Flint, MI—Doyle-Ryder Elementary School was closed due to mold in late August 2021, shortly into the new school year. Since then, most students have relocated to Potter Elementary, but they’ll soon be moving back to their own building.
LaShaunda Warren is in her eighth year of teaching at Doyle-Ryder, and she’s looking forward to returning to the building—a place that she calls her second home.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “I’m excited. It’s my home away from home. Doyle-Ryder was the school without walls. Now, we’re going back to a school that has walls. So it’s going to be different, definitely different.”
From its classrooms and cafeteria to the library and administrative offices, the whole building is currently undergoing a major overhaul.
Doyle-Ryder was previously designed with an open concept, but students and staff will return to see their new classrooms with walls. The design of the classrooms also features the Doyle-Ryder Dragons’ scales on the flooring. Hallways in the building are being fitted with spaces for 1-on-1 learning.
Kevelin Jones, the Flint Community Schools (FCS) superintendent, said Doyle-Ryder could be a flagship school for the district’s future construction projects.
“This is leaving a legacy for our community,” Jones told reporters during a tour of the building on April 28, 2023. “It is the most exciting thing going in Flint Community Schools right now for us, and we’re happy about it. This is just the start of what we want to do for our scholars, and we are staying focused on it.”
Major renovations of Doyle-Ryder are planned to be completed by June. The total construction cost is currently at $2.7 million according to Dan Methner, superintendent of Clark Construction Company. Clark Construction was hired by the district to carry out the project.
Natoya Coleman, Doyle-Ryder’s principal, said she expects student enrollment to increase from its current number of 190 after the newly renovated building opens, with the capacity to house over 500 students.
During tours of the building’s renovations, Coleman said she sees what’s to come for the Doyle-Ryder community, and all the possibilities for students and teachers to learn and teach in the new classrooms.
“It’s really a principal and an educator’s dream come true,” Coleman said.
Flint Schools plans to have all Doyle-Ryder students return to their school’s building for the 2023 to 2024 academic year. After the building’s closure in 2021, the district decided to not only fix the building’s issues with mold, but also to carry out a more comprehensive renovation of the school, which began in January 2023.
Warren recalled moving out of Doyle-Ryder as a difficult time as she packed up her classroom and moved to Potter.
“It just broke my heart,” she said of the closure. “I didn’t think we would be closed this long. It was just overwhelming.”
Even so, she said she’s stayed optimistic along the way. Change isn’t easy, and the staff helped create a sense of normalcy for students to help them with the transition, she explained.
For the district’s superintendent, Jones’ own son Charles Jones was a fifth grader when the building closed, though Charles wanted to stay with the Doyle-Ryder community and move alongside his friends and teachers, Jones noted.
“For some reason, he thought that Dad’s gonna take me out of here. Dad doesn’t want me to deal with this,” Jones said. “But he loves his teachers so much. He loved his school so much.”
Doyle-Ryder’s staff and students have made their space at Potter their own, said Heather Nassar, a teacher at Doyle-Ryder. She noted that the space does come with some limitations. Nevertheless, she’s grateful for Potter’s accommodation.
A positive that’s come from the transition, Nassar added, is a stronger network of staff and parents at Doyle-Ryder who count on one another for support.
“Sometimes, things happen,” she said. “We have to make the best of it and we just learn and grow from it.”
Difficult as it was in navigating both the changes with COVID-19 and Doyle-Ryder’s move, Coleman also reflected on the good that’s come about.
“It brought us closer together and it gave us an opportunity to just lean on each other even more,” she said.
According to Coleman, official dates for returning to Doyle-Ryder and welcome events will be announced in the near future.
Warren, who has spent most of her teaching career at Doyle-Ryder, said the return has been a long time coming. “We’re just ready to go back home,” she said.