GRPS: Closing Schools, Layoffs, & School Uniforms

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Grand Rapids Public Schools is launching a major transformation plan that includes school closures, repurposing buildings and implementing district uniforms.

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, who replaced Dr. Bernard Taylor in 2012, has spent several months holding work sessions with community members, teachers, staff, and parents to find out ways to improve the district.

The transformation plan they came up with was discussed at a work session on Monday with the Grand Rapids Board of Education. It involves some tough decisions aimed at improving education and fiscal responsibility.

“We need to compete and we want to be the best in this area. We can’t do that with buildings sitting half full,” said Weatherall Neal.

The criteria for the plan includes academic performance, maximizing quality and efficiency, best practices, increase enrollment, building capacity and use, infrastructure, and historical perspective.

“This is about creating the foundation for a new future, one based on the resources necessary to prepare our children for the 21st Century,” said Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.

The plan includes recommendations to close 10 buildings including: Creston High School, Covell Elementary, Campau Park Elementary, Hillcrest, KEC Mayfield, Ridgemoor CDC, Sahwnee Park Math/Sci/Tech, Straight, Wellerwood CDC, and West Leonard CDC.

“I try to do what is in the best interest from the district and I had to remove my emotions,” said Weatherall Neal, who said Creston High was the hardest decision on the list.

The move also came as a shock to some members in the community.

“I was surprised, caught off guard, I’ve been following the changes to the school, “said Deborah Eid with the Creston Neighborhood Association.

Creston was selected due to declining enrollment and a costly operation price of $1.5 million.

The school has a capacity for more than 1,000 students, but is only 47% full with less than half of those students living on the Northeast side.

The 10 buildings slated for close will either be sold or repurposed.

Several other schools will be repurposed under the plan, including:

  • Central Pinnacle and Creston Pinnacle, Ottawa Hills Pinnacle, and Union Pinnacle will close and consolidate to Southeast Career Pathways
  • Dickinson Elementary will close and reopen as New PK-8 Cultural Center
  • Gerald R. Ford Middle will close and reopen as New Gerald R. Ford Academic Center PK-8 Theme
  • Ken-O-Sha Elementary Close; Merges with New Sherwood Park PK-5 Neighborhood School;
  • Ken-O-Sha Building Reopen as New Preschool University with Ridgemoor, Wellerwood, West Leonard, Shawnee PKHI/GSRP consolidating to site
  • North Park Elementary closes and merges with Aberdeen PK-8
  • North Park Montessori remains at North Park building and Expands PK-8
  • Sherwood Park PK-8 Theme closes and will reopen as New PK-5 Neighborhood School with Ken- O-Sha Elementary and portions of Mulick Park attendance area included

Planned growth is proposed for the following list:

  • New International Baccalaureate Arts Academy PK-12; Phase II Feasibility Study
  • Secondary School Redesign Study (explore expansion of Southwest Community Campus to PK-12;
  • Expansion of CA Frost Environmental Science Academy PK-12; Expansion of Zoo School; Expansion of Blandford School; Public Museum Program, Future of Union, Westwood Middle, Riverside Middle)
  • Explore GRPS Authorized Non-Profit Charter Schools (alternative education; closed buildings; GVSU partnership)

The plan will save the district nearly $5 million with half of that being invested back into the district and the rest going into savings.

Stocking Elementary, which the district closed in 2010, will re-open under the plan putting a focus back into neighborhood schools.

Under the transformation, GRPS will also consolidate varsity sports from three teams to two teams. School uniforms will also be implemented in the district in phases starting with elementary students.

“We have school uniforms in eight of our buildings already and the research shows that when children wear uniforms the focus becomes academic achievement and not on can you afford $200 shoes or jeans,” said Weatherall Neal.

For GRPS, the last ten years had been a mixed bag of both great successes and extremely difficult challenges. Enrollment has declined by more than 7,000 students, the district has closed 25 schools and programs and cut $100 million for the budget. The district has also received state and national praise for its academic achievement and fiscal responsibility.

A series of meetings for parents will be held to discuss the plan. The first one will be held on November 1  at Creston High. A 56-page detailed description of the plan is available here in PDF format.

The Grand Rapids Board of Education can make revisions to the plan. They’re slated to vote on it on December 17th. The first phase will be implemented as early as January with changes taking place in the 2013-2014 school year.

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