Our Work

Centering Education at the Heart of Community

Client
  • Marygrove Conservancy
Client Type
  • Nonprofit Organizations
Location

Detroit, MI

Practice Areas
  • Equitable Communities

Marygrove Conservancy

A landmark cradle-to-career educational campus anchoring neighborhood transformation.

 

As Detroit’s Downtown and Midtown cores have continued their transformative revitalization, city stakeholders have shifted in recent years to focus on an equally robust investment strategy for its neighborhoods, in order to spur truly inclusive growth for Detroit’s residents. U3 identified the neighborhoods of the Livernois-McNichols district in northwest Detroit as strong opportunities for a neighborhood-based anchor institution strategy. The district featured two college campuses, as well as a mix of neighborhoods that included some of the hardest-hit from the recession, in addition to those with Detroit’s highest tax bases.

In 2016, accelerating a neighborhood strategy became even more critical, as Marygrove College faced mounting fiscal and operational pressures that threatened to shut down its 53-acre campus. Recognizing the devastating impact that closure would have on the neighborhood, the Kresge Foundation engaged U3 Advisors to explore strategies that would preserve the campus and its legacy. Given Marygrove’s history in education and teacher training, innovative education emerged as the natural focal point, which also aligned with neighborhood goals of keeping and attracting families. We worked with stakeholders and researched best practices to define a vision for a precedent-setting P-20, cradle-to-career education campus. High-quality education would serve as the heart of neighborhood development, while also infusing the campus with renewed investment and opportunity.

 

Challenge

Preserving the legacy of a 53-acre college campus as an educational anchor while driving inclusive neighborhood growth.

Solution

Designing an innovative educational partnership serving local children from early childhood through high school and beyond, that catalyzes neighborhood stabilization and investment.

IMpact

A groundbreaking partnership formed around the campus vision, bringing together philanthropy, higher education, the K-12 public school district, early childhood education, and the new steward of the campus itself, the Marygrove Conservancy. Together, the educational partners are developing a new state-of-the-art early childhood education center and K-12 public school, supported by transformative curricula, a first-of-its-kind teacher training model, and comprehensive community services.

Working closely with Kresge and Marygrove, our team facilitated planning efforts that led to a groundbreaking partnership between the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the University of Michigan School of Education, Starfish Family Services, the Kresge Foundation, and the Marygrove campus. Throughout the planning period, we helped the partners identify priorities and coordinate decision-making across a wide range of school planning areas, from curriculum alignment, to enrollment catchment area policies, to leadership and staff selection. U3 eventually drafted the long-term partnership agreement that guides oversight and areas of joint responsibility. At full capacity, the early childhood center and K-12 school are projected to serve more than 1,000 Detroit children and their families, primarily drawn from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Simultaneously, U3 developed initial campus planning and real estate strategies, recognizing the need for a campus planning framework that could support both the P-20 mission and financial sustainability. As Marygrove College wound down and eventually closed in 2019, we supported the launch of the Marygrove Conservancy, a new non-profit that would steward the campus land and mission. U3 proposed staffing and board formation options, drafted its mission and vision, and continues to support in strategic planning.

With a 9th grade class that opened in the fall of 2019, and the early childhood center and elementary school opening in 2021, the campus transformation is well underway. Kresge has committed a total of $50 million to the overall effort, the largest-known philanthropic commitment centered on education in a Detroit neighborhood. This bold, ambitious scale reflects the critical role that investment in Detroit’s neighborhoods – and moreover, in its children – plays in the city’s future.