School of the Week: Cass Technical High School

An International Baccalaureate World School

For the first 10 years of her academic career, LoReal Harris attended a private school. Her prekindergarten through eighth grade years were paid for out of pocket by her mother, Annie Blackmon.

“Every single month, my mom paid tuition for 10 years… wow. That’s a lot of money,” recalls Harris, who is now a 17-year-old high school senior. “My mom instilled in me at a very young age the importance of education. My mom always told me, ‘You will not have a job, you will have a career.’ And the way to achieve this is to excel academically.”

For her daughter’s high school career, Ms. Blackmon decided to switch gears from private schooling to public and placed her trust in Cass Technical High School.

Cass Tech is one of Detroit Public Schools’ premier application schools. The newly authorized International Baccalaureate World School – the first school in the city of Detroit to earn this designation – is a two-time, nationally-recognized School of Excellence ranked in the top 5% of all high schools in the state by the Michigan Department of Education; a top-10 ranked high school by the Mackinac Policy Conference; and is ranked as one of the best high schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Needless to say, Ms. Blackmon made the right choice. And her decision has paid off – literally.

Thanks to Cass Tech’s notable Dual Enrollment Program with Wayne County Community College District – the largest program of its kind across the city that allows students to earn college credits while in high school – Harris will walk in two commencement ceremonies in the spring. In May, she will graduate from WCCCD with her associate’s degree. In June, she will accept her high school diploma.

“Technically, I’ll be a college graduate before I graduate from high school!” says Harris, who plans to study pre-law at the University of Toledo in the fall. “I’ve always wanted to pay my mom back somehow for all that she’s given me. Now, I kind of get the chance to do just that.”

What exactly does this mean for mom and Harris?

  • Two years of college tuition that she will not have to pay for because Harris will enter the University of Toledo as a junior in the fall;
  • A tuition-free undergraduate degree as Harris has already secured scholarships to cover the final two years;
  • Graduating in two years with a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to four; and
  • Starting and potentially completing law school two years earlier than her peers.

“Cass Tech: No. 1. Second to None.”

There are dozens of similar success stories at Cass. Students like Harris are the norm, says Principal Lisa Phillips, which is why students, staff and alums frequently share the popular slogan: “Cass Tech: No 1. Second to None.”

“Our students strive for excellence,” Phillips says affectionately. “They feel that they are first in everything they do. They work harder. They play harder. And the results are usually success. So when we say ‘No. 1. Second to None,’ even if we come in at No. 2, we still feel in our hearts that we’re No. 1.”

And that No. 1 mentality is now spreading globally. With the school’s announcement of the new International Baccalaureate designation, Phillips said just this month she received at least 25-30 applications from students outside of the country including families from Spain, Mexico, Africa and Brazil who will soon move to Detroit.

In August 2014, Cass Tech was announced as the first high school in the City of Detroit to receive the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) World School designation, joining the ranks of other high achieving Michigan IB high schools including Bloomfield Hills High School, Detroit Country Day, International Academy and others. The IB Diploma Program at Cass will involve students in extended independent essay writing around a topic of global importance, a theory of knowledge-based critical thinking courses, as well as creativity, action and service programs. Upon graduation, students complete a written assessment marked by external IB examiners.

“We’re trying to advance our students. We’re proactive, and we’re progressive,” Phillips says. “The I.B. Program provides our students with a global education. For instance, if you’re living in Switzerland, Africa or Spain, we’re studying the same coursework at Cass Technical High School that students are studying all over the world. It’s a different perspective on education.”

Premier Programs & Partnerships

With a total enrollment of 2,328 students, Cass boasts a broad range of academic, social and cultural experiences for all grade levels, as well as dynamic partnerships that prepare students for college and careers. The 2013-2014 senior class earned more than $45 million in scholarships. Annually, Cass has a 98% graduation rate and a 97% college bound rate.

Cass collaborates with nearly every public university in the state, including Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and some HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Cass also partners with dozens of community organizations and businesses including Quicken Loans, General Motors, Chrysler Corp., UAW-Ford, DTE Energy Foundation, and Ilitch Holdings, Inc.

Located in the Midtown area near the future Red Wings arena district, Cass offers seven smaller schools of choice on one campus for individualized academic pathways including Arts & Communication, Business Management & Marketing, Engineering & Manufacturing, Health Sciences, Human Services, Natural Resources & Agricultural Science, and Science & Arts-Pathway Plus. Students can also take advantage of more than a dozen advanced placement and honors courses.

One of the schools most talked about partnerships is the Doctors of Tomorrow Program where incoming freshmen who wish to pursue a career in medicine visit the University of Michigan Medical School monthly and throughout the summer. Cass students receive similar hands-on experiences that first- or second-year medical students are introduced to.

Cass Tech was also one of three Detroit Public Schools selected to participate in a new pilot program this semester with the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The new Michigan Architecture Prep Program (MAPP) aims to expose students to collegiate coursework and careers in architecture. Participating students will spend half of their school day on architecture work at locations including the Michigan Research Studio, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, City of Detroit, and the professional workspaces of local architects and designers.

Stellar Academics + Signature Athletics = Winning Attitudes

In addition to excellent academics and leading extra-curricular offerings, Cass has a long-time history of top-notch athletic programs attracting students like Owen Dolle, a 14-year-old ninth grader who transferred this semester from Grosse Pointe.

“I was nervous at first to switch to a new school,” he admits. “But everyone is like family here. Cass has the best sports programs and the best academic programs around. When you combine the two, it’s very compelling for student athletes, and really to any student, to come here.”

Cass holds district, city and state championship titles in football, swimming, volleyball, softball, tennis and golf. Head Football Coach Thomas Wilcher was recently named the 2014 Regional Coach of the Year by the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association. Wilcher joins Phillips as being named one of the best in their respective fields. Phillips holds the title of 2014 Principal of the Year by the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

“My name was on the award, but it’s because of the teachers, the students, the parents, the community, the alums – Oh my gosh, the awesome alumni – we work together to bring about solutions and the very best for our students,” says Phillips. “When the students know that we care; When the teachers know that their decisions matter; When the alumni understand their voice matters … because when I need them, our alums are always there for me; When parents walk into this building … I will stop what I am doing to address their concerns.”

“When people feel like they matter, it makes a big difference. And that’s why we’re No. 1. Second to None,” says Phillips. “None of our success would be possible without the continued support of DPS Central Office and the Cass Tech Parent Association.”

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