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State data shows turnaround at consistently low performing high school in Grand Rapids

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The Grand Rapids Public School District is making strides in turning around some of its lowest performing schools. That’s according to new data released by the state Tuesday.

Ron Gorman is the Executive Director of High Schools and Alternative Education at GRPS. He works with all of Grand Rapids high schools, many of which have problems meeting state standards.

“This was our last chance at Union High School; I mean I think we all know this,” Gorman told reporters at a press conference. “This is a day to celebrate in the Grand Rapids Public Schools because this was the first time we’ve gotten Union High School out of that lowest five percent,” he said. Schools that remain in the lowest 5% year after year risk state takeover by the Educational Achievement Authority.

With roughly 1,200 students, Union High School is Grand Rapids’ biggest high school.  Instead of being ranked in the lowest one percentile of schools in Michigan, it’s now in the lowest ten percent.

“We know we have a long ways to go,” Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said, “We’re going to continue. But for this day I ask that everyone connected to this family that we take time to celebrate what we’ve done.”

School leaders couldn’t point to one single reason for the improvement. All Union teachers had to reapply for their jobs last year and only half were allowed to return as part of the state’s turnaround options. The district implemented a new teacher evaluation system, marketing plan, and changed aspects of professional development. They also put in place a testing model for 9th and 10th graders that led to improved ACT scores for 11th graders.

They also said a governing body that included outsiders like the police chief and the city’s mayor helped a lot in Union’s success.

“Having an outside lens really helped this process because they could see some things that the internal stakeholders could not see,” Gorman said. They’ll use the same approach for another school this year.

Most of the district’s schools made overall ranking improvements. Michigan’s fifth largest public school district has been through a lot of turmoil the past few years. School leaders say this is a sign that the district is making improvements.

“It wasn’t just the district; this really has been a community effort,” Weatherall Neal said.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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