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Parents, community members and students blast GRPS administration

April 27, 2010

Last night, an estimated 500 people showed up at Ottawa Hills High School to listen and to be heard on a variety of proposals being put forth by the Grand Rapids Public School Board and Superintendent Taylor.

As we have reported before, students and parents are upset with proposals to have more online classes, which would eliminate some teaching positions and budget cuts which would result in art & music programs being reduced.

Upon arriving to Ottawa Hills High School people were greeted by people passing out informational flyers, stickers and students holding signs and playing instruments to draw attention to the proposed cuts to art & music.

When the board meeting finally got under way, the board President right away began defending the direction that the current administration was going in and even referred to the GR Public Schools as a role model for how schools can transition in the current economic climate.

The Agenda

After four area students were recognized for scholarship awards they had won the board dealt with the agenda at hand. First, was the proposal to extend a contract with Dean Transportation, which provides busing services ever since the school board eliminated the busing provided by the school itself. There were two comments on this matter, one in favor and one against. Superintendent Taylor encouraged the board members to vote for the contract extension, but offered up no convincing evidence for why the board should support the contract extension. The measure passed with only one no vote.

Another items on the agenda had to do with grant money that was being offered by the Kellogg Foundation, but was tied to the online learning proposal that was also put forth in recent weeks. Again Taylor encouraged board members to support the Kellogg Foundation grant money, in part, because it could lead to more money from Kelloggs and maybe even the DeVos Foundation.

Taylor then invited 6 of the districts principals to speak to the benefits of the online learning, which was referred to all night as a blended educational system. The school principals all endorsed the proposal and communicated that students, once given proper information were also behind the model.

School Board member Dr. Baker asked how the students were feeling about this blended system and how the principals were able to assess student input. One principal did admit that some of the students do miss the interaction with other students, but they felt that the overall assessment was positive. The board ended up voting 6 – 3 in favor of the Kellogg Foundation grant.

Public Comment

When it came time for public comment, the board first instructed those in attendance that they should be respectful and refrain from having any reaction to comments that were made. This statement was greeted by lots of jeers from the crowd. The school board also reduced public comment from 3 minutes to 2 minutes because there were so many people who had signed up to speak.

In all, 27 people got up to address the school board. Many parents expressed concerns about proposed cuts to music and art programs. On person said that art fosters imagination and that imagination was an important part of education. Another part talked about how music not only increases the capacity for students to learn, “music can make us better people.”

The issue that most people addressed was the online education proposal. Parents, teachers and students all agreed that this was a bad idea. People spoke to the importance of having education being a relational experience, where teachers and students can engage each other. Teachers can identify the needs of each individual student and find ways to reach each student, a quality that no computer can provide. Some parents spoke to how children’s lives are already so technology focused that they did not want online classes to add to the hyper-digital pressures that students already face in a media saturated world.

However, some of the strongest statements and the ones that got the loudest applause came from several students. The students spoke eloquently and passionately about the desire to have teachers in the classroom and to have the opportunity to take art and music classes. One high school student even said that the online classes are not very challenging and are set up in such a way that it makes it easy for students to cheat.

By the end of the night over two dozen people addressed the school board, but it was clear from the applause throughout the night that those in attendance did not support the proposals being put forth by Superintendent Taylor. The overwhelming critical comments from the community seemed to resonate with board members Baker and Hinkle, both of which expressed deep concerns over the online class proposal and the urgent need for the school administration to truly listen to the concerns of the public.

Here is some additional comments by students we spoke with before the School Board meeting.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2010 7:46 am

    does anybody know how many teachers are getting laid off?Also if people are retiring, how many and will they be replaced?

  2. April 28, 2010 7:54 am

    Why try something untested on such a large scale? Why not try something that has worked and slowly phase it in? It looks like taylor wants to keep trying untested ideas, so if something does finally work he will be looked upon as some guru that invented this great education model. Until then, students will pay the price for failure until he gets it right, if at all.

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