Detroit’s majestic Central High School is Michigan’s oldest. Just 100 yards away stands the stately 90-year-old stone-and-brick Durfee Elementary Middle School, also one of the state’s oldest. This fall, Durfee’s 600 students will consolidate into a K12 campus within Central High.
Longtime educator, former journalist and family ice cream business scooper Ricardo Martin is Durfee’s high-energy principal and on-the-ground point person for the two-year transformation of Durfee into a Community Innovation Center by Life Remodeled, which is leasing the building for 20 years.
While resistance to change is common – and transitioning a large K12 campus certainly qualifies as change – Ricardo is equal parts pragmatist and optimist in acknowledging the challenges of staggered starting and dismissal times to keep kindergarteners and seniors apart and operating cafeterias on each of Central’s three floors.
As Durfee morphs into a small-business incubator and community-focused hub, Ricardo sees his role as helping ensure deep ties develop with the K12 campus. Done well, those connections could put a new face on career day, where adults typically visit and talk about their professions. At Durfee, every day could be a career day.
“Our role as educators is changing,” Ricardo said. “We don’t just transfer knowledge any more – kids today have encyclopedic knowledge at their fingertips – literally. A few clicks and they can access knowledge that once filled libraries. This helps us in the classroom, but it also makes education more complicated. We’ll now have a great opportunity to extend learning beyond the textbooks.”
Students will experience what different careers look like, on-site and in real-time. This means a student can sit with a marketer, an engineer, or an accountant as they do their jobs.
“It’s not too often educators get to expose kids to real-world, practical experiences,” Ricardo said. “We teach theories and academics in our classrooms; but now they’ll get to see the real-world applications.”
Ricardo has poured himself into Durfee and its students for four years. He led an effort that resulted in a $150,000 grant to redo Durfee’s third-floor library, capturing resources for a school that has largely gone without during the Detroit Public Schools’ ongoing financial struggles. By contrast, Central High, received $30 million in renovations a decade ago.
In just a few months, the principal of the elementary-middle school within a school will make the short, yet in some ways very long, 100-yard walk to his new office in the Central building.
He couldn’t be more excited.
“This project is an injection of hope,” Ricardo told The Detroit News for a story last month. “It’s an opportunity to renew this community.”