On Saturday, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) Superintendent Bernard Taylor delivered the annual “State of our Schools” address. The speech looked at the challenges facing the district as well as successes over the past year.
The whole address is available online, but here are a few highlights:
- Taylor unveiled a new “Five Year Strategic Direction.” The document should be available online soon, but it includes a number of efforts aimed at improving the district’s high schools, specifically graduation rates. A central aspect of this effort will be increasing ties between GRPS and the local business community.
- Taylor argued once again that the success of the Grand Rapids Public Schools is not just an “education” or “city” issue, but it is a regional issue that effects everyone in West Michigan and that it touches on a number of areas including economic development and quality of life.
- GRPS faces many challenges: 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 25% qualify for special education services, 20% are English language learners, and only 17% who start kindergarten are reading at that level.
- Taylor said progress is being made towards meeting various measures of progress and the district is doing it even as it closes schools and makes tough financial choices. For example, it has 35 schools meeting the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standard. MEAP scores have also increased across the board.
- The district will receive funding from the economic stimulus package that will offset state cuts, fund Title I/Special Education programs, and one-time projects.
Ongoing Labor Disputes
It’s also worth remembering that there is an ongoing labor dispute with teachers in the district. Teachers have not had a contract for two years. The Grand Rapids Press noted this in its coverage, citing a teacher, a state representative, and a business leader, all of whom urged GRPS to solve its labor problems.