Source: Sherman Publications

Ready to serve:
Deerfield Academy board sworn-in, new school expected to have 200 students on two campuses

by CJ Carnacchio

March 13, 2013

It’s official.

Oxford now has two school boards – one for the traditional public school district and one for the new charter public school at Crossroads for Youth (930 E. Drahner Rd.).

Last week, Adrienne Cottingham, Rev. Joyce Matthews, Mary Sutton, Amy Moore and Stephen (Mickey) Hiatt were sworn in by Oakland County Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien as the Deerfield Academy School Board.

“It’s been about a 15-year process (involving) our thinking about and dreaming of having some kind of an educational program that would really meet the unique needs of the population that we serve here at Crossroads for Youth,” said Dr. Janet McPeek, president of the nonprofit agency that helps troubled and at-risk children and teenagers.

When Deerfield Academy opens in September, “it will not compete with Oxford or any other public school system,” she noted.

“It is a school that is designed to serve the kids who are (placed here by the court),” McPeek explained. “It’s designed to serve those young people who are on long-term suspensions or expulsions from regular public schools.”

She added the new charter school will also enroll special education students that, “forwhatever reason,” it’s been determined “they would be best served at Deerfield Academy.”

“What we anticipate is that a year from now, we’ll have 100 kids on this campus (in Oxford) and 100 kids on another campus (in southern Oakland County), who will be able to tell us all about the educational successes they’re having,” McPeek said. “It is our very firm belief that if you give kids that chance, they take advantage of it and they learn.”

The Deerfield Academy School Board is certainly diverse in terms of the individual members’ background, experience, skills and education.

Moore, who’s lived in Oxford for 20 years, is a part-time counselor for Lapeer County Community Mental Health. She’s also a licensed school counselor who previously spent two years working for Chatfield School, a charter school in Lapeer County.

Her father-in-law’s father was Oakland County Judge Arthur Moore, one of the original founders of Crossroads for Youth in 1951. Back then, it was called Camp Oakland.

“I’ve been involved with Crossroads for a long time,” said Moore, who graduated from Lapeer West High School in 1987. “When I went into counseling, I did an internship here 20 or so years ago.”

Moore is very excited to be in on the ground floor of Deerfield Academy.

“It’s part of my community,” she said. “Living in Oxford, these kids really matter to me. I’ve always had an interest in at-risk youth. It’s just always been a passion of mine.”

Moore believes the school and its students will be able to secure more resources from the state as an independent entity versus being part of a larger, traditional school district.

“I think they’re going to have more benefits, more support, more funding,” she said.

Moore also believes the students will benefit more from a “therapeutic perspective.”

“Being at-risk, these kids are dealing with a lot of other social issues, so it’s very difficult for them to focus on academics,” she said. “This provides an environment where they’re safe, their needs are being met and they can focus on school.

“Then hopefully, they can find something they like to do or they’re good at, so they can gain confidence and feel better about themselves. It’s empowering, I think, for kids to believe they can do something.”

Moore envisions Deerfield Academy as a place where students will get “personalized care and individualized attention based on what their needs are.”

“I just don’t think they would get that in a larger school,” she said. “It’s designed for those at-risk kids that have those additional needs.”

For the last seven years, Matthews, a resident of Farmington Hills, has served as the associate director at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills.

She’s already quite familiar with Crossroads for Youth because she’s served as an advisor to the agency’s board of directors for four years.

“This is a good cause,” Matthews said.

She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, plus 10 years experience overseeing and teaching the respiratory therapy program at Highland Park Community College. She also did some substitute teaching in Walled Lake and Detroit.

Given her background, serving on the Deerfield Academy board seemed like a natural fit. “Anything to improve the kids’ education is a great idea,” she said. “Not that Oxford Schools is not a good program, but this (charter school) can be designed for them, so I think it would have more benefits.”

“Education is your ticket to the future,” Matthews added. “You can’t make enough money to survive without an education.”

Cottingham, of Bruce Township, is a stay-at-home mother who has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Oakland University and is currently pursuing a degree in ministering from Rochester College. She’s volunteered at Crossroads for Youth for a couple years by “helping out wherever they need” her and showing the kids that other people care about them, not just the agency’s employees.

“I love to serve and God pushes me towards serving,” she said. “Children are important to me and education is very important to me.”

Cottingham believes she can help market Deerfield Academy and all the opportunities that will be available there.

“We want to reach out,” she said. “Reaching out with a Christian hand and an educational hand to help people in the community is a primary goal for me.”

A key point to marketing Deerfield Academy will be the individualized and independent educational experience students will receive.

“It’s not going to be like most public schools where the education curriculum is for everybody in that grade,” she said. “Here, the teachers and the staff will encourage the students to find out how to get more knowledge on their own, so they will be responsible for their learning. They’re going to be responsible for their own success.”

Sutton, who lives in Huntington Woods, is a part-time private practice psychotherapist. She retired from the Royal Oak school system after spending 18 years as a social worker for the high school and alternative high school.

“I started my social work career as a juvenile court probation officer in Wayne County and have always worked with teens,” she said. “I’ve always been very interested in (the Crossroads for Youth) program and I’ve referred students out here. I’ve always been very pleased with the results.”

Serving on the Deerfield Academy board is a natural extension of her work and her passion for helping troubled kids.

“I’ve long had an interest in alternative education programs,” Sutton said. “Having worked so long with youth that were in alternative education, I’ve had a chance to see the wonderful results.”

Sutton believes Deerfield Academy will give these students the positive reinforcement they need to change their lives.

“I think a lot of these students don’t have any positive feeling about what they can achieve or accomplish,” she said. “In alternative education programs, a lot of the learning is really geared towards success.”

In Sutton’s view, having “a group or classroom with 25 or 35 students” is automatically setting some kids up for failure.

In contrast, she said, “A small, personal program with lots of alternative ways of learning is really geared for a student to succeed.”

“Success doesn’t start in your head, it starts with your actions,” Sutton said.

Working in the public school system, Sutton was involved in the process whereby students were suspended for long periods of time. “For the safety of the school, that was understandable,” she said.

But those suspensions can lead to other problems. “These students are just left in the community,” Sutton said. “What are these kids going to do when they can’t be in school? Chances are they’re going to get in more trouble.”

Sutton sees Deerfield Academy as a way to help these students who otherwise, have no place to go.

“There has not been a program (to deal with) this, so (Deerfield Academy) is filling a real need,” she said. “Several years ago, Oakland County courts tried to get something set up, but it just never worked out.”

Hiatt, who’s been an Oxford resident since 1977, is the founder, owner and president of Quality Fastener and Supply, a 25-year-old local business located at 3100 Adventure Lane. The 1963 graduate of Lake Orion High School was profiled in last week’s Leader.

All of the board members agreed it’s important to give the types of students Deerfield Academy will serve a second chance to receive an education and make something of themselves.

“Everybody deserves a chance,” Matthews said. “Everybody deserves opportunities. I think everybody can succeed with more individualized learning.”

“I believe we all get second chances,” Cottingham said. “I think God gives us many chances, so we need to give other people chances, too. Just because you fail the first time, doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. The try-try-again attitude is what we all need to have in any endeavor we embark on.”

“Education can set that seed of hope for anybody,” Moore said. “I think every child deserves an education or an opportunity (to get one).”

Sutton said if these kids aren’t given a second chance, “we’ll be housing them in the prison system for years and years as adults.”

“These kids definitely can do turnarounds,” she said. “I have seen it time after time after time. This is the age to catch them.”

To Sutton, it’s not just a second chance, it’s often a last chance, “especially for the older ones.”

“This is like a final cushion they can fall (back) on before the bottom falls out for them,” she said.