Health focus at Central High gets support

January 18, 2009
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The city’s economic drive toward the health care sector accelerated last week with Grand Rapids Public Schools and Spectrum Health announcing a partnership to turn Central High School into a regional hub for high school students interested in health, science and technology.

As many as 500 teenagers could study there within two years as the school’s small Health, Science and Technology High School becomes its focus. Central will transition from a traditional high school to a “Center for Innovation,” GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt said, as the district moves from four comprehensive high schools to three, in addition to City High/Middle School.

Matt VanVranken, president of Spectrum Health Hospital Group, said the city’s largest health system has committed $150,000 per year for three years to underwrite the program.

“This is really an innovative approach to the way in which we can connect with community, connect with schools,” VanVranken said. “We’ve got a pretty vibrant life sciences community here, so this will have, I think, a ripple effect throughout the community. We’ve made a commitment that I think will help you achieve this vision that you have.”

Former Kent County Commission Chairwoman Marge Byington, who has served on a committee working on the changes, said the new program at Central High School represents a commitment not only to the children of Grand Rapids, but to the economy of the region as a whole.

“We have another viable opportunity to build our community, and this is it,” Byington said. “It’s about work force development, it’s about economic development, and it’s about the quality of life that incredible health care is bringing to our community. Just look at the opportunity we have here.”

The Health, Science and Technology High School is one of four that will be transformed into Centers of Innovation, a GRPS plan to create focused high schools that mimic the academic innovation available to charter schools but exist within the public school system, use Grand Rapids Education Association teachers and meet the state’s new, more stringent graduation requirements.

Other centers planned for the high schools include: Academy for Design and Construction at Union High School, with openings for 125 ninth-graders this fall, with support from Christman Cos., Rockford Companies and Progressive AE; expansions to include ninth grade in the School of Business at Creston and Ottawa Hills high schools; and GRAPCEP/Biomedical and Engineering School at Creston.

Helmholdt said those programs work with a variety of businesses in Grand Rapids.

On hold is the Ellington Academy for Arts and Technology, being planned by the Rev. Marvin Sapp and his wife, MaLinda. The Grammy-winning gospel star was hoping to open the school last fall at his ministry’s Burton Street campus. But it did not open, and won’t open this fall, either, Helmholdt said. Superintendent Bernard Taylor was unwilling to say the school is off the table. He said the biggest issue is whether a sustainable financial commitment is available.

“We’re receptive to moving forward with the idea. The key piece for any Center of Innovation is finding partners who will be able to assist us, not only to initiate the project but sustain it over time,” Taylor said.

He said he’d like to see support for an arts-oriented school come from across the arts community. The identification of “key partners” to make a long-term commitment “will help us get that back up for discussion,” Taylor added.

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