PHOTOS BY // MICHAEL GLEASON PHOTOGRAPHY
Eric Lieske’s enthusiasm for the new Flint Cultural Center Academy is apparent as he envisions the future of education in Flint. “The academy will be part of the rebound of Flint. In five years everyone will come to see a world-class education system in Flint.”
Lieske hopes that the Flint Cultural Center Academy will return Flint to the days when it was nationally known as an education leader. By sharing the newly formed charter school with the resources of the Flint Cultural Center, he said, “Students will learn to apply knowledge rather than recite knowledge.” By bringing students into the Cultural Center, the goal of the Cultural Academy is to “engage students in science, and the fine and performing arts, in a way they might not otherwise encounter.” Lieske was appointed the founding CEO of the Flint Cultural Center Academy at the beginning of this year, after being with Davison Community Schools for 22 years and serving as superintendent for the last eight years.
Construction is currently underway for the school building, which is expected to be completed by July of this year and to open in the fall of 2019. According to Lieske, the vision for a school began several years ago with the C.S. Mott Foundation. The Mott Foundation provided the initial funding for the school with a $2.9 million grant for planning and development and a $35 million grant for the construction and outfitting of the new building and the needed improvements to the Cultural Center facilities. The 78,000-square-foot building will include 27 classrooms, a cafeteria, a gym and several collaborative learning areas. Other exhibit rooms and classrooms will offer students direct access to the Sloan Museum and the Flint Institute of Music.
The Flint Cultural Center Academy is a nonprofit charter school, chartered by Grand Valley State University. Though it will begin as a K–5 school, it will expand to a K–8 system and is fully chartered to become a K–12 school in the near future. Lieske emphasizes the fact that the Cultural Academy, like all public schools in Michigan, both traditional public and charter, is supported by state funds. None of the money raised by the recent arts millage will be used to fund the school, and the academy will reimburse the Cultural Center institutions for the use of their facilities.
By creating a charter school in the midst of the Cultural Center, Lieske expects that “there will be a truly different kind of educational experience” available to students. Students will experience “a passion for education, an immersion in the arts and sciences, character development and community involvement” as a key part of their educational experience. With that kind of commitment to education, Lieske says he hopes to hire teachers “who will walk through walls to aid children.” Application information for interested faculty and staff is available on the Cultural Center Academy website.
Each day students will have the opportunity to spend 90 minutes or more experiencing, and learning from, one of the key institutions in the Flint Cultural Center. The Cultural Academy will give students the opportunity to learn outside the traditional classroom by taking advantage of the Flint Institute of Arts, the Sloan Museum, the Whiting Auditorium, the Flint Public Library, the Longway Planetarium, the Flint Repertory Theater and Applewood: the C.S. Mott Estate. There are also plans to coordinate with other community groups and agencies. The Crim Foundation is expected to be a partner in working with students in after-school activities.
The Flint Cultural Center Academy is also the only Microsoft Flagship K–8 public charter school in the nation. The Microsoft Flagship Schools aim to teach students in innovative ways to become confident, community-oriented individuals who know how to use data and apply it to their lives and communities.
This fall there will be up to 400 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through fifth grade, with about 25 students per class. The school will have a balanced calendar with short breaks during the year and an eight-week summer break. After this year, the school will add one grade each year until it is a K–8 system, with plans to create a full K–12 system in the near future.
If the number of applicants exceeds the space available, a lottery will be used to select both those admitted and those who could be put on a waiting list. Enrollment is open to students from Flint, Genesee County and throughout Michigan, as required by the law governing charter schools in the state. It is a free charter school and no tuition is required to attend.
More information on the Flint Cultural Center Academy and the enrollment process is available at fccacademy.org.