Parents petition to keep 2 Kalamazoo schools open

Students who attend Woodward School for Technology and Research and Washington Writer's Academy are at a risk for having their school closed.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Jim and Dara Seaman visited five different schools to pick the best one for their daughter, Elaine, as she started kindergarten in 2016.

They eventually decided the Woodward School for Technology and Research in Kalamazoo would be the best fit because of the care they saw the teachers take with students, and the loving environment. Their daughter loves the school and is doing well both academically and socially.

But recently the Seamans learned that Woodward along with the Washington Writer’s Academy, another elementary school in Kalamazoo, performed among the bottom 5 percent in the state and received a failing grade, putting them at risk of closing.

“My initial reaction is that we were really upset. We were trying to figure out who the SRO [School Reform Office] is and why our school, which we love so much, is at risk of closing,” explained Jim about receiving an email from the state.

Students who attend Woodward School for Technology and Research and Washington Writer's Academy are at a risk for having their school closed.
Students who attend Woodward School for Technology and Research and Washington Writer’s Academy are at a risk for having their school closed.

The Seamans started a petition on to keep the schools open and remove them from the list, and nearly 2,000 people signed it. They delivered it to Lansing Monday, after contacting their State Representative Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo.

>>Petition to the School Reform Office (PDF)

“The School Reform Office was created in 2010. There were a number of schools that were placed in what’s called the priority list, so a mathematical formula for the bottom 5 percent of schools based on standardized tests,” Hoadley explained.

He says using the standardized tests as a measuring stick for which schools should stay open is misguided because it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the learning happening in their schools.

Both Woodward and Washington received Competitive School Improvement grants, which Hoadley says have helped improve academic performance in the classroom. However, that was done through the Department of Education, not through the School Reform Office.

“The way the School Reform Office works… creates a model that Lansing can govern by spreadsheets as opposed to looking at schools and the kids that are actually doing the learning in the schools,” Hoadley said.

Studies have shown a direct correlation between systemic poverty and test scores. Ninety percent of the students at both Woodward and Washington are on the free or reduced lunch program, living in households that fall below the poverty line.

Hoadley says even with that starting point in elementary, the district has proven it has the resources to help these students with demonstrated improvement as they get older.

“Just a couple years ago…only 26 percent of kids were making adequate progress or catch up growth, now 76 [percent] are actually making progress or catching up from learning so they’re closer to grade level,” said Hoadley.

Sarah Van Eck is another parent who picked Woodward through the school of choice option and loves it for her daughter, who is in the first grade.

“The level of devotion that the teachers have there is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Not only is my daughter and learning concepts far beyond what I knew at her age at a high-testing school, but she’s also learning respect, empathy, open-mindedness — those are taught every day there and that is so important to me and to our family,” Van Eck told 24 Hour News 8.

She was hurt and angry when she received the letter about the school potentially closing. Van Eck says it’s unfair to punish schools for low performance instead of addressing the reasons why the low performance exists. She and her daughter will both speak to the representatives from the School Reform Office when they visit Woodward Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Hoadley says he’s working with Republicans in the House on legislation that would change the way the state measures student outcomes.

“When you hear the governor say that his administration is moving away from the idea that there’s an improved performance [from closing schools], this idea’s time has come and gone,” said Hoadley.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov recently introduced a bill to remove section 1280c, which is part of the school code that empowers the School Reform Office.

“Senator O’Brien and myself and other area delegation that are working to figure out how do we put into place a transformational model that makes sure that what’s working great in our schools, and our districts stays in place while finding new ways to actually support the students so that they get the learning they need as well,” said Hoadley.