GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools plans to transform Ottawa Hills High School into a hub for college preparation and an innovative career technical center.

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal announced the $17 million renovation Thursday as part of her sixth annual State of the Schools address.

Weatherall Neal said the district will launch its first Early/Middle College program at Ottawa Hills High School next year. Students who take part in the five-year program will graduate with a high school diploma and associate degree at no additional cost. In fact, the superintendent said the degree program is worth $7,000 or more per student.

“We want to provide hope, we want to provide opportunities, but most importantly we want to give our students an edge. We want them to have a leg up when they leave us,” she told 24 Hour News 8.

Weatherall Neal said the technical center planned for Ottawa Hills will focus on six areas, including technology, homeland security, engineering, cosmetology, communications and marketing. She said research is still underway to further develop the program.

Another point of attention for the superintendent has been working with historically black colleges and universities around the nation to create a pipeline to secondary education for students. She also announced Florida A&M University will award nine $50,000 scholarships to GRPS students for the 2017-2018 school year.

The superintendent also focused her speech on future teachers and education. She said the district is partnering with the Ferris State University School of Education to develop a teacher cadet program at Innovation Central High School. GRPS is also discussing ways to partner with Aquinas College to create a Montessori Training Center in West Michigan, Weatherall Neal said.

Weatherall Neal touted the success of the GRPS Transformation Plan, citing the district’s first enrollment increase in more than 20 years, a nearly 50 percent increase in graduation rates over the last five years, the removal of six of the district’s 13 schools from the state’s Priority School list, and the $10 million XQ Super School Project grant awarded to the Museum School.

Weatherall Neal said the next step for the district is implementing the GRPS Transformation Plan “with a laser like focus” on kindergarten readiness, third grade reading, seventh grade science, eighth grade math, 11th grade college career readiness and high school graduation.

During her speech, the superintendent thanked Kent County voters for approving a $19.9 million regional enhancement millage. Approximately $3.5 million will go to GRPS in the first year; the district has promised to use all of it toward classroom instruction and kids.

She also discussed where school bond money will be going next, including:

  • $13 million to reconstructing Buchanan Elementary this spring
  • $10 million toward renovating 54 Jefferson for Museum High School
  • $17 million to renovate City High-Middle school this fall

A newly renovated Ridgemoor Park Montessori elementary school will open this fall.

–24 Hour News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.