In interviews with this author, students at all three Highland Park schools say that, from their perspective, the schools have improved. Students say that the schools are cleaner, that teachers have a better focus on teaching, and that they are seeing better leadership from school principals. Teachers who stayed with the charterized district say that they have taken large pay cuts, but that the improvements in culture may be worth it.
Leona officials say that the company has invested more than $1 million to clean and improve Highland Park school buildings. Moreover, the company manages the district for far less than the district previously spent on administration. Leona management costs are about10 percent of district revenue, compared to the more than 25 percent of revenue that was previously spent by the conventional district on central administration and management.
During its first year, HPRA also posted promising student academic growth. Highland Park eighth graders did especially well: In the fall of 2012, they scored in line with the bottom 25 percent of Michigan eighth graders. By the spring of 2013, however, they were close to the 50th percentile. The average reading and math test scores for nearly all grades improved by a statistically significant amount in all three HPRA schools.