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GRPS school board debates term limits for officer positions, hears parent concerns

On Monday, May 21, 2018 the Grand Rapids Public Schools held their bimonthly Board of Education meeting. The board also celebrated accomplishments from the 2017-18 school year.
GRPS Board of Education

GRPS Board of Education /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

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On Monday, May 21, 2018 the Grand Rapids Public Schools held their bimonthly Board of Education meeting at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting included reports from athletic department staff about sports achievements during the 2017-2018 school year, from the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors on their partnership with GRPS, from students and staff who’d attended the HBCU Spring College Tour, a reminder of upcoming school dates, a debate about term limits to board leadership positions and public comments from parents Shana Gordon and Sara Melton.

Executive Director of K-12 Athletics, Kurt Johnson, co-presented with Union and Ottawa Hills Athletic Directors Justin Walker and Marcus Harris. Several students were All Conference athletes from each school each season, with special recognition given to the Ottawa Hills boys team. “They broke several records, the 200 medley which is a 30-year-old record, the 500 freestyle which is a two year record, and the 100 backstroke which is a 19-year-old record and the 100 breaststroke which is a 34-year-old record,” Harris said.

Next, the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors reported on their 125 volunteers in honor of their 125th anniversary who worked with GRPS on playground cleanup. They mentioned hoping to do the same next year and also possibly beginning to participate in mentoring.

Several high schools students and two staff from the HBCU Spring College Tour presented a slide show of their trip during spring break and gave testimonials as to how much the trip had meant to them. Seventy-seven students and 16 chaperones went on the trip.

Angie Martinez said, “It was an amazing experience seeing more schools out there that have a good environment that  you can actually feel that you fit in. And I think that helped a lot of kids that they don’t want to go to college and they went on the tour and made them reconsider. I’m one of those students.”

Ronald Gorman, Assistant Superintendent of Pre-K-12 Instructional Support, reminded the board about school days off and ending times for half days during the end of the year. He also reminded everyone that the first day of school for GRPS is August 20, 2018. This is a 1-2 weeks prior than past start dates and even some on the board noted August 20 being early.

Action items during the meeting included a unanimous approving of the purchasing agenda and an almost 25 minute discussion of board bylaw #1150, concerning term limits to officer positions on the board.

Dr. Tony Baker, current Treasurer of the Board, expressed a desire for term limits saying, “I’m talking about length of service for board officers. And how long can people be one of the officers. The idea of these is to create a shared governance model. None of us are elected to be leaders on the board. By occupying one of those positions for a length of time, it does end up leading people to believe that there is some authority, more so in one office than another.”

Dr. Wendy Falb, current President of the Board, was against changing the bylaw and did not want term limits, saying, “I’m opposed to term limits. I feel like it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. There’s no history of any board officer maintaining a position for an extensive period of time. Grand Rapids has always had tremendous turn over in board leadership. I think term limits will tie your hands. When you have good leadership there’s no reason to make someone step aside.”

Most of the discussion centered around leadership development and how to ensure the GRPS is a “board of equals” with children being mentioned 20 minutes into the conversation. Dr. Baker took umbrage with Dr. Falb’s comment that  “In the end we should make policy decisions based on what are the academic needs of the children” saying “I would like to take issue with the fact that this suggested change could be seen as not in the best interest of children. I, of course, propose this because I think this would be in the best interest of children just as you think keeping it might be.”

The board carried the motion for a first reading with a vote of 4-3. Dr. Baker asked for clarification if it was a situation where the majority winning can make policy change. No one seemed to know and Dr. Falb moved the meeting along saying, “Well, it’s a first reading anyway, it’s not an adoption of the policy.”

During the public comment time, Shana Gordon, parent of a child at East Leonard Elementary, expressed her growing frustration with the school because her seven-year-old daughter kept coming home from school injured and she was never notified by the school. “She’s been getting hurt constantly, I’ve met with a lot of different people in the district, having a lot of different meetings over at the building. Assistant Superintendent, I’ve been tryin’ to reach you, I’ve left voicemails. I don’t get anything back, so I figured I’d come down here to speak. She swallowed earrings in the care of her teachers. She has 12, 13 students and three staff in the classroom and they don’t know how she did it. She didn’t get no medical attention.”

Sara Melton, former principal of Shawmut Hills Elementary, and parent of children who attend there now read a statement to the board on her concerns with the distribution of Title 1 funds and the lack of investment in Shawmut Hills as a neighborhood school. “I’m here today because Shawmut Hills needs more than great teachers and a good principal. What we are doing there was not and is not a sustainable model for quality results. Staff was and is feeling overworked. Inequity has become more glaring as the intensity of needs grow in our community. Families are leaving. Then we lose teachers in October, shuffling classes around. Quality is suffering. My son has had NO music concert in three years.” She published her full statement here.

The meeting concluded with most board members noting what a happy time graduation season is and how much they enjoyed attending the various ceremonies. No comments were made in response to Gordon or Melton’s comments.

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