New superintendent works to unite Grand Rapids schools’ community

Mar 10, 2012

The interim superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools will get rid of some controversial initiatives put in place by the former district leader. The state’s third largest school district has been through a lot of turmoil over the last year.

Former Grand Rapids schools superintendent Bernard Taylor made academic improvements during his five years serving the district. But he was divisive at least and a pariah to some. He resigned abruptly in January. His replacement Teresa Weatherall Neal has worked for Grand Rapids schools for 35 years.

“I am truly, truly, one of you. This is my district and this is my city,” Neal said in her ‘state of our schools address’ Saturday.  

Neal said she will roll back some of Taylor’s initiatives; including a ‘hub’ model where students travel to other school buildings for elective classes. “Our students should not have to get on a bus to go across town to take an elective course. That is not right,” Neal said.

Neal also said she plans to “revitalize” art, music and physical education next school year. She says she’s also working to make sure schools are safe for students to learn.

An obvious change from other 'state of our schools' addresses at GRPS was that representatives from all unions groups got a chance to sit on stage and speak to the crowd before Neal.

Paul Helder heads the Grand Rapids teachers union. He says the leadership change is already making a huge difference for the better.

“Nobody expects any drama. Everybody’s already been told where we’re going, what’s going on. And everybody feels like ‘even if I didn’t make it today for questions, I can pick up the phone and call.’ That’s a phenomenal culture change,” Helder said.

Neal’s contract runs for 18 months. It could be renewed pending an evaluation.