Sustained GRPS improvements, achievements deserve community support

October 9, 2015
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Grand Rapids Public Schools now achieves rankings an entire generation thought far beyond the capability of a public school district in an urban area.

One of the most recent: Newsweek’s Top High Schools 2015, which ranked City Middle/High School as No. 43 on a list of 500 — the best rank of any of the 22 Michigan public, magnet or charter schools making the list. Two other GRPS schools made the top 500 and three more ranked on Newsweek’s Beating the Odds schools.

Much of the credit can be given to the community that approved the Phase I millage in 2011, literally shoring up the walls of deteriorating buildings, and involvement in the GRPS Transformation Plan. The Board of Education now poses Phase II to voters, asking approval of a $175 million bond proposal during the Nov. 2 elections. The Business Journal advocates approval, underscoring how the average tax increase of $8.33 per month will provide a return on investment worth hundreds of times more.

This comment may easily have been given to the GRPS “fall count day,” which set another record, reversing all previous counts except last year. The school system’s special education programs are sought after and the magnet schools have, in fact, increased enrollments and created business partnerships in a wide variety of forms including the Van Andel Institute, Blandford School, Van Andel Public Museum, Spectrum Health, and with the Challenge Scholars program in association with Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

The millage approval would: add the new GRPS Zoo School, in cooperation with John Ball Zoo; provide $20 million for the Southwest Community Campus High School and $13 million for Buchanan Elementary; and would make investments in security and technology.

The enrollment increases last year garnered additional state revenue sharing of $2.2 million, which will be maintained for the current school year. Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s increased the district’s bond rating from negative to stable.

The Business Journal also notes that graduation rates have consistently improved and could jump enough this year to be the first in Michigan, and likely in the U.S., with such high rates of improvement. College ACT scores have improved to the point of being the third-highest ACT composite score growth in the country.

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal was named Region 3 Superintendent of the Year by the Michigan Association of School Administrators in 2014.

Weatherall Neal told the Business Journal, “I am committed to these children. I am committed to this community and to the citizens. I want people to know they can have faith that we are going to educate these children and it will be a great return on investment.”

The Business Journal reporting reflects that commitment as well as the trust this leader has established. The Business Journal joins the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders in supporting the millage approval.

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