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Grand Haven school district highlights efforts during special meeting

Krystle Wagner • Oct 4, 2017 at 12:00 PM

The Grand Haven school district’s initiatives and plans for the future were highlighted during a meeting Tuesday night.

Superintendent Andy Ingall explained that they would share information “a mile wide and an inch deep” as an effort to provide an overview of the district. About 20 parents, district employees and board members attended the meeting at White Pines Intermediate School.

The district plans to host such a meeting annually around October, Ingall said.

Throughout the year, the district is offering community stakeholders the opportunity to visit four schools to learn about each building and see their efforts in action.

Ingall highlighted the district’s strategic plan including their goal to provide an “exceptional educational experience,” “inspire all to learn” and to have “success for all.” When the district says “all,” Ingall said they mean they’re trying to reach each and every student.

Some of the purposes highlighted in the one-page strategic plan — be passionate, develop ownership, have a growth mindset — and their targets are to provide safe and supported environments, and provide the “highest quality curriculum and instruction.”

One of the district’s focuses this year is on collaboration and communication as they work to create a “culture for collaborating.”

In the past 10 years, the Grand Haven district has experienced changes in enrollment. When Count Day takes place today, the district is anticipating seeing 30 more students than last year. That’s 50 additional students than the district accounted for in its 2017-18 budget.

The district has also noticed a change in the number of families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. Currently, about one-third of the district’s population qualifies, Ingall said.That amount is now slightly declining as the economy recovers.

As Director of Instructional Services Mary Jane Evink highlighted achievements, she noted the district thinks of “achievement” as options for students’ futures.

Although state assessment scores provide a look at how the district is performing, Evink likened the assessment to the box score of a baseball game — they provide important information, but they don’t reflect student growth throughout the year and how students are currently performing. The district uses the scores as one data point, and they also use other data taken throughout the year to help shape interventions for struggling students.

Evink said their scores show Grand Haven is outperforming other districts that have similar free and reduced-price meal populations.

Evink said they’ve worked to increase achievement among the top and bottom performing students.

To address proficiency and in response to the state’s new legislation requiring all third-graders to be proficient in reading on the state assessment, the district implemented practices that impact current first-graders. The district implemented a new K-5 reading curriculum, which Evink said is more rigorous. In addition to literacy coaches working with students who perform below grade level, they’re also working with teachers on strategies to teach reading throughout the day. First- and second-grade teachers are also being trained in interventions.

“If we want to bring everyone up to grade-level, it’s going to take a team mentality,” Evink said.

Finding a time for teachers to collaborate has been a challenge and they’re working to address it, she added.

Director of Business Services Lisa Danicek provided a look at the district’s finances.

Wages and benefits accounted for about 89.6 percent of expenses of last year’s budget, and about 10 percent made up the discretionary budget.

Over the past several years, the district’s fund balance shrank from 16.2 percent to 10.5 percent, and then 5.9 percent, as the district addressed mold at Ferry Elementary School and reconfigured grades at Lakeshore Middle School and White Pines Intermediate School.

Although the district is forecasting a $1 million deficit for the 2017-18 school year, Danicek said it’s early in the year, and they’ve worked to intentionally rebuild the fund balance. The district is slated to have a 9.9 percent fund balance in June 2018.

The 2014 bond has largely impacted the district’s budget, Danicek said. The 10-year, $45 million bond has provided the district with funding for new buses, roof replacements, one-to-one technology, Lakeshore Middle School traffic improvements, and additions to the fine arts and athletics at Grand Haven High School.

More than 820 staff members make up the district — 384 teachers, 19 administrators, six directors, 36 secretaries, 114 operational staff, and 265 other employees such as playground employees, teacher assistants and more.

“We’re really proud of the staff we have,” Assistant Superintendent Scott Grimes said.

Staff members are undergoing training for new legislation regarding seclusion and restraint in emergency situations, and training for CPR and automated external defibrillators (AEDs). The district has 17 AEDs and a team in each building who knows how to respond in an emergency.

In addition to required drills for fires, tornadoes and lockdown situations, GHAPS is participating in the Ottawa Area Secure School Network, which is led by the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District. It’s a way for school districts and emergency responders to have common procedures, Grimes said.

With the implementation of one-to-one technology, the district is also working to address barriers some families face with access to internet at home. Ingall said the district will place a large tower on the top of Ferry Elementary School to broadcast the district’s Wi-Fi signal, but it will only be accessible to the district’s student devices.

The district will add more towers throughout the community in an effort to bridge the gap as needed, Ingall said. It will pose more questions and challenges, he added, but they’re trying to be creative and take risks.

To address social and emotional health, students throughout the district participate in programs such as Second S.T.E.P.; lessons on mindfulness; and the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s Live, Laugh, Love curriculum. A group of Grand Haven High School students also lead an initiative for their peers.

As the district works to educate students, Ingall said they appreciate community partnerships. This year, the district is also highlighting that “success for all takes us all.” Ingall said it takes the entire community working together.

“It’s not just the school system,” the superintendent said.

The group reflected on issues they see facing West Michigan and Grand Haven, and what the district’s role is in addressing them.

Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb said she likes the district’s partnership with Shape Corp. and SME for the Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education. The partnership’s goal is to give Grand Haven High School students the chance to receive an education with a curriculum aimed at helping them develop skills needed in the manufacturing workforce.

Although the district has done so previously, Mike Ver Duin, a parent and business owner, said he’s recently seen firsthand the efforts by teachers to help students receive help and resources such as TCM counseling services. He said teachers don’t wait to address problems, and they want to help students as problems arise and not years down the road.

“Grand Haven doesn’t put that off,” Ver Duin said.

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