Kalamazoo county commissioners join fight to keep under-performing schools open

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — County Commissioner Julie Rogers went to last week’s public forum about the possible closures of a two public schools and was impressed with the turnout. Hundreds of people showed up to protest the closures and she walked away wanting to know how she can help.

“I reached out to Dr. [Michael] Rice, the Superintendent, and the KPS School Board to say ‘what can we do from a county level?’” said Rogers during an interview at Borgess Woodbridge. “They thought writing a resolution in support would be a great idea.”

So she spent the weekend writing. Rogers drafted a letter to Michigan’s School Reform Office explaining the county commissioners support of the Kalamazoo Public School Districts efforts to keep open Washington Writing Academy and Woodward School for Research and Technology. It highlights that the teachers there “have demonstrated a commitment to excellence” and that the district has successfully improved three others schools once considered at-risk.

“Schools are our community anchors, particularly in this situation it’s also an economic hardship,” said Rogers. “If the state is to close these schools, the students would probably be ineligible for the Kalamazoo Promise, which would be quite a financial burden if they’re displaced to other districts outside of KPS.”

Tuesday night, Kalamazoo County commissioners approved the letter and voted to stand in solidarity with the school district and parents.

“The thing that I think is telling is that we had a unanimous support of showing, 11-to-0,” said Rogers. “All of our commissioners, both sides of aisle, supported this measure which goes to show you it’s really important to maintain our school districts.”

And the best way to do that, Rogers said, is to give the local district and county more control over a school’s future than the state. She said they learned at the forum that parents and students were notified about the possible closures before school officials.

“Dr. Rice and the school board did not even receive notification,” Rogers said. “The way they found out was from a letter going to students and families saying that their schools on the chopping block.”

Rogers said they’re respecting the process S.R.O. is doing but they will fight. Legislation has even been introduced in Lansing to possibly eliminate the office.

“We support our kids,” said Rogers. “We’re absolutely standing up for our kids and our families and we support them. We’re going to continue to do stronger mentorships, wrap-around services to make sure our kids can be successful in Kalamazoo Public Schools.”

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