DPS approves renaming Fordson atrium, Stout meeting room after Imad Fadlallah

Board also hears proposal for honoring Whiston

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Applause erupted from the audience at the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education meeting when the trustees unanimously passed two resolutions to name the atrium at Fordson High School and team meeting room at Stout Middle School after the late Imad Fadlallah.

Dozens of elected officials, family, friends, colleagues and students of Fadlallah spoke about the former educator and principal’s character and leadership during the packed meeting on March 11.

Two of those speakers were Fadlallah’s children, Ali Fadlallah and Rima Fadlallah.

“In addition to being my father’s daughter, I am a beneficiary of his leadership, both at Stout and at Fordson High School,” Rima Fadlallah said. “I want to start by saying that his proposal is not for my father. This proposal is also not for my family.

“This proposal is for Dearborn Public Schools and while we are proud to be here today we want to reiterate that these two memories are quite literally the least this district can do to honor the blood, sweat and tears that my father poured into not one, but two of our public schools.”

Fordson graduate Mariam Jalloul said if it wasn’t for Imad Fadlallah, she wouldn’t of had the courage to apply to and graduate from Harvard University.

“Mr. Fadlallah turned Fordson High School into a place where attending college was an expectation, where scholarships were applied to and won, where students believed were worthy and deserving of an education that was invested in them,” Jalloul said. “This is not a matter of opinion, these are hard facts.

“There’s no denying that there is a fundamental difference in what Fordson was before and after Mr. Fadlallah. Mr. Fadlallah fundamentally shifted what students who entered these buildings believe is possible.

“Attending top universities, let alone Ivy Leagues, was never in the realm of possibilities before his tenure. It was under Mr. Fadlallah’s guidance and investment that I felt bold enough to apply to Harvard University my senior year and was accepted, an accomplishment that Fordson had never seen before that year. In the years that followed, a wave of Fordson students also began applying and being accepted in unprecedented rates.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-15th District) said he was in the Fordson auditorium when Imad Fadlallah decreed himself to be the “sheriff of the town.”

“He had the audacity to look in the eyes of the students and see within them what they had not yet recognized and that is the levels in which they could reach,” he said. “The measure of success of Imad Fadlallah should not be simply in the tenure that he had within Dearborn Public Schools, but it should be looked at the impact far after he left Dearborn Public Schools.”

Instructional coach and former Stout teacher Christine Furkioti said she began her career in 1989, working with Fadlallah during his time at the school. She spoke about his impact on the students and staff there.

“Imad Fadlallah was a visionary who benefited the students and faculty with his tireless drive for needed school improvement through professional development and facility improvements, always putting students first,” Furkioti said. “Every detail was thought through, including an activity room and team meeting room with open access for district usage where educational speakers, collaborators, professional development and students could gather, grow and learn.

“The idea of over 100 people being able to use it before, during and after school hours from all over the district was unheard of at that time. Imad knew the educational needs of our community and knew it would it benefit so many different groups, staff and students alike.”

At the board’s Feb. 11 meeting, DPS Student Services Director Abe Mashhour and members of a committee presented plans for the renaming at both schools where Fadlallah worked. In 2017, a ceremony was held at Stout where a cedar tree was planted in his honor.

Trustees Roxanne McDonald, James Thorpe and Mary Petlichkoff brought up the concern that naming areas in two different buildings after Fadlallah could cause competition in the future for other employees who deserve to be honored, plus the possibility no spaces would be left for naming.

Ali Fadlallah addressed those comments during his speech to the board by listing data, school ranking improvements, students being admitted to top universities and more achieved by Imad Fadlallah during his time in DPS.

“There are dozens more stats for both schools, attendance, dropout and graduate rates, etc., to address statements that seem to reduce my father’s accomplishments to people’s favoritisms or to make it seem like there aren’t some objective measures of success that he could stand on,” Ali Fadlallah said. “As I just demonstrated, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It is true, as you heard from the committee and several trustees, that my father was a lot more than stats, that it was the intangibles that made him who he was. A man who showed up to students’ houses when they skipped first hour; pickups and dropoffs when they didn’t have a ride; a man who treated janitors and bus drivers with the same dignity and respect as teachers and superintendents; a man with an unprecedented approach to discipline.”

He continued by saying that it would take at least a school building to appropriately honor his father’s contribution to the district and to suggest otherwise is an insult to his father’s “revolutionary leadership.”

On March 13, 2017 Imad Fadlallah, 58, died in his home from possible complications following a heart procedure he had earlier that month. He worked 29 years in education before retiring in 2010.

He became principal at FHS in 2005 after being promoted from the interim position, and served five years at the school before retiring.

Before that, he worked as a teacher in the district for five years then served the next five years as assistant principal at Stout. He then became principal at the school from 1990 to 2004.

He also was able to develop a relationship Dr. William Brehm to have education for students from Fordson attending the University of Michigan funded through the Brehm Scholarships.

During the same meeting, a naming committee presented the proposal to rename the district’s current Ten Eyck Administration Building to the Brian J. Whiston Welcome Center.

The state of Michigan superintendent and former DPS superintendent died at the age of 56 after a battle with pancreatic cancer in May 2018. On Aug. 9, a fountain located between the John Hannah and Ottawa buildings in downtown Lansing was dedicated to Whiston, naming it the Brian J. Whiston Memorial Fountain.

In 2008, Whiston became DPS superintendent for eight years where he developed award-winning programs for students, passing a $70 million bond proposal for infrastructure needs and creating the collegiate academy at all three high schools.

Supt. Glenn Maleyko said he wouldn’t be in the position he is in now if it wasn’t for Whiston, who was his mentor who guided him through tough times in the district and for him personally.

He added that the welcome center naming is just one thing, but a thing that can represent the impact Whiston made on students, staff and in the community similar to Imad Fadlallah.

“Naming things — you can’t do enough to thank the people that have made a difference for the students and for you as a person, but we can do this, the Brian Whiston Welcome Center,” Maleyko said. “This is a gesture in the positive just to recognize the accomplishments he had in Dearborn schools. He was doing great things at the state level for students across the state of Michigan.”

DPS Communications Director David Mustonen said Whiston was a big part of not only the district but also part of the community and he had a serious working side and non-serious side.

“I think one of those unsung things that is hard to put any quantitative measures to is Brian’s leaderships through one of the most devastating economical times, not only this district but our state faced,” Mustonen said. “School districts across the entire state were laying off teachers, were shutting down schools, were scuttling buildings and Brian was able to negotiate, Brian was able to bring people to the table and he was able to remain focused on our students and keeping students first and protecting that classroom.”

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)