GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - After announcing a plan to shut down 10 schools and programs, including Creston High School, the Grand Rapids Public Schools board held a special meeting Monday night to discuss the more than 500 phone calls, emails and community comments it has received about the district's future.
The board spoke about plan feedback, which appeared to focus mainly on four main issues: the potential closing of Creston High School, school uniforms, the Shawnee Oral Deaf Program and a possible move for City High Middle School.
But GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal says there won't be a lot of differences between the first version of the plan -- which she has called Version 1.0 -- and Version 2.0.
"I've gone through every page and I have taken into consideration what community members have said, but for the most part I was very thorough, very thorough in the plan," she said. "I'm just not one to put something out without really thinking about it, and so I've taken my best thinking and added based on community feedback, and I'm putting together a great plan. Actually, I think it's even better than it was."
That being said, Monday's special school board meeting made it clear, because of that feedback, a few things may change.
"I'm a Polar Bear and so I am really pleased that people love Creston as much as I do, and so I wasn't surprised," Weatherall Neal said, referring to her status as a Creston High School alumna. "I am also a strong believer in neighborhoods, and so I get that people don't want an empty building in their neighborhood. I would like to come up with a plan so Creston is not an empty building sitting there. That would not be the best thing for that neighborhood."
But Weatherall Neal said other schools won't be put on the chopping block in the place of Creston for Version 2.0.
"I don't think so," said Weatherall Neal. "What I didn't feel was fair is for me to introduce something entirely new and I've had people say, 'Why don't you put this school on the list?' That's just not fair. I think it's safe to say if your school is not on the list, you still are not on the list."
One of the ideas that has gotten a lot of positive feedback is the idea to move City High into the Creston building.
"I've gotten a lot of feedback on that and people are very excited about that," said Weatherall Neal.
Another is to keep the kids in the Shawnee Oral Deaf Program together -- wherever that program is located.
"Those are two of the changes that I'm really, really giving strong consideration to," said Weatherall Neal. "I've received a lot of feedback and I just don't think that that many people can be wrong."
Board member Maureen Quinn Slade expressed her thoughts on the proposed Oral Deaf program changes.
"We've got one of the best, finest oral deaf programs in the country and I would hate to lose that for some money," said Slade.
Weatherall Neal responded that the goal of the plan is to increase academic achievement and "saving money is a byproduct of what we're doing."
She went on to say that parents who are a part of the Shawnee community did bring up some good points she might not have thought of while crafting her original transformation plan. One mother, in particular, she singled out for having good ideas about the future of the children in that oral deaf program.
"You'll see a lot of [that mom's] suggestions in the plan," said Weatherall Neal, who went on to say that the mom presented ideas that weren't about one particular child but rather the "good of the whole."
The final issue that has generated a lot of feedback is student uniforms.
"The students at City High School, they don't want uniforms, you have to love them," said Weatherall Neal.
The superintendent did say much of the feedback from parents, and even from some students, has been in favor of the uniform plan. She said that despite students' pleadings, she plans to keep school uniforms in the second version of the transformation plan. Weatherall Neal said uniforms would likely roll out in three or four years for students in kindergarten through fifth or eighth grades.
Weatherall Neal said Monday the new plan with community input looks like it will save the district an extra $200,000 or $300,000, on top of the about $5 million the first plan looked to save. Officials have said the plan is to re-invest half of that money into district programs and put the other half in the bank.
Version 2.0 of the transformation plan should be released Nov. 19.
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