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Home arrowInclusiveness arrowKyle Smitley Interview

Interview with Kyle Smitley, Entrepreneur and Preservationist

Kyle SmitleyKyle Smitley is the Founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Achievement Academy in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit Achievement Academy is a public charter school with a focus on project-based learning and on learning about, growing, and eating healthy foods. She was the first Preserve America intern at the ACHP in 2007.

What led you to your field?

I did my first internship with Preserve America at the ACHP in 2007, after I graduated from college. After that summer, I was hooked!

How does what you do relate to historic preservation?

While I don’t work directly in preservation, it seems that so much of what I do relates to it indirectly. I opened a charter school in a historic building in the city of Detroit. We are looking to purchase another historic, abandoned building in the city for our permanent, forever location. We are definitely in the minority here, as lots of schools build new. They definitely don’t have the same problems we do (oh boy, old buildings are a lot of work!) but we have so much history and character to offer our students within our physical space. 

Why do you think historic preservation matters?

Historic preservation matters because it allows us to pass such an identity, a history on to others -- not only future generations, but those new to the field of preservation. People are so intrinsically interested in history and in how the physical structures around them played a part in history. It is important to invest (in resources, time, and energy) in preservation to further support that interest. 

Do you have a favorite preservation project?  What about it made it special?

I like all of the work being done with the Preserve America program. I love the features, the designation, and the grants. I think small, historic towns are incredible. When the community embraces its history, and teaches its children about its history, there is nothing better. 

Can you tell us what you are working on right now?

I just opened a charter school, Detroit Achievement Academy, in Detroit, Michigan. DAA is one of just a few not-for-profit schools in the city of Detroit. The school is located in one of the poorest zip codes in the country. We are working to provide a world class education in a city that needs a good school. For more information check out our Web site:

How do you think the national historic preservation programs help your community?

Preservation is incredibly important in the city of Detroit. The architecture here is incredible -- it is so gorgeous. I think that preservation initiatives here are enabling people to save some buildings that were crucial to the history of the entire nation. 

The ACHP’s mission is “preserving America’s heritage”; can you give us an example of how your community is preserving their heritage?

Every day in Detroit, you hear of new businesses opening up in very well-done, retrofitted buildings. They could have certainly found space elsewhere, or developers could have leveled the building to make room for a new building, but they didn’t! They embraced the old structure and made it incredible. There is also a huge movement for artists to occupy older structures for studio and gallery space. It is actually magical to see beautiful innovative art shown in the vault of a historic (and abandoned) bank.

Read more Q&A stories about the preservationists in your neighborhood!


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