Superintendent: GRPS on ‘verge of major breakthrough’

Superintendent Theresa Weatherall Neal delivers GRPS State of our Schools (March 15, 2014).

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After implementing a major transformation plan to start the school year, Grand Rapids Public School’s Superintendent Theresa Weatherall Neal says the district will now stay the course and continue to focus on students.

Neal delivered her ‘State of our Schools’ address Saturday morning at Ottawa Hills High School.

Neal opened her remarks with progress and successes after the implementation of the districts “Transformation Plan” at the start of this school year.

The district closed 10 schools and reorganized others, implemented uniforms for kindergarten through 8th grade, consolidated school athletic programs, restored art and music at the elementary level, eliminated elective hubs and restructured blended learning.

“We said we don’t want a computer to replace our teachers right, but we do want our children to have access to technology. There’s a difference,” Weatherall Neal said.

She said the district continues to make strides; improving customer service and keeping parents involved and informed.

They improved safety and security, acquiring new patrol vehicles and started a student pilot program for conflict resolution called ‘Restorative Justice’.

Weatherall Neal says the district took a hard stand on chronic absenteeism; reducing the rate from 36% in the last school year to 29% today.

“We made 470 home visits this year already and I’ve turned 40 people over to the prosecuting attorney. It’s the right thing to do. Children need to come to school,” she said.

Weatherall Neal says GRPS increased its overall graduation rate district wide. Union High School, along with Alger, Brookside, Mulick Park and Westwood schools, are finally off the bottom 5% list of poor performing schools.

“And City Middle/High retained the position as the top performing school in West Michigan, the second highest performing in the entire state. And one of the top 200 performing schools in America. Hats off Grand Rapids!!”

Three new schools are on the horizon; two slated to open in the fall of 2015 including a 6-12th grade museum school in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The district will open the Grand Rapids School of the Arts in Ottawa Hills High School with GVSU, Kendall College and the GR Symphony as partners. Plus, there are plans in the works for a farm school where students will get hands on experience with urban agriculture.

“I want you to know we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough. Talk about it, spread the word, tweet it whatever you do. Talk to people about what’s happening in Grand Rapids,” Weatherall Neal said.

Weatherall Neal says there are currently no major overhauls planned for the district in the near future.

They will continue to work with community and neighborhood partners to fine tune what is currently in place.

However, she said GRPS will likely approach voters for more funding to make everything work.

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