Frederick Douglass Academy For Young Men, the latest educational tenant at the Historic Northern High School Building on Detroit’s North End

Educationally speaking, there’s something special about 9026 Woodward Ave. at Owen St., on Detroit’s North End.  Once the home of the storied Northern High School when it opened in 1916, the building, since August 2023, has been the home of the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men.

The Academy, with a student population of around 100, is touted as the only “all-male” school under the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) banner.  The Academy, which provides a private school environment in an urban setting, is also the only “all-male college-preparatory” school in Michigan that is tuition-free.

Under the leadership of Dr. Willie L. White II, the principal has created a learning environment of achievement.  According to his “Meet the Principal” section on the Academy’s official website, the school’s National SAT scores increased from an overall mean score of 772 in  2016/17 to 842 the following school year.  During Dr. White’s tenure, the website reports that Douglass’ graduation rate has increased from 58% to 80%, and its ranking amongst DPSCD high schools has grown from 18th to 5th (according to School Quality/Success Index and Overall Index).  The Academy is recognized for its strong curriculum, which features a standout Drone program.

The Academy also posted:  We draw upon the expertise of our educators and work together to create models of outstanding achievement in every classroom.  By implementing high-quality instructional materials and transforming the academic culture in our schools, we challenge and inspire our students to thrive in the world. With a wide variety of academics and enrichment opportunities aligned with state standards, we support students in unlocking their potential as they extend their skills and talents beyond the classroom.

Aside from the Academy, the old Northern High School building is home to DPSCD’s Virtual School and Print Shop.  The building is also a central hub for STEAM (Science, Technology,  Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) programs for students.  And it will also hold future District Board meetings.

While there is an acute focus on academic achievements at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, athletically, the Hurricanes showed competitive grit to compete at the highest level by winning the 2021 Division-4 State Boys Basketball Championship.  The championship run  was led by 6-foot-6 guard-forward Pierre Brooks II (Mr. Basketball), coached by his father, Pierre Sr.  Pierre II, after two years of playing for Michigan State University, transferred to Butler University for the 2023-24 season.

The basketball court at the old Northern High has many great memories of stars who played at the school before elevating to college and even the NBA.  Among the Northern alums who played in the NBA include Derrick Coleman (New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons), Sam Williams (Milwaukee Bucks), and Bill Buntin (Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers).  Northern also produced Marshall Dill, one of Detroit’s greatest native track & field stars who also  achieved national and international rankings in the sport.  In 1971, Dill held six Michigan High School Athletic Association titles and was named by the National Track and Field News Magazine as “High School Athlete of the Year.”

The North End high school also produced its share of legendary singers, including Motown great Smokey Robinson and his former Miracles singing partner Pete Moore.  In addition, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, attended Northern.  The late Ron Banks of the R&B group The Dramatics graduated from Northern High.

The late jazz pianist Tommy Flanagan is also a Northern alum, and there were many other jazz stars who came out of the North End school.  In addition, actress Marla Gibbs of the sitcoms 227 and The Jeffersons graced the halls of Northern High School for her junior year.  Academically, the school was the early training grounds for Dr. Alyce Chenault Gullattee, who became a noted physician and psychiatrist at Howard University.

In 1966, Northern High School made local and national news when approximately 2,000 Black students staged a walkout and protest over what they saw as racism at the school, rooted in the inequality of conditions and learning opportunities far less than high schools with predominately white students.  The protesting students pointed out that some counselors and teachers felt Black students at Northern were not worthy of going to college.  The protesting students successfully presented a list of demands, including removing the principal and a campus police officer viewed as a bully.  They demanded and got better teachers and created a first-of-its-kind student/faculty council to help resolve future school-student-related issues.

Northern High School was closed by Detroit Public Schools on June 22, 2007, but ultimately reopened as the home of the Detroit International Academy for Young Women, the only all-girls pre-K-12 school in the city.  The young women’s academy relocated to another site in the city in 2021.  The historic Northern High School building sat empty, but not for long, due to DPSCD’s $700 million Facility Master Plan.

“In 2022, the District implemented an initial series of building changes to increase enrollment, add new programming, and better utilize buildings,” DPSCD’s Deputy Superintendent of Operations Machion Jackson told the Michigan Chronicle.  “The old Northern High School building was included, citing an opportunity to ‘reimagine’ the currently vacant Northern High School building as a District multi-purpose center and future Central Office that will integrate best practices in instructional technology and virtual learning.”

Unlike any other school in the District’s portfolio, a DPSCD sign, including its logo, has been erected in front of the old Northern High School structure, perhaps a sign of things to come at the 107-year-old building.

“You are correct,” said Jackson about the District’s unique signage.  “The Facilities Master Plan provided funding to relocate programs to the Northern Building to maximize its use.  It was important to showcase the District’s logo on the marquee to demonstrate the continued use of the historic building.”

Jackson added more about the North End’s old Northern High School building.  “Many of the District’s Central Offices will relocate to the Northern Building in the second phase of the Facilities Master Plan,” she said.  “The District seeks to preserve the rich history of the Northern High School Building by transforming its use into a multi-functional building.  Community members will be welcome to attend board and other public meetings once that section of the building reopens.  The District is proud to maintain operations in the Northern High School building in a manner that operates with responsible stewardship and maintains our unique program offerings.”



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