has been added every year, and all high school grades, 9-12, are now in session. In June 2023, The School at Marygrove will celebrate its first graduating class.

The Marygrove Early Education Center, led by Starfish Family Services, opened in September 2021 and now serves nearly 150 children and their families. The Marygrove Early Education Center builds an intentional bridge from a child’s earliest years to success in K-12 and beyond. An integrated service model offers a trusted and accessible space where education, wellness, and holistic family supports thrive under one roof. Starfish also collaborates with the University of Michigan School of Education to develop, adapt, and enact culturally responsive curricula for the Marygrove Early Education Center, focused on literacy, STEM, and social studies.

“Triumphantly walking our graduates from the Marygrove Early Education Center to the new building to begin Kindergarten and the next chapter in their journey to joy, health, and success was a dream come true. Each scholar arriving full of potential, intelligence, and curiosity,” said Celina Byrd, principal of the Marygrove Early Education Center. “Centered in social justice and the core belief that every child deserves a great start in school, wellness, and life – no matter their zip code or identity – the cradle-to-career model at Marygrove is transformative for the individual as well as the family and community. As we welcome the opening of The School at Marygrove Elementary, Starfish remains humbled to collaborate and incredibly hopeful about the future.”

The Marygrove Conservancy and its partners have made steady progress to bring to life the P-20 educational continuum — denoting pre-natal services through post-high school offerings. One goal is to demonstrate how leading practices in program design and partnership can provide transformative learning opportunities.

At the start of the 2022-23 school year, students graduated from the Marygrove Early Education Center to The School at Marygrove Elementary, marking the first major transition between programs that defines the cradle-to-career model. This core commitment of the Marygrove campus ensures a streamlined transition process that includes holistic support services, aligned P-20 curriculum, joint professional development, and data sharing so students are set up with a strong foundation for success and families feel continuously supported.

Building on Kindergarten and Grades 1-2 now in operation, the elementary school will add a grade a year to become a full K-5 institution. After that, a middle school will begin with Grade 6 in a space in the Liberal Arts Building. The School at Marygrove eventually will be a full K-12 institution serving approximately 1,000 students.

“It has been exciting to see our initial vision for this generational educational and community changing initiative come together. This year we will see our first graduating class while we welcome our little ones on campus,” said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District. “Our work is inspiring a new model of multiple agency and educational partnership and transform that is scalable and sustainable that will positively impact the neighborhood, student achievement, teacher development, and life outcomes.”

In addition to collaborating on curricular offerings with DPSCD and Starfish Family Services, the University of Michigan School of Education leads the preparation and support of novice teachers on the Marygrove campus through the Teaching School.

Newly certified teachers, called teaching residents, are employed by DPSCD to teach for the first three years of their careers. Through the Teaching School, U-M faculty members and staff, veteran colleagues and other education experts provide ongoing development and support in new teachers’ initial years in the classroom. This model creates a professional environment to support teachers and extend their training while building Detroit’s next generation of educators.

“With the opening of the elementary school, we will expand the Michigan Education Teaching School to support elementary teachers with the same model we have implemented with great success at the high school,” said Dr. Elizabeth Moje, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. “Equally exciting is the fact that, from a curricular standpoint, we are able to connect the dots from early childhood to college, which has been the vision for this campus since the first days of the partnership.”

In conjunction with today’s event, a case study of the P-20 Partnership by strategic consultants U3 Advisors was released. The case study includes suggestions for others around the country pursuing place-based education efforts. It can be downloaded here.

A full spectrum of educational and economic opportunities in a Detroit neighborhood

The mission of the Marygrove Conservancy is to preserve the legacy of Marygrove College through stewardship of a campus designed to be an educational, economic, and civic anchor in the Livernois-McNichols neighborhood. In addition to managing operations and stewarding the 53-acre campus, the Marygrove Conservancy continues to oversee construction and renovation projects, develop campus wide operational infrastructure, build relationships with community stakeholders and residents, and expand into a hub for arts and culture.

The Marygrove Conservancy and the P-20 partners are also creating an ecosystem for career pathway opportunities for The School at Marygrove students. Through the PowerHouse, a supported collective of local entrepreneurs and cultural organizations, part of the campus will be a platform for “Grades 13-20” of the P-20 model. It will provide live-work spaces for postsecondary programs and entrepreneurship incubation to support neighborhood small businesses and provide apprenticeship opportunities for students.

“We are excited to celebrate the opening of The School at Marygrove Elementary, the latest milestone in Marygrove’s transformation, and continue to invest in the educational journey of our young campus stakeholders,” said Tom Lewand, CEO of the Marygrove Conservancy. “The Conservancy remains committed to building on the legacy of Marygrove College to provide access to high-quality education and working alongside our partners on campus and in the community to build a supportive ecosystem in our surrounding Livernois-McNichols neighborhood.”