Heart of Detroit: Ed Parks of University Prep

High school campus renamed in Parks' name

DETROIT – It began a decade ago with 112 sixth graders. Today, University Prep graduates 90 percent of its high schoolers and sends 90 percent of them to college.

It does so with a simple philosophy.

Ed Parks is the board president of University Prep and a beloved figure around campus.

"There is nothing wrong with the kids," said Parks. "The kids can do it and they have proven they can do it."

But a decade ago, Parks was retiring from Plante Moran, the accounting firm.

"How did you end up here instead?" asked Mitch Albom.

"Well, uh, I am not very good at golf," said Parks.

Thanks to a huge grant from a Plymouth couple named Bob and Ellen Thompson, University Prep could focus its resources and teachers and talent. Parks said it is a short list that makes the big difference.

"Small class sizes, college prep type curriculum and obviously teachers with passion," Parks said.

The place looks like a college campus, which helps the kids envision a college future. Extra curriculars help, too. Parks is proud that his school bucks the stereotype that Detroit schools are somehow doomed to mediocrity.

"What do you enjoy the most about interacting with the students?" Albom asked.

"Graduation," said Parks.

"Is that your happiest day?"

"Come on to graduation. When you watch those young men and women graduate, and they are going onto college, and you see their whole extended family in the Opera House just going crazy it, it beats the Lions," said Parks.

"Well, everybody beats the Lions, you know what I mean," Albom joked. "Shoot higher."

It's hard to shoot higher than 90 percent. Parks is so beloved, this month they renamed the high school campus in his name. He, this and University Prep prove that educational ideals can still fly high in the heart of Detroit.

Heart of Detroit