It was five years ago when Teresa Weatherall Neal became the interim superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools. Our district was struggling. We had lost confidence; and some of us had even started to lose faith.
But not Superintendent Neal. She didn’t shy away from the challenge. She embraced it as an opportunity. She knew that we couldn’t abandon our kids, our future, our Grand Rapids. And she took her mission one step further—she didn’t just close ranks and struggle alone—instead, she opened the doors and invited us all in as her partners and allies. Her mantra became our call to action: “it’s the right thing to do for our kids.”
On Tuesday, April 19, Superintendent Neal gave her fifth State of Our Schools address as the leader of Grand Rapids Public Schools. The news continues to be good. Graduation rates are up by 12% across the district over the past four years, dual enrollment with GRCC is up by 52% since last year, and chronic absenteeism continues to decrease and is now down by more than 25%. Attendance is booming at Parent University, a program that offers free classes to parents on a variety of life skills. Next year, the district will expand its Grade School to Grad School mentoring program. And GRPS is persistent in seeking out and implementing new educational opportunities that meet the needs of a diverse student body.
We are on the path to realize Superintendent Weatherall Neal’s vision of GRPS as the best midsized urban district in the country.
Tuesday evening was the third State of Our Schools address I’ve attended as the Executive Director of the Student Advancement Foundation. Our superintendent took a chance and asked us, as a community, to come alongside her, her teachers and staff, and most importantly her students. When offered the opportunity to join the Foundation, I joyfully accepted—working together as one community is the Grand Rapids Way.
Now, the superintendent’s vision challenges us to be the best school foundation in the country for the best midsized urban district. How do we empower GRPS to develop our next generation of leaders, parents, artists, and entrepreneurs? How do we support our teachers and staff as they develop the innovative educational models for a 21st Century economy? How do we continue to engage the community in new ways that help our students to learn, grow, and thrive?
We are ready to answer that challenge and invite you to join us! Over the next year, we have several exciting new initiatives to support the district:
- Launched in February, GR8 Sports, Great Kids. This annual fundraising initiative underwrites K-8 after-school sports opportunities for all students in GRPS, regardless of ability to pay, and will impact over 5,000 youth next school year alone!
- Calling all GRPS Alumni! Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Community Leadership, SAF has spent the past eight months working with an amazing community trustee team from the 2016 Leadership Grand Rapids program and final plans are now underway for a huge GRPS alumni initiative. Watch for more news in the next few months and, if you are interested in helping, email me to learn more!
- The Preschool to 12th Grade Literacy Continuum. Superintendent Neal has shared that the district is “focusing like a laser beam on literacy.” The Foundation is supporting those efforts to ensure that every teacher and every student has access to the materials they need—from classroom libraries to technology supports like MyON.
- Finishing the Race. In November, the City of Grand Rapids came together and passed the $175M bond to support needed improvements in our schools. We have just started the silent phase of a capital campaign to raise the last $15M through private community support. Supporting this campaign is an investment in the new legacy of GRPS as the best midsized urban district in the country.
On Tuesday night, Superintendent Weatherall Neal inspired and challenged us all. She ended her speech saying: “We have the will, we have the knowledge, we have the dynamic educators and supporters, and we have the grit to prepare our children to be wonderful, awesome leaders. Let’s do it!”
I echo our superintendent—Let’s do it—for our kids, for our future, for our Grand Rapids!
Photo credit christopher wilson photography: Special thanks to Christopher John Wilson for these great photos from Tuesday evening! Check out his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/christopher.j.wilson.5