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Parents voice concerns at GHAPS realignment meeting

Kyle Moroney • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:16 AM

She questioned school officials during a presentation on the proposal Monday night at the Lakeshore Middle School auditorium.

Jones-Rikkers, who has a 13-year-old at Lakeshore Middle School and a 7-year-old at Mary A. White Elementary School, said she has done some research regarding at-risk students moving schools multiple times and that has impacted them academically and emotionally.

“At-risk students — especially those in middle school —are going to be hit very hard by this,” she said. “I don’t see anything addressing that in your program.”

Members of the reconfiguration committee responded that they have programs currently in place to help guide at-risk students.

“We’ve always been really intentional with those kids,” Scott Grimes, GHAPS assistant superintendent of instruction, said after the meeting. “We identify them prior to going into the buildings they go into now — that won’t change. We’ll just be doing it one additional time, and we’ll make sure we’re intentional with all the different support we put in place for those kids.”

Jones-Rikkers said she would like to see the six other configurations that the realignment committee explored before deciding that — in order to make room for all-day kindergarten and Young Fives — Lakeshore Middle School would become a 5/6 grade building and White Pines Middle School a 7/8 building.

“To really make the best decision for our kids and for our district, show us how these other decisions play out. We have to do what’s best for our kids — all of our kids,” she said, with an echoing applause from the nearly 60 people who attended Monday’s presentation.

The 14-member committee, consisting of teachers, administrative staff and parents, chose the current recommendation: Y5/K-4, 5/6, 7/8 and 9-12 because it met its “guiding principles” of: “creating space for early childhood and Young Fives and kindergarten, expand learning opportunities for middle school students and create efficiencies of operations in order to absorb the cost of an all-day Y5/kindergarten program,” according to Grimes.

“Our goal from the get-to was to go through the various configurations — holding them up to our guiding principles — and determine which would be the best configuration for our district,” he said.

A common question asked by parents was why not put fifth grade in both the middle schools, making them a 5-8 school. Grimes explained that White Pines is not big enough to handle the influx of students and “feeder” schools would need be changed. It would also create a lopsided student ratio — with one school having much larger numbers than the other.

“We looked at the numbers and there were other reasons too — one of them being age-appropriateness,” Grimes said, explaining the committee did not like the idea of having fifth graders with eighth graders and possibly riding a bus with seniors in high school. “...It would be impractical for us to actually go to a configuration where we didn’t have a big enough building or we didn’t have the funds to add additional staff to make it happen. We’ve used this process many times in the past for our large-scale changes.”

Rose Perrier, a mother of four with three in Grand Haven schools, feels the district is moving too fast in a decision that will effect everyone in the district.

“I would really encourage the school board to take one more year to look at this,” she said. “I feel like we need to take the time to make a decision that’s best for our district. It may cost a few more dollars, but we will gain better kids, a better district and a better program.” 

Donna Bylenga, GHAPS finance director, said the $1.8 million loss in state funds that the district is expected to lose if they do not go to full-day kindergarten next school year is “more than a few dollars,” she said.

“It’s a lot of teacher (and staff) salaries,” she said. “The budget is getting leaner and we can’t ask for that money back.”

Several parents voiced their support for the recommended configuration, saying they have seen it work in other school districts.

“The most important thing for us to understand is what works — and big schools do not work. Teaming does work,” said one mom who is also a teacher at Reeths-Puffer Schools in Muskegon. “I applaud the committee for the hard work they have done. I think it is a good approach and will work for our community.”

Parent Brian Gross asked if residents could vote on a millage in order to raise funds for an option that the voters would support.

“It’s not a financial issue,” he said. “I would be willing to go shoeless so my child can have a better education.”

GHAPS Superintendent Keith Konarska said the state has mandated that schools cannot collect tax payer dollars for operational costs.

“Local districts no longer have the option to go to voters and raise funds for operational purposes. That capability was taken away in 1994 with Proposal A,” he said. “... We want what’s bet for the students. We know this is a difficult issue, but I’m confident that we’re going to get our arms around it.”

Other parents voiced concerns on the future of the districts’ Voyager School. Grimes explained that has not yet been determined.

Members of the reconfiguration committee outlined its current recommendation and told audience members how they came to that configuration, finances, bussing and the benefits of an all-day kindergarten/Y5 program. They explained that the 5/6 building will follow the elementary school day schedule from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and the 7/8 building will follow the secondary schedule from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. The same is expected for bussing as well, they said.

The district will also need two days at the end of the school year to make the move. Therefore, the last day for elementary and middle school students would be on Wednesday, June 6.

If approved by the board, the district will begin preparing the next steps in the process, which include ironing out the details for implementation.

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