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.

Filed under: Horace Mann, , , , , ,

The Pendulum Moves

The buzz today is the publication of Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books, 2010). As commentators and reviewers note, this is a big shift: Ravitch was one of the champions of No Child Left Behind.

With West Michigan being ground zero for charters in Michigan, and with GRPS adopting charters as a model for reform — the shift of an advocate changes the dynamics.  A move to community-oriented schools would certainly reinforce the position of Tony Baker, Henry Campbell and Wendy Falb trying to keep Stocking School open (and correspondingly, makes the difficulties of John Helmholdt and Bernard Taylor that much more difficult).

This news should also come in the context of recent reports on the role of teacher education in school success (here, for Amanda Riley; also see Bob Herbert).  The increased role of teachers is not opposed to the charter movement per se, but rather functions as a way to focus our efforts.  For would-be school reformers (and conservative critics everywhere), this certainly means that tactics that focus on re-structuring as a magic pill loses some of its emotional energy.

I am sure we will hear more about this in the weeks to come.

Filed under: Community, Horace Mann, , , , , , ,


February 2020
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