Thirkell is at the head of the class among Michigan's elementary and middle schools

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A Detroit school that escaped being shut down three times and was once among the state's worst is now being recognized for its academic achievement.

Thirkell Elementary was ranked the best among Michigan's elementary and middle schools by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

In the past Thirkell was listed as the second worst school in the state by Michigan's Department of Education on its Top to Bottom list. But researchers say studies like that don't consider outside factors that influence academic achievement. "We didn't want to penalize schools that educate students who come from needy backgrounds," said Audrey Spaulding, Mackinac Center's Director of Education.

Today's report card ranks schools by examining four years worth of MEAP test scores and adjusts them based on the number of students who qualify for free lunches. "This allows us to accurately compare students who come from disadvantaged areas to those from more advantaged areas," Spaulding said.

So what put Thirkell ahead of 2,631 other middle and elementary schools? "The first thing we do is focus on discipline," said Dr. Clara Smith, principal at Thirkell. "Once they are disciplined and they know the rules, then they are ready to learn."

Detroit Public School leaders hope the school will serve as a model for others in the district. "Now that Thirkell has been recognized, you set a target for all of us to strive for," said the district's emergency manager, Roy Roberts.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy will reevaluate elementary and middle schools again in two years. Next year it will once again look at data on the state's high schools.

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