Grand Rapids Public Schools

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Lawyers say Grand Rapids Public School administrators didn’t do enough to provide students a safe learning environment at one of its high schools.

Jamila Williams, a former math teacher at Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, was convicted of four counts of criminal sexual conduct for having sex with underage boys. She’s now in prison.

At a press conference today, the mothers of two of the victims claimed their sons lost friends, became depressed, and had academic problems because of the abuse. The mothers were not named to protect the privacy of their children.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan school districts are gearing up for the beginning of the school year.

Many school districts are holding kickoff events, including Grand Rapids Public Schools which drew hundreds of grade-school students and parents today.

Teresa Weatherall-Neal is Grand Rapids' school superintendent. She says it’s important for parents and children to realize summer is almost over.

"We need people to now switch gears. Summer is over. We need you to start thinking about school,” says Weatherall-Neal. “It’s time to come back.”

This week, Governor Rick Snyder made good on his promise to boost preschool spending.

Today he got a chance to talk to some parents, teachers and school administrators in Grand Rapids about the proposal.

About a dozen four-year-olds sat in a circle around Gov. Snyder. He read them "Snowmen at Work," a children’s tale about what snowmen do for a living.

“Are they in school just like you?” Snyder asked the group. 

"Yeah!” they replied in unison.

“You have fun at school?"

"Yeah!”

The MEAP test has been used to evaluate kids and schools in Michigan for over four and a half decades.

The test is meant to make sure public schools are teaching kids the basics. But MEAP scores affect where parents decide to send their kids, neighborhood housing prices, city tax revenue, and city services.

Basically, the economics of a city rests on how well 8 and 9-year-olds perform on this single test.

State of Opportunity's Dustin Dwyer spent six weeks inside Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids, a school with consistently low MEAP scores. Dwyer followed a third-grade class as they prepared to take the test. He interviewed students, teachers, and parents, trying to figure out how much these numbers matter. What he found was, the test scores do not even begin to tell the story.

To hear the documentary now and learn more, visit the State of Opportunity website. 

Lawmakers are working out the details of a proposal that would flunk Michigan students who can’t read at “proficient” levels by the end of the third grade.

Many in the education community are opposed to the legislation, including The Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers.

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies supports it.

Official Movement Twitter / https://twitter.com/MovementDetroit

The head of Michigan’s fifth-largest school district is launching a “listening tour” this week.

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal says the Grand Rapids school district needs to succeed in order for the city to succeed, and because that impacts the entire region, she wants to hear from everybody.

Medicaid is first order of business in Lansing

"The Michigan Legislature is back in session today to deal with the final details of a bill to extend Medicaid health coverage to thousands of working poor people. Governor Rick Snyder hopes to have the measure ready for his signature by the end of the day," Rick Pluta reports.

Schools must offer opportunity for students to recite Pledge of Allegiance

"Some students could have their first experience reciting the Pledge of Allegiance today. A new state law requires schools to offer students "the opportunity" to recite the pledge each day," Tracy Samilton reports.

Grand Rapids Public Schools phases in school uniforms

"All 10,000 students in Grand Rapids Public Schools will wear uniforms within three years. It starts this year with students in kindergarten through eighth grade," Rina Miller reports.


Author Elmore Leonard dies

Detroit writer Elmore Leonard passed away yesterday at age 87.  Michigan Radio’s Kate Wells reports that Leonard was the author of 45 novels and was in the middle of number 46 when he suffered a stroke earlier this summer.  Leonard’s work has often been adapted to well-known films such as 3:10 to Yuma, Out of Sight, and the television series Justified.

Detroit mayoral race has ballot counting issues

In Detroit’s mayoral race earlier this month, Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan appeared to have a clear 16-point lead over Wayne County Sherriff Benny Napoleon.  But now the results are being questioned because of ballot counting inconsistencies.  Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek reports that “votes are customarily counted with hash marks but some election workers used numbers instead.” 

Grand Rapids Public Schools show improvement

Some Grand Rapids Public Schools have had difficulty meeting Michigan state educational standards for the past few years.  Union High School previously hovered in the lowest one percent of schools in the state.  It has now pulled itself up to within the lowest ten percent.  Michigan Radio’s Lindsay Smith reports that the district’s superintendent said “it wasn’t just the district; this really has been a community effort.”

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

The Grand Rapids Public School District is making strides in turning around some of its lowest performing schools. That’s according to new data released by the state Tuesday.

Ron Gorman is the Executive Director of High Schools and Alternative Education at GRPS. He works with all of Grand Rapids high schools, many of which have problems meeting state standards.

There are plenty of adults talking about what should be done concerning education in Michigan. But an event in Grand Rapids gave students an opportunity to explain what they need from their schools.

Lynn Heemstra helped organize the event, called “KidSpeak.”

“It’s my belief that a lot of people that have legislative responsibility don’t really know the extent of what young people are dealing with in the their lives and what they’re receiving in the way of day to day educational opportunities,” Heemstra said.

Bernard Taylor Jr. ran what’s now the state’s fifth-largest K-12 district for five years.

Eventually, Taylor and some members of the school board did not get along very well. By in the spring of 2011, it became clear Taylor was looking for a new job. He agreed to resign that summer and ended up signing a severance package.

But last month Taylor sued, claiming the district never paid him.  He calculated GRPS owed him $330,000 including lawyer’s fees.

In this week in Michigan politics, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s upcoming budget address, the final days of the Kwame Kilpatrick trial, and how 200 administrators in Grand Rapids Public Schools got pink slipped.

The 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid.
Ford Motor Company

About 200 administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are getting notice that they could potentially be laid off this summer. The school board voted Monday night to send out the notices, as part of a “transformation plan” it adopted in December.

http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/StateLanding.aspx?state=MI

Walk up to the new school inside the Blandford Nature Center and a flock of brown hens will quietly greet you. The hens are part of a business lesson about entrepreneurs at the Blandford School.

On Monday students and staff gathered to open the new school building paid for through mostly private funds.

Jennifer Brandstatter wipes tears from her cheek during the celebration. She moved her oldest of two daughters from a Catholic school to attend  6th grade at Blandford and she “loves it”.

“I just, I cry when I think about it. It’ just she’s having the best time of her life. The teachers are amazing. I mean it’s just such a unique experience,” Brandstatter explained.

On Thursday night hundreds of parents and students got their first chance to respond to a "transformation plan" for the Grand Rapids Public School district. The plan unveiled Monday includes closing ten schools.

There was a lot of push back, even tears at times in the auditorium at Creston High School; the only high school slated to be shut down.

“Honestly, it feels like the board is giving up on us,” Creston High School freshman Toni Cortazar said.

The Grand Rapids Public School district would close 10 schools under a new “transformation plan” unveiled Monday night.

Over the past decade GRPS has lost 7,000 students; dropping it to the fifth largest district in the state. Along with the loss of students, Grand Rapids Public Schools has cut more than $100 million and closed 25 schools. But almost half its buildings are still way below capacity and the graduation rate is only 47-percent. 

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.  

A statewide group launched a campaign Thursday demanding state lawmakers invest more money in public education.

Victoria Kovari is the lead organizer at the Michigan Organizing Collaborative. It’s a network of faith-based, community and labor leaders. Kovari says they want lawmakers to significantly reverse the trend of education cuts in Michigan over the past decade.

“This is a statewide problem. It affects rich and poor districts, city and suburban and rural districts all across the state. And it affects the lives of real people; young people and parents and teachers,” Kovari said.

The collaborative is asking people to sign an online petition to lawmakers. She hopes the request will make a difference as lawmakers craft the state budget over the next few months.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell dedicated his entire state of the city speech Saturday morning to highlighting the problems facing kids in the community. 

Heartwell noted nearly 2 in 5 children in Michigan's 2nd largest city live in poverty. More than 1 in 5 students in Grand Rapids Public Schools drops out of high school. Many don’t have regular access to the internet.

Ifmuth / Flickr

The school board of Michigan’s third largest public school district voted unanimously Monday night to extend interim Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal’s contract for 18 months and suspend the superintendent search.

Neal replaces former superintendent Bernard Taylor. Taylor had agreed to resign from Grand Rapids schools at the end of this school year after he was a finalist for other jobs beginning last spring. But he departed abruptly earlier this month.

In a written statement school board president Senita Lenear said:

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