Education Beat: Flint Schools seek Mott Foundation partnership for Holmes-Brownell campus upgrades

By Harold C. Ford

The snarl(s) – those visible to the public, and those unseen – in ongoing effort(s) to upgrade the aging lineup of school buildings shepherded by Flint Community Schools (FCS) untangled a bit with the unanimous passage of a proposal by the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) to seek a $14 million grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to further upgrade the Holmes-Brownell campus on Flint’s northwest side.

Voting in favor of the proposal, introduced to the public on Oct. 16 at a special meeting of the FBOE, to ask financial support from the Mott Foundation were all six of seven members present: Michael Clack, president; Joyce Ellis-McNeal, vice president; Claudia Perkins, secretary; Laura MacIntyre, assistant secretary/treasurer; Terae King, trustee; and Melody Relerford, trustee. Dylan Luna, the board’s treasurer, was absent.

The 6-0 vote marked the most dramatic step forward in a possible partnership between FCS and Flint’s largest foundation to upgrade the district’s buildings. The possibility of such a liaison – once titled Flint Education Continuum –was first described by East Village Magazine (EVM) in April 2021.

Thereafter, critics scuttled the forward momentum on such a partnership and it disappeared from public view for nearly two years. The on-again/off-again possibility of partnership appears to be on again.

Holmes building — 6602 Oxley Dr.(Photo by Harold C. Ford)

North end focus

The starting point for a possibly reinvigorated FCS-Mott relationship is on Flint’s north side at the Holmes-Brownell site at 6602 Oxley Dr. (Holmes) and 6302 Oxley Dr. (Brownell).

According to a presentation by Flint Superintendent Kevelin Jones, FCS will seek a $14 million grant to “provide our community a dynamic pre-K-8 campus” and “allow the district to be competitive for enrollment in North Flint.” Upgrades are to include:
• Renovating the early childhood center at Brownell
• Adding early childhood playgrounds
• Constructing a new community center titled “the Cube”
• Rerouting the parking lot
• Replacement of the running track
• Adding new outdoor facilities for football practice and elementary play
• Installation and/or upgrading of tennis, basketball, and pickleball courts
• Upgrading the facades both buildings

An overarching goal of the plan is “to blend … three facilities into one full campus experience that is inviting to the community,” Jones said.

Upgrades of the Holmes and Brownell facilities – funded with more than $30 million* in COVID-relief/ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School and Emergency Relief) dollars — are ongoing. Overall, FCS has been the recipient of more than $150 million from multiple levels of government in response to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, Holmes’s students have been temporarily relocated to the Southwestern campus on Flint’s south side during renovation.

[*Based on amounts reported at the FBOE’s May 2023 meeting(s); $21.4 million for Holmes, $8.7 million for Brownell.]

The Cube

A new 3,000-square-foot community center to be called the Cube will, according to Jones, “create the opportunity to bring non-FCS students onto the campus and introduce our programming to potential scholars.”

Jeanette Edwards (Photo by Harold C. Ford)

The so-called Cube building will operate “autonomously” from and “collaboratively” with the school district. Day-to-day management is to be provided by FCS administration to include the principal at Brownell. The Cube is intended, in part, as a community center for area residents.

The Brownell-Holmes Neighborhood Association will be provided with office space in the Cube to offer resources and programming for area residents. Association President Jeanette Edwards – present at the Oct. 16 meeting – saluted the beginning of a newly-imagined partnership between FCS and north end residents.

“I appreciate you all, I thank you all,” Edwards said.  “We’ve been fighting for this for a long time. I’ve been in that area 44 years. I know what it took to bring it down; I know what it takes to bring it up … We’ll continue to work with y’all.”

End to a “cold war”

Thomas Parker (photo courtesy C.S. Mott Foundation)

Hopeful words at the Oct. 16 meeting seemed to signal a break from what one FBOE member reported as a “cold war” relationship between the FBOE and the Mott Foundation. Relerford attributed use of the term “cold war” to Thomas Parker, a Mott Foundation program officer during an earlier Academics Subcommittee meeting.

“This collaboration is the end of a cold war,” Relerford reported Parker as saying. “Yep … that’s right,” confirmed a head-nodding King.

Parker, present at the Oct. 16 meeting, neither confirmed nor denied the “cold war” comment. At the end of the 37-minute meeting he uncharacteristically engaged some FCS officials in conversation on the auditorium stage where FBOE meetings are conducted.

An Oct. 17 statement sent to EVM by Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation read: “With unanimous approval from the Flint Board of Education, we look forward to receiving and reviewing a proposal from Flint Community Schools. We’re happy to consider supporting efforts to improve the Brownell Holmes campus for students and the community.”

“Colonial occupation” to “true community collaboration”

Whatever happened – in the public’s eye, or behind the scenes – it has softened the rhetoric of  Laura MacIntyre, the FBOE’s harshest critic of the Mott Foundation’s relationship with Flint’s schools.

“This is … what happens when you have true community collaboration,” MacIntyre said. “This is what’s going to bring in the enrollment.

“Sometimes you have to change the way you’ve been doing things,” McNeal added. “We’ve got to learn how to work with our partners.”

MacIntyre then returned to a familiar theme when she dissented from the notion of a “cold war” relationship between the Mott Foundation and Flint schools. “There was never a cold war,” she said. “There was a colonial occupation.”

“Look out the window and smile”

“Now it’s time to move on … make things great,” Jones said.  “We believe this facility will help lead to increased enrollment.”

“That (Brownell-Holmes) neighborhood has an opportunity to look out the window and smile,” said Relerford. A rare moment of quiet reflection by FCS leaders followed Relerford’s comment.

Education Beat Reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at

Previous EVM stories referred to in this article included below:

Education Beat: Massive plan to rescue Flint Community Schools unveiled–calls for new high school, many partnerships

Education Beat Op-Ed: Put Flint kids first — say YES now to Flint Education Continuum

Education Beat: Mott CEO Ridgway White appeals to Flint Board of Ed to support district rescue plan

Education Beat: Flint School Board votes unanimously to talk with Mott Foundation CEO Ridgway White about abandoned Central-Whittier campus


Author: Tom Travis

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