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Change promised for Grand Rapids Public Schools | Education

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Change promised for Grand Rapids Public Schools

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - Saturday morning's annual Grand Rapids Public Schools State of our Schools address inspired the crowd of mostly parents and teachers.

Speaker after speaker spoke of change and motivation.

"I'm excited. I'm ready for change. I'm a parent that's ready," says Synia Jordan.

"I really liked hearing about all of the partnerships within GRPS," says Robyn Bowles.

During her 14 months as superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools,  Teresa Weatherall Neal says she's worked seven days a week.

"We have done so much work this year," she says. 

Neal says the district's graduation rate, ACT scores, parental involvement and student accountability have all improved.

 The plans for next year include:

- Recruiting new talent

- Focusing on digital learning at the elementary and middle schools

- Rolling out new school uniforms

- Introducing a  program to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions

It all sounds good to President of the Grand Rapids Education Association Paul Helder, but there's another big issue he says needs to be better addressed.

"We're over 200 days without a contract now," he says.

Neal says that will be resolved as soon as Monday.

"We really want to bring this to a close so we can get back to the business of educating children. This is a small thing in our way," she says. 

The following is the full text of Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal's State of Our Schools speech:

"Good morning and thank you for coming to my 2nd annual State of Our Schools address.It is truly my honor and privilege to stand here today, not as the interim, but as your official Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools.I want to take this time to publicly thank the nine members of the Grand Rapids Board of Education for their trust, support, encouragement, and direction.

Dr. Wendy Falb, President; Maureen Slade, Vice President; Jon O'Connor, Treasurer; Raynard Ross, Secretary; Dr. Tony Baker; David LaGrand; Senita Lenear; Rev. Nathaniel Moody and Dr. Monica Randles. Please join me in giving them a round of applause.I always like to talk about the new GRPS and the new alignment and excitement that is taking place. Make no mistake though, at the very heart of this are these nine members of the Grand Rapids Board of Education. These individuals are to be commended for their passion, commitment, and everything they do to support for our students, parents, staff, schools, the district, and this great community.So thank you again for all you do! This community owes you a debt of gratitude for your service.I also want to recognize members of my Cabinet. I ask that they stand when called.Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director of Public Safety Larry Johnson; Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director of Organizational Learning Mary Jo Kuhlman; Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director of Academics Carolyn Evans; Executive Director of HR and Labor Relations Sharron Pitts and Director of HR Micky Savage; Executive Director of Finance Julie Davis; Executive Director of High Schools/Alternative Ed Ron Gorman; Executive Director of Middle Schools, K8s, and English Language Learners Dr. Mayda Bahamonde Gunnell; Executive Director of Elementary Schools and Early Childhood Dr. Brian Gamm; Executive Director of Special Education Teresita Long; Executive Director of Facilities and Operations Ken Klomparens; Executive Director of Athletics Kurt Johnson; Executive Director of Community and Student Affairs Mel Atkins, Jr. and Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs John Helmholdt.Thank you for all you do! They are the "heavy lifters" in this district. And I want to give special thanks to all our dedicated GRPS employees - our teachers, principals, and support staff!Any GRPS staff members in the room please stand and be recognized.

It's been a little over a year since I last stood here and I have to say WOW, what a difference a year can make! So much has happened...so much has been accomplished.

Our very own Bobbi Jo Kenyon, a teacher here at Ottawa Hills was named the 2012-13 Michigan Teacher of the Year. The White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives touted the City and GRPS as a model for public private partnerships holding one of a few town hall meetings here at Ottawa.The Mackinac Center released a first of its kind study ranked City, Creston, Ottawa Hills, and Central among the top 10 Kent County Schools. Three of our high schools - Creston, City, and Union - ranked among the top in the county for the greatest gains in ACT composite scores.

Parent & Child Magazine ranked Zoo School among the top 25 "Coolest Schools in America" with Blandford and Center for Economicology getting honorable mention.U.S. News and World Report ranked City High Middle School among the Top 300 Schools in America and City High-Middle continues to be ranked as the top performing school in West Michigan. Our Academic Games teams once again took state and national awards.Mr. Larry Johnson, Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director of Public Safety and School Security was named president of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers. And just recently, MLive conducted an investigation on the implementation of school safety implementation, GRPS was touted as a quote "model for near-perfect execution". Congratulations to Mr. Johnson and the entire public safety team!We launched "We Are GR" - a first of its kind joint communications initiative with the City of Grand Rapids to increase communications while at the same time reducing costs to the taxpayers. We broke ground and opened the new, state of the art, soon-to-be-LEED certified Blandford School - a first of its kind building that was built almost entirely using private funds. Special thanks to Mr. Peter Wege and the Wege Foundation for their lead gift and support for Blandford...and for all they do to support the IB program at City.We also broke ground and will soon be opening the first and only public school building built using exclusively private donations - the Grand Rapids University Prep Academy. Special thanks to Mr. Brian Cloyd, chair of the Uprep Board, the Uprep Board members, Mr. Steve Van Andel, John Kennedy, Steelcase, and all the generous donors who made this project a reality.We had a Snow Day this year. Yes, it only happens once every few decades, but I think our students may see that as one of the greatest things that happened this year. Grand Rapids Montessori posted the largest increase in graduation rates in Kent County jumping from 72% to 83%. Our Union High Volley Ball team received 2012 Academic All Team by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. Two GRPS hockey players earned Academic All State, All Conference Honorable mention, and Coach Brian Bellgraph was named one of the 50 most influential people in Michigan hockey.Ottawa Hills swimmer Isaac LaGrand made Academic All American and Robert Pall broke a 31 year school record in the 50 free and placed 14th in the state. Central High alumni and Ottawa Hills coach, Shatoya Likely is being inducted into St. Louis University's Sports Hall of Fame. The GRPS Turkey Trot moved downtown and had its biggest turn out ever! Special thanks to the City of Grand Rapids, the Parks and Recreation Department, GRPD, and the Van Andel Arena.This fall GRPS athletics started elementary soccer program with 15 schools and 420 students.And elementary cross country increased participation from 8 schools and 155 students to 16 schools and 617 students.The elementary athletics was all made possible thanks to the generous support of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation. Please join me in thanking Ms. Susan Heartwell, the SAF Board of Directors, and all the donors who made this happen.

As I said, a lot has happened in just one year. Oh and did I mention we introduced and the Board unanimously approved this little thing called the GRPS Transformation Plan? More about that later.But now, I would like to invite Susan Heartwell to say a few words about the SAF.For those of you who do not know, the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation exclusively supports GRPS and our students. From arts supplies and musical equipment to calculators and school libraries to athletics and Blandford 3-6-9 just to name a few things, SAF has done and continues to do so much to support our students.

Susan Heartwell speaks

Thank you Susan and SAF for all you do.For those of you who do not know, Susan will be retiring from SAF soon. Susan we love you and will miss you greatly! You have made such an impact on our students, the district, and this entire community. Another great thing that Susan, SAF, and their donors do for GRPS is make connections to people and partners.One such example is the partnership between GRPS, Michigan State University and the MSU Alumni Club of West Michigan. Thanks to Grand Rapids' most ardent MSU alums and cheerleaders, Ambassador Peter and Joan Secchia, and the MSU Alumni Club of WMI, hundreds of students from MLK, Sibley, Burton and Chavez Elementary over the years have traveled to an MSU tailgate and football game complete with fun, games, and meeting SParty, Tom Izzo and others.And just recently, the Secchia's, Susan Heartwell, and Lynn Afendoulis connected us with the Dean of MSU College of Education.One thing led to another and now I am pleased to announce that with a $16,000 donation from SAF, our high school students will take part in a Summer Scholars Program at MSU. So thank you SAF, MSU, the Secchia's and the alumni club for all you do!Oh and by the way, the MindShare fundraising event for SAF is April 23rd and tickets can be purchased at www.grsaf.org.

Speaking of fundraising and hot new initiatives aimed at supporting our GRPS students, I want to ask Diana Sieger, the president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, to share with you what is not only one of the best kept secrets in town, but also arguably one of the most powerful and impactful educational initiatives to ever happen in Grand Rapids - the Challenge Scholars.

Diana Sieger speaks

Thank you Diana and thank you to your staff, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Board, and all the donors who are making this a reality for our students! The Grand Rapids Community Foundation, along with the DeVos Foundations, Steelcase Foundation, KISD, Kent County, DHS, Network 180, and others, also played a significant role in helping bring "community schools" to Grand Rapids under the Kent School Services Network model. This is the model that Governor Snyder is now taking statewide in his Pathways to Potential that started right her in GRPS in 10 of our schools. Congratulations to the Community Foundation, Carol Paine McGovern and all the people, partners and organizations who made KSSN a reality. There are two other major, major initiatives happening in this city that GRPS and our students and families are so fortunate to benefit from.One is the Seeds of Promise - an initiative targeted in the Dickinson neighborhood being funded by a $300,000 grant by the WK Kellogg Foundation to begin development of a community governance program in the neighborhood. This partnership comes at a time when we are reinvesting and expanding Dickinson Elementary to a PreK-8 school that will be a KSSN site and a new theme school whose name and theme will be decided by the students, parents, and neighbors.

I want to thank and recognize Mr. Eric Foster, the Host Neighbors, and the entire Seeds of Promise Board for their vision and engagement.

The second major initiative is Believe to Become.

Believe to Become or B2B as we know it is targeted at 12,000 young people, in four neighborhood zones, with one common goal: close the achievement gap by 2025.

B2B is a collaborative partnership of hundreds of organizations and individuals who believe in the unlimited potential of Grand Rapids children and expect them to succeed.

With me here on stage is Ms. Deonda Henderson, a GRPS parent with a Kindergarten student at Campus Elementary, a 6th grader at CA Frost, and a 12th grader at City High who is only 16 and graduating early.

She is also a Campus Elementary Parent Action Leader, a PTCC coordinator, and active participant in Believe to Become.

Rather than here from me about the impact Believe to Become is having, I have asked her to tell this great story.

Diondra Henderson speaks.

Now, I know they don't like the public attention, but I cannot help it.

I want to publicly thank and recognize Doug and Maria DeVos, the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, their staff members Ginny VanderHart, Jason Zylstra, Edwin Hernandez and Rev. Chana Edmond-Verley for their remarkable generosity and support!

Please join me in thanking them!

I also want to thank the WK Kellogg Foundation who is also a major contributor to B2B. Nadia Bringham and Andrew Brower - if you are here - please stand and be recognized.

These are just a few huge examples of the great partners we have supporting GRPS!

I have about another 2 hours of thank yous to all our partners, so get comfortable....

...you think I am kidding?

Rather than take away your entire morning and share every story, I am just going to say thank you to....

Special thanks to: students, parents, Parent Action Leaders, PTCC members, PTA members and more; volunteers; United Way; the City of Grand Rapids, Mayor Heartwell, the City Commissioners, Our Community's Children; Police Chief Kevin Belk and the Grand Rapids Police Department; Fire Chief Laura Knapp and the Grand Rapids Fire Department; Kent County, Daryl Dellabio, Wayman Britt, Matt VanVranken, Chairman Dan Koorndyk and and the Kent County Commissioners; all our partners in the Centers of Innovation including Spectrum Health, Life EMS Ambulance, Rockford Construction, Triangle Associates, Christman Co., GVSU, MSU, GRCC, Ferris State University, Davenport University, Michigan Tech, Steelcase, Amway, and countless others; Amway by the way is celebrating their One by One Campaign for Children for 10 years helping 10 million children. Amway has been a partner with GRPS for more than 25 years with 10 years supporting Junior Achievement, 5 years supporting the Reverse Job Shadowing, and 3 years supporting the development and growth of the School of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Ottawa Hills - soon to be at the new Innovation Central. So special shout out to Amway!The Kent Intermediate School District, KISD Superintendent Kevin Konarska, and all 19 of KISDA superintendents; Grand Rapids Christian Schools and Grand Rapids Catholic Schools; First Steps - who along with GRPS have been successfully advocating for increased investment in early childhood; KSSN; the Hispanic Center of WMI; The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Grand Rapids Urban League; Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce; Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; Grand Rapids NAACP; ACLU; my Hispanic/Latino Advisory group; and my African American Leaders advisory group; the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; Hispanic Pastors Association; The Micah Center; neighborhood associations like East Hills, Heritage Hill, SECA, Baxter, Midtown, Garfield Park, West Grand, Belknap Lookout, and so many more; all our West Michigan state lawmakers with special thanks to Senator Dave Hildenbrand, Rep. Brandon Dillon, and Rep. Lisa Lyons; First United Methodist Church, the Keller Foundation, and the Sebastian Foundation for their support of MLK Jr. Leadership Academy which by the way, FUMC is embarking on a new initiative to raise funds for a new fitness track around MLK; and the list goes on and on.

We are truly blessed to have such a generous community of public and private supporters giving their time, talent, and treasure to provide a brighter future for our children. Now, let's talk about the future and the transformation of GRPS.As you know, last Fall, I unveiled the GRPS Transformation Plan Version 1.0. This plan was informed, designed and developed based on the engagement and input of thousands of internal and external stakeholders over the past four years --- incorporating the Phase II Building Improvement Plan, the 5 Year Strategic Plan, my Listening Tour, the Academic Plan and the Cambridge Report. The plan was shaped by three values:One. Our children's success...and ensuring they reach their academic potential with equal access to high quality schools and the most talented principals, teachers, and support staff.Two. Investing, reinvesting, expanding and replicating what is working.And three.Offering a diverse portfolio of quality choices that are academically and financially sustainable. We took the plan to the community. We listened, made changes, listened more, and made more changes.Then on December 19, the Grand Rapids Board of Education unanimously approved Version 3.0. Now, we are in "go mode" and all hands are on deck to implement this bold, comprehensive, and innovative plan in preparation for the start of school this Fall. I am here today to tell you the State of our Schools are bright and the future of GRPS starts right now!

First, I want to focus on our talent and how we need to strengthen our talent recruitment and retention efforts.Make no mistake, we have some remarkable talent in this district with some of the most qualified, most dedicated, hardest working teachers, principals and support staff in this entire state. It is no coincidence that the Michigan Teacher of the Year, Ms. Bobbi Jo Kenyon a teacher at Ottawa Hills. While she was not able to join us today as she is in another part of the state touting GRPS and our teachers, I do have a video I want to share that I think truly captures that talent we have and the talent we need to recruit and cultivate.

Video shown

She nailed it. I want to repeat what she said because she is right...We should be proud. ... We are at the forefront of innovation, instructional best practices and technology integration.We need to further harness and strengthen the talent we have and continue to build on the new professional development started this year under the leadership of Mary Jo Kuhlman and the members of our Academic Team...and more so, we need to aggressively recruit more of the best talent this region, state and country have to offer. This is why we are launching a new talent recruitment initiative under the direction of our newest addition to GRPS, Ms. Sharron Pitts, Executive Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations.Sharron comes to us from Atlanta Public Schools and brings a wealthy of expertise.Sharon will be working to break outside the box and develop a new talent recruitment strategy.Gone are the days of just posting an advertisement in local papers and hoping that we get some rock stars to apply.We need to target schools and cities where we know there is talent serving a diversity of high needs students.We need to reach beyond the borders of this state to other K12 schools, colleges and universities.We need to learn from our corporate friends like Amway and Steelcase who have volunteered to assist us in showing some of their tools and techniques for recruitment. We need to work with The Right Place, Experience Grand Rapids, and the Chamber of Commerce to help us in our recruitment efforts to sell why teachers, principals and other educators should choose Grand Rapids as a new place to call home.And we will need help from the private sector and philanthropic community to assist us with recruitment incentives to bring the talent here.The reality is we do not have public funds for this...and unfortunately, we simply do not have the most attractive salary schedule for teachers and principals.But let me be clear, this Board of Education and this administration are working on that too and we are committed to providing much more fair, competitive, and attractive wages. It's not going to happen overnight and it is going to take some time before we get there, but we are headed in the right direction - and I know this board is united is raising the bar for all our talented staff members.

Now, I want to talk with you about "culture" - and how the Transformation Plan seeks to establish a positive culture of high expectations, accountability, and customer service. Last year, among the top 7 things that emerged from my listening tour was customer service and enforcing school rules. So we went to work. First, we launched a new customer service initiative...but this wasn't something that Central Office came up with. No. In fact, it was our frontliners. Our gatekeepers. The very men and women on the ground who the very first people that our customers interact with -- our secretaries. About a year ago, a group of secretaries came together as the "Secretarial Roundtable" with the goal of developing a mission, goals, expectations, and professional development for customer service. Today, you can see the fruits of their labor with posters throughout the district outlining the mission and expectations... postcards on phones throughout the district with expectations for how to answer the phone. And they also spearheaded four separate professional development meetings with the secretarial group. Now, I am asking them to take it to the next level and lead the planning for district wide customer service training.I ask those members of the Secretarial Roundtable and any and all secretaries in the room to please stand and be recognized. From the curb to classroom, we as a district MUST do better with customer service to create a warm, welcoming environment for our students, parents, volunteers, and staff. Secondly, we began the so-called "fair, firm and consistent" implementation of our Uniform Discipline Code. As I said then, in order for our students to compete in the real world, they need to know the rules and play by the rules...and they need to know what the consequences are when they don't.So we made certain that those rules were not only clear and well known, but they were being consistently and fairly implemented throughout the district. This is coupled with our Positive Behavior Intervention and Support - or PBIS initiative that affirms and rewards students for meeting and exceeding our expectations - attending school, turning in homework, participating in class, working hard to reach academic goals, and more. But we know that PBIS and the Uniform Discipline Code are not enough. The data shows that we have far too many suspensions and expulsions particularly of our special education and African American students.This is why today I am announcing the implementation of a district wide restorative justice initiative in partnership with the the Restorative Justice Coalition of West Michigan founded by Board member David LaGrand, the ACLU, the MI Dept of Civil Rights, and others.

What is Restorative Justice?Restorative Justice practices seek to repair the harm from conflict, violence, or violations of the rules through mediation and transformative conferencing. Restorative Justice targets conflict situations in schools by engaging all affected parties to address the conflict at its root... impose accountability... encourage offenders to correct the harm caused by their behavior.... empower those who have been harmed to define what the need to be made whole again... and teach youth and their families peaceful conflict to resolutions. Lansing Public Schools is a model we will be studying as they have intervention specialists trained by their Dispute Resolution Center and funded by United Way who are literally embedded in their schools. The results are proven: this practice reduces suspensions, expulsions and strengthens the school climate. We need to do this in GRPS!

And third, the Transformation Plan calls for phasing in school uniforms district wide starting with elementary and K8 schools this Fall.The proven benefits are: improved focus on teaching and learning, improved school safety and school pride, and cost savings for parents. You saw a few of our greeters today dressed in samples of what our uniforms will look like. I encourage you to learn more at www.grps.org/uniforms.

Lastly, I want to talk about teaching, learning, and our new, improved and expanded portfolio of school choices. Our core business is teaching and learning. Over the course of the last year, we have put together a new Academic Plan that is the heart beat of this entire district. Everything we do is focused on how it improves and supports teaching and learning.We've dramatically changed and improved our professional development - with input from teachers and principals -- so that it is more meaningful and relevant and even customized for teachers to choose from a menu of options.We are strengthening our accountability and evaluations systems... emerging as a model for implementation in Michigan.One area I think we need to do much more with is digital learning so students have access and training on the use of technology.Students need to learn how to learn from the web, how to behave online, and how to live in a digital world. In order to do this, we need two things:One. We need our teachers who know best about the use of technology in classrooms to help develop a digital learning curriculum. Back in the day, we all had to take typing. Today, not only is there limited classes around typing and basic computer skills, but it isn't until high school that they are required to earn one credit with a computer class. We must do better, do more, and do it much, much earlier including both elementary and middle school. Two. In order to promote digital learning - and frankly to prepare for the Common Core and the Smarter Balance Assessment -- we must also have up-to-date technology.The vast majority of our computers in this district were purchased through funds from the 2004 School Bond - almost ten years ago. And given the persistent disinvestment in public education at the state and federal level, we do not have the funds available that are necessary to invest in and update our technology. This is why not only are we advocating for increased investment in public education, we are also asking the state Legislature to expand the use of "sinking funds" - like the "Warm, Safe and Dry millage" we passed in 2011 - to allow funds to be used to buy computers, wireless routers, iPads, and other technology. These are local decisions, locally approved by voters, and locally paid for by taxpayers....we should have the ability to use these funds to invest in the ongoing technology needs of our schools. I call on Governor Snyder and the state Legislature to pass legislation to make this happen.

I want to conclude my speech by painting a vision of what this district has in store for the future with new, improved, and expanded school choices.GRPS already has the largest selection of school choices in all of West Michigan.We are home to the top performing school in all of West Michigan - City High-Middle School - which is also the first and only school in the region with the coveted International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Program.So keeping with the values of our Transformation Plan - City High-Middle and the 6th Center for Economicology are moving and expanding at the Creston High building. But students and parents in the City of Grand Rapids and beyond need to know about City...because this is a true success story and one of the best kept secrets in the area...but not for long.In the coming months, you will see billboards and bus ads and hear the radio ads touting City as THE leading school of choice in West Michigan.

Another new additional coming this Fall is the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Academic Center.A new PreK - 8th grade theme school to be located in the Gerald R. Ford Middle School.This school seeks to build on the former Southeast Academic Center model with strong parental engagement... a mandatory parent compact... single gender and co-ed classes... a Spanish language requirement, and more. I am pleased to announce today that we will be partnering with the Gerald R. Ford Museum on the development of special curriculum for this school.I want to especially thank the Ford family and the staff at the Ford Museum for their tremendous support.It is truly an honor and privilege to have the support from the family and staff for President and Mrs. Ford - our two most famous GRPS graduates.I am also pleased to announce today that three individuals who were part of the original Southeast Academic Center will play leading roles in the development and opening of this school.Mr. Jerry McComb, a former teacher at SEAC, will be the new principal.And Ms. Edna States-Webley and Ms. Ruth Jones - both retired teachers and leaders in GRPS will serve as consultants, working with Mr. McComb to develop the model and recruit the team of teachers and support staff to make this school a success. Ms. Ruth Jones is here on stage with me. I invite her to say a few words about what's in store for this school.

Ruth Jones speaks

Thank you Ms. Jones for all you do!

Another exciting development is the formation of the new Innovation Central --- pooling the innovation, talent, resources, and partnerships of four Centers of Innovation all on one campus. Next year, the Academy for Design and Construction, GRAPCEP/Engineering and Biomedical School, School of Health Sciences, and the School of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship will combined under one roof at the former Central High building. I want to again thank all the public and private partners - the businesses, the higher education institutions, non-profits and others for their patience, understanding, and continued investment in the Centers of Innovation.We are also going to make some improvements to the Central campus - including demolishing the former City building and making way for more green space and improved traffic flow.

Yet another exciting development and truly a model for what other neighborhood schools should be doing is what's happening at Congress Elementary in the East Hills neighborhood. Now I am not going to sugar coat it. Let's just say that the relationship between the district administration and East Hills Council of Neighbors was not the best. But today, not only is our relationship truly blossoming, but what's emerging is a model of how schools should - and must - be working together with the neighborhoods. East Hills Council of Neighbors, under the leadership of Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, Ted Lott, Elizabeth Hoffman, Claire Fischer, and the East Hills Board have fully embraced Congress - and are helping to create a neighborhood's strategic plan and vision for THEIR neighborhood school. I want to publicly thank Rebecca, Ted, Elizabeth, Claire, Principal Bridget Cheney and all those involved for their leadership and support. We are going to learn from what they are doing and then replicate it throughout other neighborhood schools.It is time that the neighborhoods take ownership and reclaim their neighborhood schools...taking a "Local First" approach to investing in our neighborhood public schools as a place-based asset...one that is critical to the health, vibrancy and well being of our neighborhoods.

On the Westside, not only do we have the Challenge Scholars initiative, but we are also getting reading to re-open a neighborhood school -- Stocking Elementary. Special thanks to Jon O'Connor and others who were strong advocates for re-opening this school. Contractors are already gearing up for much needed building improvements, we are working with Steepletown Ministries and KSSN to make this a "community school."

I could go on and on about what's in store for next year, but I want to conclude with one final story - a story that exemplifies the potential of the new partnership at Ottawa Hills High School with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I don't want you to hear it from me. I want you to see and hear first-hand from a student who embodies the potential.With me on stage is Kyren Garel - an 11th grade student at the School of Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Ottawa Hills. Kyren - please come up and share your story with the audience.

Kyren speaks

Let's give him a round of applause. This is what our Transformation Plan is all about.This is what our students are all capable of.This is why the future of Grand Rapids Public Schools is stronger and brighter than ever!Thank you and have a great weekend. "