MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Fallout continues over a teacher shortage at Muskegon Heights Public Schools Academy.
Parents and community members overflowed a packed meeting on Tuesday night, when the district’s two boards went back and forth on the issues facing the district.
The elected board has oversight of the Public School Academy System Board, which handles review of day-to-day operations. The elected board appoints the members to the second board.
Katie Kapteyn teaches English to 150 seventh, eighth and ninth graders. She told News 8 the situation is dire.
“We’re hanging on by a thread right now,” she said.
When Kapteyn started teaching English in 2016, there were 27 teachers at the Muskegon Heights Academy, which teaches seventh through 12th graders.
Now, she said there are only seven certified teachers, all being pushed to their limit.
“We don’t have a counselor,” Kapteyn said. “We’re the one making sure attendance is correct. We’re making schedules. We’re short on security staff so we’re acting as security guards and counselors.”
The school’s law firm told News 8 there are currently 10 teachers — its website lists seven — with more than 200 students overall.
“We’ve taken on five to 10 jobs,” Kapteyn said. “In addition, without having extra classes that kids would normally have, extra specials like a language class or anything, we’ve had to compact all the classes. So our class sizes alone are up to 30 kids.”
At the packed public meeting Tuesday night, elected board president Trinell Scott said the national teacher shortage especially hurts Muskegon Heights.
“You have to take into consideration that teachers are looking at the districts they’re going to work in,” Scott said. “We are a very unique district. And a lot of people don’t want to take on the challenge of coming to work here. That’s the reality of it.”
New Paradigm for Education, a Detroit-based charter school management firm, is the new company running the district this year. As the firm was hired, several teachers left the district, leaving schools with fewer staff members this year.
Ralph Bland, the group’s CEO, acknowledged the rocky start during the meeting.
“I know the community right now isn’t happy,” he said. “We’re not happy.”
Bland said it has been “challenging” to get teachers to come to Muskegon Heights. Even finding substitute teachers has been difficult.
“I need your support in calling back alumni that have bachelor’s degrees that’s interested in education that can help become substitute teachers,” Bland said. “All that helps.”
Kapteyn said she’s been let down by the new company.
“All the promises, there’s no follow through,” she said.
Kapteyn rejoined the district this fall. She said she just got access to the online curriculum for her 150 students.
“To implement this curriculum without the resources is impossible,” she said. “It’s so impossible without having the supplies to do it.
School leaders are looking to form a committee to find a new superintendent.
The Michigan Department of Education told News 8 it’s aware of the complaints against the school and is “looking into the matter.”
“We have to unify ourselves in order for us to get to the next level,” Scott said. “Our children are watching us. And they’re the ones who are at stake.”
For Kapteyn, the situation isn’t sustainable. She said she wanted to speak up because “enough is enough.”
“It feels like we had to get to this rock bottom position for change to take place,” She said. “We hit our low, and now it’s time to build up together.”
She said she cares about her 150 kids like they are her own.
“We are fighting tooth and nail for all of these kids,” she said. “I will fight for them as if they were my own. They deserve that, and they deserve the community behind them.”
“We have other options,” she added. “We can go anywhere. But the people who are there are loyal to this community, and they want to see it succeed. We want to finally see it succeed.”