GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Teachers and staff at Grand Rapids Public Schools welcomed students back to school Tuesday — and many of those students were in new uniforms.
It also marks the second year since the district’s major transformation plan was put into effect.
“The transformation plan went very well last year,” said GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. “We’re excited to start our second full year with the transformation plan. Things should go pretty well. Our teachers are ready, prepared for our students and we’ve had great professional development. Our principals are back and they were in place early, so we’re really excited this year.”
Over the past year, GRPS has been phasing in school uniforms for students. Starting this semester, middle school students at GRPS will have to wear uniforms. This comes a year after the decision to require elementary students to wear uniforms. Next fall, high school students will also begin wearing the uniforms.
Tuesday, only a handful of students at Alger, Burton, Riverside and Westwood middle schools and the Gerald R. Ford Academic Center (which teaches kindergarten through 8th grade) were out of uniform.
“I would love to say that we will have 100% of our middle school students in uniforms. We will not,” said Weatherall Neal. “Middle school students, they want to be individuals; they want to wear what they want to wear — but we just can’t do that in Grand Rapids. We are going to hold firm on the uniforms.”
“Coming to school is really about academic achievement. And when students are competing about who has on which outfit, it takes them off the focus and it’s just not right,” she continued.
Brian Cruzado, who has three children, said the uniforms make his mornings easier.
“It’s easy to pick out in the morning for me when my wife goes to work,” he said. “So it’s not too bad.”
As part of its transformation plan, GRPS also closed 10 schools and reorganized others, introducing a number of theme schools like the Zoo School and museum school.
In May, officials announced the Challenge Scholars program, which gives students living on Grand Rapids’ west side the opportunity to attend college for free. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation has raised $27.2 million towards their $32 million goal for the program.
Administrators hope the changes will slow down the number of students who have left the district in recent years. Enrollment numbers show GRPS has lost 2,456 students over the past five years. The district projects losing another 400 students this year.