With wait lists for programs, increasing enrollment, and improving test scores, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) are experiencing a rebirth. The amazing transformation is underscored by some dire numbers. Over 86 percent of the district’s approximately 17,000 students qualify for free or reduced federal school lunch assistance. Nearly five percent are homeless. Limited financial resources are primarily directed to teaching and learning core subjects, leaving little wiggle room for extras such as arts education, sports, and other off-the-beaten-path curriculum areas. Enter the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation (SAF), the district’s strategic fundraising partner. The foundation raises and stewards funds and other resources to support GRPS and its students. Support is focused in on five impact areas: literacy, arts education, physical wellness, math, science and technology, and environmental education. Last week, the foundation held its 12th annual MindShare gala fundraiser at the JW Marriott hotel in Grand Rapids. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was a sponsor of the event. Grand Rapids SAF President Deb Bailey said ensuring quality public education in Grand Rapids’ urban core is a must. The children attending GRPS are tomorrow’s workforce and customers. To attract and retain quality workers in the region, their parents have to be satisfied with educational options in the city. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Bailey said. Michele Suchovsky, Executive Director, Grand Rapids SAF, said despite the numbers stacked against them, real students are finding real successes within the walls of GRPS. “All children can learn and succeed,” she said. GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said her transformation plan, put in place shortly after she started with the district, is working. She pointed to accolades from finance website Wallet Hub naming GRPS as a “best bang for your buck” and the fact that other districts have been scheduling visits to the district to find out how they’re doing it. “We are on the move, you guys,” Neal said. When she took the district’s reins, Neal said she wanted to be the model for other urban districts. Now her sights are set on being the model for school districts, period. She’s guided by the students she sees on a daily basis and the legacy of the district, from which she graduated. Neal ended her talk to MindShare Gala attendees with a quote from Nelson Mandela. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” For the 2014/2015 school year, the Grand Rapids SAF provided over $500,000 in grants to the district, including:
- $45,225 to purchase art and music supplies for art classrooms throughout the school district
- $24,500 to support enrichment trips to Blandford Nature Center for every first and third grade student in GRPS.
- $16,000 to support GRPS high school student participation in the MSU Summer Scholars program, which provides an on-campus, residential college prep program for sophomores and juniors.
- $7,000 to support bussing costs for the new Immer5e program at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
- $400,000 to support GR8 Sports, Great Kids, an after-school sports program for elementary and middle school students in GRPS.
Do your kids attend GRPS? What do you think about the district’s recent improvements? Share your stories in the comments! If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
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Photo credit: Brian Esler for stellafly