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Education

For the first time in more than 10 years, enrollment up at Grand Rapids Public Schools

grand rapids school administrators at podium
Lindsey Smith
/
Michigan Radio
School board members (left to right) Jen Schottke, Tony Baker and Wendy Falb, with Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal Wednesday afternoon.

Leaders of Grand Rapids Public Schools say they’ve gained 160 students this school year, finally reversing a downward trend that’s lasted more than a decade.

The district has lost more than 3,000 students in 10 years. This is the first time since the fall of 2003 that the district gained students over the previous year.

School board members credited Superintendent Teresa Weatherall-Neal, who became superintendent after a tumultuous time at Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“It was extremely difficult to do it,” Weatherall-Neal said of the enrollment turnaround.

Weatherall-Neal said it was the “transformation plan” she laid out when she was promoted to superintendent in 2012 that made the difference.

“Sometimes you want to do something else, or you doubt yourself. But we said ‘we’re going to work the plan, work the plan and so that was huge,” she said.

It was controversial at times; it included layoffs and a $175 million tax millage to rehab some schools. The plan also included closing 10 school buildings, including Weatherall-Neal's alma matter.

“It was hard for me to close Creston High School. That was probably the moment that I doubted myself the most and cried a lot over that one. But I knew that it was best for the system,” she said.

Weatherall-Neal said the bump in enrollment is just one sign the district is improving. She said chronic absenteeism is down and noted that the graduation rate is up 12% from four years ago.

Grand Rapids was the 7th largest school district in Michigan in 2015. Chippewa Valley, Ann Arbor, Plymouth-Canton, Dearborn, Utica and Detroit had more students.

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