Thomas Parker Pushes Students to Think Beyond High School
Rochester Hills resident Thomas Parker was named a 'School Superhero' by the General Motors Foundation.
Thomas Parker, principal of Harper Woods Middle School, Harper Woods High School and Harper Academy, brings a small town feel to the campus, which he said is about 80 percent black.
Parker, 34, of Rochester Hills, was named December’s GM School Superhero after the GM Foundation gave the United Way of Southeastern Michigan a $27.1 million grant to create a “Network of Excellence” in select Detroit-area schools.
He is one of the modern-day community leaders and trailblazers whom Patch is highlighting in recognition of Black History Month.
Parker said he wanted to create an alternative school for those students likely to drop out, which led to the online Harper Academy. It achieved a graduation rate of 90 percent in its first year, according to BLAC Detroit.
Parker said the online school, which started in 2011, allows students to graduate on time and have an authentic high school experience by participating in activities like college tours.
He also incorporated a family advocacy system into all of his schools, which he said is like a mentoring program but goes one step further.
“What we know about kids is that kids perform better when they have strong relationships with those in the building,” he said.
The program puts every 15 students with an advocate, who joins them when they enter ninth grade, he said. The advocate is their confidante, mentor and go-to person in the school and will stick with them until they graduate.
“He makes me feel like this is a home away from home,” Ebony Curry, junior at Harper Woods High School and a part of Parker’s advocacy group, told BLAC Detroit.
Parker brings this family sense from his experience being born and raised on a farm in Mississippi. He said everything he does is what his family and community taught him. He said instilling that sense at the schools helps shift the paradigm on college.
“We’re a college and career preparatory institution. My students in eighth grade begin taking the ACT. Now by the time they get to eleventh grade and they’re taking it for real, they’re ready,” he said.
He said middle school students also take high school credits. The middle school and high school are in the same building, he said, and high school reform starts in seventh grade.
“So by the time the kid gets to ninth grade, we’ve already established some building blocks that allow them to be more successful,” he said.
And the proof is clear, Parker said. He said there are more students applying to college instead of waiting until the last minute, and students are also more engaged through activities like Benchmark Café, a before and after-school tutoring center.
“It’s taken the negative aspect out of needing and asking for help,” he said.
Benchmark Café was open during winter vacation, Parker said, and over a third of the students studied there. He said supporting students, through that and the advocacy program, is what shows them he cares.