Michigan charter school success based on concept of family

Burton Glen Charter Academy has a board member by the name of Rev. Mary Covington, who everyone should get to know. 

Rev. Covington is a founding board member of the school, which she actually helped start in the basement of her church! After 17 years, she will be retiring from the board and moving to Georgia in August to live with her daughter.

She is truly a wonderful woman and it is easy to see why she has meant so much to the Burton Glen family. 

We recently spoke with Rev. Covington about her time at Burton Glen Charter Academy, below is that conversation:

Mary Covington_quoteMCCSA: When did you get involved with the charter school movement?

COVINGTON: I began in the charter school movement in 1999.

MCCSA: How do you feel the school and charter movement has changed or evolved since inception?

COVINGTON: The thing that absolutely amazes me are the resources that we are now able to give the children. When we started we didn’t have that many. Now we have social workers on staff. Kinda an outreach attitude where they reach out to the families in case of distress and the community cooperates with us in so many ways. For instance, during the Flint Water Crisis so much water was donated to the school that they had to take over one of the rooms where ordinarily the parents meet and the board meets and just stock water. Then they had to go buy a dolly so they could move the water to the parents cars.

We’ve had good cooperation with the credit union in the area because we are teaching our kids how to use money. Many, many little things that are just wonderful about our school.

MCCSA: School culture is critically important to a school’s success. What is the culture like at Burton Glen Charter Academy?

COVINGTON: We’ve been building this idea that we are a family. A little more than a year ago, a student of ours was killed and we pitched in and did the funeral so-to-speak. Donation to the family for a funeral spot. Burton Glen pitched in with food every day and visitation. We were at the funeral and didn’t forget about them afterwards.

One of the things that we started when I was president of the board for 8th grade graduation was that our graduates wear caps and gowns. Unfortunately, some of our students may not end up wearing a cap and gown in high school but at least they have this experience that can motivate them to wanting to graduate from high school. When they have their caps and gowns on they are so purdy!

But, as they walk across they introduce themselves and most times they tell you what they plan to be when they graduate from college and many times they even tell you what college they plan to attend. I think that is tremendous for an 8th grader. I’m not sure I knew that when I was in the 8th grade.

MCCSA: What do you feel were your three most important roles as a board member?

COVINGTON: Most important… I don’t know if there was a most important. First of all, coming from my background as an administrator in state government, my first thing was to watch the money. So before every meeting, I look at the agenda and I look at the budget and look to where the money went to. Now I’m not the treasurer, but it helps having all hands on deck so to speak.

The second thing is what our administrator needs in order to better serve our students.

And then of course when our board attorney comes, we listen to her about the legal ramifications regarding what is going on with charter schools or the State of Michigan’s new regulations. So it is a many faceted thing. It’s like putting an umbrella up. An umbrella has more than one rib to it. You need all of that for coverage.

MCCSA: Did you have much interaction with the school’s authorizer?

COVINGTON: We have had a very good relationship with Northern Michigan University, which is our chartering university. I love ‘em!

MCCSA: What role did they play in the success of the school?

COVINGTON: We’ve been able to start a visit Northern camp. We send our kids by bus to visit Northern Michigan University to experience college life. It’s usually during a break during the college calendar, but at least the kids get to visit the campus, meet some of the faculty, and begin to understand what going to college is about. And that they are being encouraged from that end, our chartering university.

And of course the trip up is beautiful.

MCCSA: What is your favorite memory from your time at Burton Glen?

COVINGTON: That would be hard to do. I love that school. For me to be leaving that board is quite an emotional experience for me. I would say it is probably the graduations because this is looking at a finished product so-to-speak as far as our school is concerned being K-8, 720 students. It is incredibly gratifying.

Just to know that I have made a difference in one child’s life because I do believe that charter schools give such a quality education to the student. When I look around the education sector in Michigan, particularly in the right hand side of the state, I am enthused about what we are doing.

I came through the Detroit Public School system when they educated students and they didn’t have all this brouhaha that we are having now. Perhaps that’s a sign of growth — the brouhaha. But, I just think charter schools are quietly doing it better. Our challenge of course in many cases are the students who come to us later in the schooling life — like 6th, 7th, 8th grade — who have been in other school cultures and they have to be re-cultured by us because they aren’t used to how we do things in our charter school. We have disciplinary problems.