GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On Monday night, Grand Rapids Public Schools announced which of its schools could close over the next several years.
The district is planning to close schools in response to declining enrollment. District leaders hope fewer buildings will ultimately result in a better experience for students.
GRPS leaders recommended that the following schools close over the next several years:
- East Leonard Elementary, 2024: Students would move to Kent Hills Elementary or Coit Creative Arts Academy.
- Stocking Elementary, 2024: Students would move to Harrison Park Academy or Sibley Elementary.
- Southeast Career Pathways (Jefferson), 2025: Students would move to the former Siggsbee school when renovations are complete.
- Grand Rapids Montessori Academy (Fountain), 2026: Students would move to the renovated space at the site currently used by Riverside Middle School.
- North Park Early Childhood Center at Wellerwood, 2026: Students would move to the renovated space at the site currently used by Riverside Middle School.
- Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy, 2026: Students would move to the renovated campus at Ken-O-Sha Park.
- Brookside Elementary, 2026: Students would move to the renovated space that currently houses Alger Middle School.
- Palmer Elementary, 2027: Students would move to Kent Hills Elementary or the renovated neighborhood school at the site currently being used by North Park Montessori.
- Aberdeen Academy, 2027: PreK-5th grade students would move to Kent Hills Elementary or the renovated neighborhood school at the site currently being used by North Park Montessori. 6th-8th grade students would move to the new middle school program at the Innovation Central campus.
- Westwood Middle School, 2028: Students would move to the new middle school program on the Union campus.
The district says no staff will be laid off.
“This is about making sure our young people get the best possible education they can get right here in Grand Rapids Public Schools,” Leon Hendrix, executive director of communications and external affairs for GRPS, told News 8.
Student enrollment dropped by 26% from 2008 to 2020, and elementary, middle and high schools are only being used to about half their capacity. This prompted district leadership to reconsider how many buildings the district needs.
“Right now, our district has the space to hold about 27,000 young people,” Hendrix said. “Right now, we have about 14,000 enrolled in our schools.”
The district says its plan will bring building utilization rates up from 51% to 73%.
“It is a financial decision, but it’s also an instructional and equitable decision. And so as our district has gotten smaller, a lot of it has to do with the birthrate,” Dr. Leadriane Roby, the superintendent of GRPS, said.
According to GRPS, a commitment to equity is a theme of its new plan.
“This proposal suggests more mirroring of offerings available to scholars on the north side of town to those who live in southeast and southwest side neighborhoods,” the district wrote.
“From an equity standpoint, we can have our specials teachers, art and music and other specials, at every school,” Roby said. “So that children don’t feel like, ‘I have to go to this school if I want this particular program,’ but it’s offered throughout our organization.”
Beyond the consolidation, GRPS’ proposal also includes adding more themed offerings on the city’s southeast side, like an environmental science program at Ken-O-Sha; making improvements to auditoriums, pools and athletic facilities; providing air conditioning in every building by 2029; adding secure entrances; and bringing together the Grand Rapids Montessori and North Park Montessori programs. The plan also introduces the idea of themed learning spaces known as “Innovation Hubs.”
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE COMMUNITY
When the district last consolidated a decade ago, Creston High School closed due to declining enrollment. It shocked many parents, alumni and students at the time.
“Kinda disappointed that just out of nowhere Creston’s closing,” a student told News 8 in 2013. “It just changes everyone’s plans.”
As district leaders worked on the latest plan to consolidate, they spoke with neighborhood association leaders from across the city to understand their community’s needs.
“We have heard conversations about improvements could be made with how things were handled previously,” Hendrix said. “We’re always trying to be cognizant of that and growing and learning from experiences in the past.”
One of those groups was the Creston Neighborhood Association.
“There’s still a lot of feelings of loss about no longer having Creston High School here,” Gregg Hampshire, the neighborhood association’s executive director, said.
Hampshire applauded GRPS’ approach to the latest consolidation process, saying district leaders have been “really communicative.”
“I feel like administration’s been doing a great job with listening to us,” Hampshire said. “They’ve been valuing our voices. They’ve invested a lot of time into this process.”
Hampshire said he expressed to administrators that walking proximity to schools is important for many families in the neighborhood.
He hopes school closings will ultimately lead to more students in buildings and create a “more vibrant and diverse community for students.”
“For those that live in the Creston community, know we will advocate for you,” Hampshire added. “We will work towards problem-solving if there is a certain school in the Creston neighborhood that is consolidated.”
WHAT COMES NEXT
The recommended closures are not a done deal. The district will have feedback sessions across the city over the next month before the Board of Education votes on the plan Dec. 18.
The plan aims to save millions on maintenance costs and repairs and rededicate that money toward students.
“What this really does is allows us to streamline our resources toward our young people, away from empty space and buildings and toward the success of our kids,” Hendrix said.
“The ultimate goal is the well-being of our children,” he added. “That’s really all there is to say about that.”
— News 8’s Amanda Porter contributed to this report.