Flint, MI—LaShaunda Warren once walked the halls of the now-abandoned Flint Central High School as a student, but she recently returned to her alma mater with a broom rather than a pencil as she swept up overgrown weeds and trash outside the school’s towering buildings.
“The teachers, the students, everybody was one big happy family,” she said of her time at Flint Central. “We soared. Flint Community Schools soared back during my time.”
Warren, who now teaches sixth grade at Flint Community Schools’ (FCS) Doyle-Ryder Elementary School, joined a handful of other Flint-area residents for a cleanup at Central organized by the treasurer of the Flint Board of Education, Dylan Luna, on Aug. 5, 2023.
While Central’s future has been discussed at FCS Board meetings and on social media earlier this year, Luna said he organized this cleanup now because the school district’s more than 20 vacant properties remain top-of-mind for Flint residents.
“My primary role should be student achievement and boosting enrollment, but the number one call I get is about blight,” Luna said. “I want to focus more on students, not buildings.”
Although some of the district’s properties, like the former Washington Elementary School, will require demolition, Luna said he could see Central transformed into a new high school because of its large campus, central location and proximity to resources like the Flint Public Library and Mott Community College.
Since earlier this year, FCS has been in talks with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to secure funding for such a project.
“It’d be a great example of how we can really turn this neighborhood and city around,” Luna said.
Lisa Pasbjerg, a Flint resident and the outreach and engagement coordinator with the Flint Registry, which helped sponsor the cleanup, shared an alternative vision for Central as she collected trash around the school’s old gymnasium. Rather than a new high school, it could be made into living spaces, she said.
In light of the city’s recent push to demolish blighted homes, Pasbjerg said, new and affordable housing is needed.
“Single-family housing is not always the most forward-thinking way to start looking at housing for communities,” she said. “As Flint grows, it would be really nice to be using some of these spaces to create communal housing so that people had their own little communities within the larger communities.”
Flint Central alumna Kimberly Coulter looks back fondly on the sense of community she felt during her time at Central. She rides past the campus almost weekly, she said, whether on her way to the library or just for nostalgia’s sake.
“It was really unique in that it had a diverse student population in terms of race,” she said. “We all got along. It was just the perfect melting pot.”
Coulter said that seeing fellow Flint residents come out to clean up the school’s grounds gave her hope.
“It shows that other people love this school and this area too, you know?” she said. “That’s really what it takes for any community, not just the city of Flint. You have to take pride in your community.”