Windmillin'

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

The City Gets Schooled

The City will have a new charter school in the heart of an urban neighborhood. So reports Matt Vande Bunte.

GRAND RAPIDS – An out-of-town developer’s about-face has angered city officials who feel they were lied to about plans for three former school buildings.
Grand Rapids for months has vetted Ojibway Development’s proposal to turn the schools into low-income apartments. After getting city approvals and finalizing a $1.6 million purchase of the schools, the Berkley, Mi., developer now has sold one of the buildings to National Heritage Academies for a charter school that presumably would compete with Grand Rapids Public Schools for students.

Playing fast and loose with the city is probably not the best business practice; from a city side, it would also be of use to know who the supervising institution is, and in particular what sort of partner will they be. Locally, the National Heritage Academy schools benefit from the connection with Grand Valley, allowing for a much more integrated approach in the city; will Bay Mills Community from the UP be another such partner? Well, let’s just say that they got off on the wrong foot.

As to the school itself, the consolidation of GRPS has left a number of neighborhoods without a school. With the closure of Alexander and of Oakdale Christian, the nearest school to Oakdale is Dickinson, a good half mile away. Add to this the efforts families already make to get out to Ridge Park, there is a certain business sense for the school. For the school itself, it will be interesting to see how it competes for students against the other Charters.

A look at the Census data suggests why this may be a solid move for the charters: there are more than 2700 school age children in the neighborhood. The difficulty will be that these come from rather different neighborhoods. Particularly in the neighborhoods immediately to the east (Census tract 35 for those who are counting) the children there are already lean toward the non-general schools (charter, parochial). Are there more students there  for the school to enroll? the likely guess is that such a school will be highly appealing to those neighborhoods immediately to the north, neighborhoods that are distinctly poorer. John Helmholdt is right, that this cannot be about competing schools so much as a common effort to meet real educational needs  in the community.

“We recognize that a school is a more desirable option than apartments and would certainly welcome the opportunity to partner with National Heritage Academy in their endeavor.”
Helmholdt said the school leaders are hopeful that National Heritage Academies will join them as part of an effort the district is organizing with Mayor George Heartwell to convene traditional, charter, and private schools to look at best shared practices and how we can all collectively work together for the betterment of our community’s children.
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Filed under: Horace Mann, , , , , ,

New Year’s Catch Up

This is a holding post, if only to highlight some of the adventure that makes up our politics.

First, we have the Secretary of State working diligently to make our ballots “SAFE.” This will require more attention, but for now, let’s be clear that the problems at hand are those of book-keeping, or perhaps a fear of Zombie voting. More on this in a bit.

Second, there was the report Friday from the New York Times on the role high quality teachers make in educational outcomes. This only highlights the contradictions within the Republicans in Michigan, do they go for cheap or quality? Then again, considering this is the home of K-Mart, as well as  the first hypermarket (that’s you, Meijer), we probably already know the answer.

Then there is the “who, me dysfunctional?” act of Rep. Justin Amash. This too needs explication. While the forty percent defection rate from conventional GOP stances merits some recognition, it is one driven more by ideology, the difference is not that his party is too conservative, but not conservative enough.

Last on the local note, there is the departure of GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor. There was one story for the media but inside the stories are more that he was handed his hat. Meantime, there is a noticeable sigh of relief arising from the schools.

Filed under: Horace Mann, Uncategorized, Washington, , , , , ,

Leaving Wooden Shoes Behind

News this last month was the nomination of Dr. Michael Le Roy as the next president of Calvin College, a move that is both a recognition of shifts, as well as a portent of further shifts in the relation of Calvin College to the community, and of course, to its politics.

The striking characteristic of Dr. Le Roy is his lack of connection with either Calvin College or its supporting institution, the Christian Reformed Church. Sympathetic observers may see the move as signaling a softening in the conservatism of the Christian Reformed community, however they would be mistaken.

As a practical matter, the appointment of someone from outside the supporting community is something of an inevitability, now with more than 50 percent of the enrollment come from non-Christian Reformed backgrounds. While some imagine that this will bring the college closer into the broad liberal arts tradition, the reality of the enrollment pattern has instead pushed it closer to the American Evangelical church. That’s not all bad, as there is a minority progressive tilt among young evangelicals (say in the neighborhood of 30 percent). A less “Dutch” Calvin is a Calvin less bound to the folkways and reflexive politics of the original supporting community.

But the truth is, that supporting community — this network of churches, schools, institutions and associations– is going nowhere. Even with a new college president, they remain archly conservative, as  the recent actions of Sen. Mark Jansen have demonstrated. It’s not going anywhere.

Yet while the supporting community (this Windmill) remains staunchly conservative, the presidential nomination does signal several changes for the interaction between the College and the community. Three changes would appear to lie ahead in the relation of the college and the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, , , , , , , , ,

What are they thinking?

The Grand Rapids Education Association is in danger of letting itself being defined by what it is against.  If  the recent ad is any indication, they’re doing a good job of self-destructive behavior.

We may think of their problem in perhaps three or four acts, a drama that ultimately leaves GREA weaker, not stronger

With five people running and the GREA  highlighting  two to vote against, this creates an odd dynamic, that the GRPS is best served by the other three, that the weakest of the three is better than the stronger of the two.  This may be a mistaking of the short term political for the long term strategic interests of the community — this is often the result of negative campaigns.  The danger for the GREA is that it loses trust with those who look for stronger civic leadership for the schools.  GREA is not served by appearing to seek less than the best for the schools.

The second difficulty that emerges is simply that most likely one of the  two attacked candidates will have a seat on the School Board.  The aggressive campaign has then created an enemy on the board, some one less inclined to listen.  Strategically, the union would be far better positioned were it to think of what happens after elections.

However, where the union goes fundamentally off track is its tone deaf approach to the subject of race.  Both Smithalexander and Lenear are African American; the schools of the  Southeast side  are strongly minority; and yet we have the union objecting with a most peculiar image: the angry white guy.  This attack is made all the more acute by the inability of the GREA to find a minority candidate to support.  Between the all-white slate and the insensitivity of the ad, we have a perceptual gap that betrays the work of teachers in the system.  In dealing with the administration, such an approach simply gives another reason for the Superintendent to marginalize the concerns of the teachers: their concerns will be discounted as the product of racial bias.

But race does not exhaust the difficulties.

The great difficulty with the GREA’s campaign has been their trafficking in the short term tactic of alienation.  This politics of populist resentment has dogged Grand Rapids schools for a generation.   In the present economic crisis, this turn to alienation has deeper consequences.  The prosperity of the region will depend on its ability to support strong schools.  The luxury of saying no (and expecting no consequences) has disappeared.

Finally, there is a second alienation that is also present in this election and generally with the relations between the GREA and GRPS.  Urban school districts have been fighting over reformers — generally those seeking more accountability — and those seeking to upgrade teaching as the path to excellence.  Both paths are necessary, but as was seen at last year’s Democratic Convention, it can lead to confrontation.  Some part of the battle in Grand Rapids can be seen as the alliance of minority community and the school administration against more traditional teacher-centric interests.  Again, success for our schools will depend on aligning the interests of parents, the administration, the teachers, and the community stakeholders.

The days are past when the school concerns can be easily separated from the broader issues of community economic health.

Filed under: Education Policy, Elections, , , ,

Two Million Dollars Richer

No, it’s not Wall Street. The student count for GRPS yesterday showed a decline of only 600, not the 900 expected. So instead of losing $6.75 million, the schools lose $4.2 million. Although a hit, practically this means less of a budgeted loss. Or two million dollars back in the budget.

In that, there’s a vote of confidence. The growth in enrollment in the core city schools (Congress, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Academy) suggest a commitment by parents. It may be because of short term razzle-dazzle, or from longer term wooing, but the fact remains that the schools are earning some trust.

Politically, that trust reinforces the administration in the teacher stand-off. Voting with your feet, your children is a powerful tool here.

With that “vote,” also comes a responsibility and promise. It is not just the promise made at the start of every school year, but a promise that the image of change projected by GRPS is becoming a reality. On that, the jury is still out.

But for now, the money in the budget is a plus.

Filed under: Horace Mann, Uncategorized,

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