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Racial & Class disparities in local public education: Another look at the recent GRPS school improvement article from MLive

July 29, 2019

(This article was written and submitted by former GRPS teacher, Jack Prince)

The M.Live article posted July 22 titled: See 55M in Grand Rapids Schools summer construction/improvement projects raises some real questions. Could not the bond passed five years ago been implemented sooner for the benefit of the students at GRPS? 

The article maintains that due to  the climate in Michigan many schools don’t have air conditioning. The City Middle/High School has had air conditioning for two years, yet sat without it for decades until it became a magnate school drawing choice affluent students from all over Grand Rapids. By having air conditioning installed at City Middle/High School prior to Union or Ottawa High schools while bond money was on hand says something about the priority system within GRPS. The excuse that because of Michigan’s climate there are scant buildings in the district that have air conditioning is laughable. However, if the district maintains that North American weather determines basic school heating/cooling policy, why hasn’t Union High School had adequate heat for the last 3 years? It has gotten cold in Michigan at least for the last few centuries.

The article is correct in one aspect, as it indicates work has begun in some buildings. Interesting at the worksite of Union High School on Tremont Street, a warning sign is taped to the front door stating in clear bold letters: Danger Asbestos. (it is hard to see the sign in this picture, but the photo on the right here is a warning sign about asbestos at Union High School. Picture was taken by Jack Prince.) I personally taught in the building along with other teachers that would have loved to know of its presence during the last 30 years!

Is this not more of the same sentiment expressed in the M.Live headline dated Feb. 16 2019, where John Helmoldt apologized announcing : Mistakes made along the way by school leaders on school asbestos issue at another school. Data that was submitted to the district was somehow negligently not addressed prior to construction, thus exposing students. It would be interesting data to see how many of the favored business partnership schools contain asbestos compared to the traditional neighborhood schools where a majority of minority students attend. How much asbestos is present in the new Museum school where Steven Jobs’ wife gave a $10 million gift to house cherry picked students from around Grand Rapids, not necessarily from within the GRPS district.

The recent M.Live article also mentions declining enrollment at Ottawa Hills where renovation is now supposedly occurring. Is that not closing the door after the horse has escaped by now utilizing bond money for renovation that was available 5 years ago? 

There seems to be a clear parallel to the condition of GRPS buildings and the timeliness of their renovations with the socio economic status and racial breakdown of the assigned students. The disparity found with physical buildings based on student dynamics also pertains to the educational opportunities found in differing buildings and programs. A brief sample is indicative:

  • Ottawa Hills H.S. – 76% Black 12% Hispanic has a 5% college readiness at Graduation.
  • Central H.S.- 85% white affluent students with 70% college readiness at Graduation.

The academic disparity within the Grand Rapids Public Schools is obvious and is tied to funding priorities based on business partnership schools vs. the traditional neighborhood schools.                                                                                                           

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