GRPS has ‘best count day in two decades’


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan’s largest school district lost fewer than 100 students this year, according to the latest ‘count day’ numbers — the smallest loss in about 20 years.

“We’re elated. This is a long time coming. Best count day in two decades,” Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman John Helmholdt said. “This is the first school year in almost two decades that they didn’t close a single school.”

There are two count days each school year. The fall count day — which fell on Wednesday this year — decides 90% of school funding and the winter count day decides 10%.

Since 2000, GRPS has lost about 8,500 students. In the 2007-08 fall count day, the district counted 900 fewer kids.

When it plans its budget each year, GRPS plans to lose 400 students.That amounts to about a $2.8 million loss. But the actual loss this year is under 100 students, meaning the district will lose only about $700,000 — a $2.1 million difference.

The full list of school attendance hasn’t been released, but the district says the majority of schools’ student counts are at or above projections — some by almost 90 students. About a dozen schools saw a decline.

THE AFFECT OF THE TRANSFORMATION PLAN

This is the second year of GRPS’s Transformation Plan, which closed some schools and reorganized others in a bid to turn the ailing district around. School officials say that has contributed to the small student population decline.

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal spoke to 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Wednesday from an education conference in California about the groundbreaking count day numbers.

“I attribute quite a bit to the Transformation Plan, and that’s really what it was about. It’s stopping the churn, doing what we do best, and pulling together as a family and that’s what we did on this count day,” she said.

When 24 Hour News 8 asked if the latest figures were really a success considering the district has lost thousands of students over the years, Neal replied that it is.

“It is a victory. I think that it’s unfortunate that students have left, but there are a lot of choices now that were not available so many years ago, so this is a win for us. We knew that we could do it. We have the right team in place. Our awesome staff members, leaders, the board is great, so I think it is a celebration,” said Neal.

“The Transformation Plan is the basis for the entire reason why enrollment is starting to stabilize,” spokesman John Helmholdt said.

MOVING FORWARD

Helmholdt also said the fall count day results do not mean the work is over. Rather, the positive numbers mean it’s time to work harder.

“We’ve got momentum and we intend to double down,” said Helmholdt.

He said the district plans to launch a “very aggressive marketing, retention and recruitment campaign.”

“We are now an asset to the city. We are coming along side the excitement that is happening in and around the City of Grand Rapids,” he said.

A sampling of the numbers from Wednesday’s count day:

CHALLENGE SCHOLARS SCHOOLS (which provide free college tuition for students who go on to graduate from Union High School)

  • Harrison Park Elementary: Up 10 students with a total enrollment of 877
  • Westwood Middle School: Up 37 with a total enrollment of 359

THEME SCHOOLS

  • CA Frost Environmental Science: Up 88 kids with a total enrollment of 472
  • North Park Montessori: Up 70 with a total enrollment of 320
  • Gerald R. Ford Academic Center (which opened last year): Up 54 with a 227 total enrollment
  • Southwest Community Campus: Up 56 with a total enrollment of 811

NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS

  • Brookside Elementary: Up 35 with a total enrollment of 309
  • Campus Elementary: Up 28 with a total enrollment of 374
  • Palmer Elementary: Up 32 with a total enrollment of 277
  • Stocking Elementary: Up 18 with a total enrollment of 286

HIGH SCHOOLS

  • City High School: Up 30
  • Innovation Central: Up 22
  • Ottawa Hills High School: Down 58
  • Union High School: Up 48

24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.

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