In most ways Central Academy is like any other Ann Arbor school: pictures of the Statue of Liberty on the walls, and a copy of the Little House on the Prairie Cook Book in the library. And in most ways its students are like any other Ann Arbor schoolkids. They learn their ABCs in kindergarten and read 1984 their junior year.

But the 550 kids at Central Academy are not altogether like those in other schools. The high school boys I saw wore black ties and white button-down shirts. The high school girls also dress in black and white, most in floor-length skirts plus scarves or hijabs. And five times a day, the 90 percent of the students who are Muslim pray in the direction of Mecca.

More significantly, 100 percent graduate, and “for the last seven years, all of our graduates have gone to college,” says principal Luay Shalabi. Thanks to the school’s “dual enrollment” program, many start college even before they graduate. “When students finish their required credits to graduate in their senior year, they can finish classes here at noon and then go to Eastern Michigan University and take classes there,” Shalabi explains.

Central Academy’s graduation rate and college attendance look good compared to the Ann Arbor public schools, where 84 percent of the students entering high school graduate and 80 percent go to college. But its standardized test scores don’t look as good: Central Academy students score an average of 18.8 on the ACT while public school students average 23.1.

“Our students are not a typical sample of students in the area,” says Shalabi. “A lot of them came because their individual needs were not being met [at other schools]. Also, when you base the statistics on just twenty-three or twenty-four students, two or three can skew the results.”

Shalabi says students stick it out through graduation thanks to “our smaller numbers. We are able to work with each student individually. Whenever a student is not performing, we have plans in place that involve the teachers, administration, and parents to make sure they graduate.”

Only two of the thirty-six teachers are Muslim, the opposite of the student mix. “We get our teachers from all over,” Shalabi says, “from Pinckney, Howell, Ann Arbor, Egypt, all over.”

Kristie King-Freyre came to Central Academy fourteen years ago after teaching at high schools in Houghton and Hudson. “I left the public schools because I was frustrated with the bureaucracy,” she says. “And I love it here. I love these students.”

“During spring break, Ms. King-Freyre called a student who didn’t turn in a project on time and came in on her own time to finish it with the student,” Shalabi confirms. With teachers chasing students down, no wonder it’s hard to flunk out.