GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools is looking to inform families about enrolling in their district.

GRPS is hosting its annual School Choice Expo and Snow Spectacular event on Thursday. This event gives families the opportunity to meet principals and staff from all GRPS neighborhood and theme schools. 

“GRPS is proud to offer the region’s largest, most comprehensive selection of school choices in all of West Michigan, so we are excited to showcase our offerings at this family-friendly event,” said Superintendent Leadriane Roby. “We take pride in preparing our students for the real world and are passionate about ensuring all our families have an opportunity to learn more about what GRPS has to offer.”

GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt joined News 8 Digital Anchor Luke Laster from the WOOD TV8 Live Desk Thursday morning to discuss the event and enrollment status in GRPS, other efforts GRPS is making to keep students in schools, how those efforts have evolved over the past decade and how the pandemic has impacted staff and classroom sizes.

Helmholdt discussed enrollment declines because of COVID-19 that GRPS — and schools around the country — faced back in 2020.

“We’re really on that rebuild mode right now. That’s something that Dr. Roby became superintendent, literally two weeks after she accepted, was actually approved by the board of education is when COVID hit,” Helmholdt said. “So she kind of building the plane as we were flying it situation. I think what she’s really excited about is that we have the strategic planning process kicked off. That was something that had to be delayed because of COVID.”

In addition to enrollment, staffing has become a significant issue, adding to the difficulties stacking up against schools around the U.S.

“We are in a nationwide teacher and educator shortage crisis. Michigan ranks dead last in the number of students who have completed the college of education,” Helmholdt said. “There was a 71% decline since 2006. The overall student population in Michigan has declined by 9%. The number of students coming out of the college of education across Michigan has declined by more than 56%. We have more than 100 vacancies for teaching positions in Grand Rapids Public Schools. The substitute fill rates are barely at 40%. This is not just GRPS, this is across the board.”

For the full conversation, watch the replay in the video above.