Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Known by the Company They Keep

The numbers alone indicated the interest in Grand Rapids Public Schools. The quality of the candidates spoke volumes about  the community’s assessment of the present condition of the schools. Basically, it’s all good.

Missing from the pack were those with obvious chips on the shoulder. Or those with the anti-tax crowd that once populated the board. There were not the candidates of “no” or of opposition to the direction of the schools. This is due in large measure both to the board, and the GRPS superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal.

Last Monday, the Board whittled down the list to six finalists, and looking at them one can begin to see the outlines of what the Board’s concerns are for the schools.

Our six candidates include:

Tracey Braeme, assistant dean at Thomas Cooley Law School, but more importantly, daughter-in-law of long-time head of the Grand Rapids Urban League Walter Braeme. Her obvious strengths are connections with one of the GRPS core constituencies, and with it a real feel for the questions of poverty and race.

C.J. Shroll, a current business consultant, but he brings more than 20 years of workforce development at Grand Rapids Community College — he was also instrumental of the Advanced Tech Center on the campus. The first appeal here is obviously how to improve Grand Rapids Public School graduates.

Paul Ippel, recently retired head of Network 180. The connection with the justice system and with rehabilitation makes his background especially attractive as the schools face the challenge of dropouts. One of the ongoing needs in Grand Rapids continues to be that of opening the doors to more possibilities to those who are minority and poor.

John Matias is a therapist and community schools coordinator. The mental health aspect also dovetails with the themes of Paul Ippel — clearly for some on the board, the question is not simply schooling, but promoting a broader community health. Of interest here, Matias also has two students at Grand Rapids City High School.

Jamie Scripps is best known as an environmental lawyer. She is the youngest of the panel, and so could bring a solid voice for younger families in the district. She is also perhaps the most political of the six with clear connections to the Democratic party (her husband Dan Scripps served in the State legislature, 2008-2010, representing Traverse City). At the same time, like Matias, she brings a certain middle class vibe that represents the growing edge of the GRPS transformation model. Her interview will be interesting.

Mohan Krishnan, is also relatively young, and is the director of Children’s Services for Hope Network. There is some immediate appeal as to background, even more, his work with children could make an important contribution as the schools look to roll out more early childhood programs.
In short, six solid professionals, each with significant accomplishments — and there were others (professors!) left off this list — give a picture of the sorts of questions on the Board’s collective mind. The issues at hand appear to be how to effectively intervene with high school dropouts. Is it a matter of underdevelopment with the early education? A failure to connect with the minority profile? (Here, the hidden question will be which of the six will be most in tune with Hispanic concerns). The question of emotional health, of the soft connections that make the schools more than places of schooling, but real communities — that’s here. And finally there is the question of economics: how do we help our students succeed?
Tonight, we will find out more about the direction of our schools. In the meantime, it’s something of a rich man’s problem, for once the reveling in a kind of social wealth.
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