District continues talk about Unite the Farms initiative

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 25, 2013

GROSSE POINTES — The Unite the Farms Initiative, a proposal that has caused some controversy in the Grosse Pointes, was once again creating discussion among residents and Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education members during the Dec. 16 board meeting.

The issue involves a group of parents in a small section of Grosse Pointe Farms that want their children to attend Grosse Pointe South like their peers in the rest of Farms.

The issue hasn’t just caused a split among residents, but also among board members. 

Trustees Tom Jakubiec and Cindy Pangborn said they don’t understand how the issue turned into a North versus South debate.

“I really don’t know how that spun so far out of control,” Jakubiec said.

He said his children will attend North, and he praised both high schools, saying that the board supports both high schools as quality, top schools.

Jakubiec said he would support the change so the Farms students could attend South, saying he didn’t feel the families were disparaging North with the request.

“I’m very much in favor of that just because of proximity and all the other stuff brought forward,” he said.

“As a community, we all have got to put the emotion behind and go back to the facts of it,” he said. “For the life of me, I have no idea how this was allowed to bubble up and grew so long.”

Pangborn agreed, saying she had “a great deal of disbelief of the spin this has taken.”

“They want to go to school with their neighbors. That’s it,” she said. “Anything else that has been brought about has not been part of this. It has nothing to do with North and South, and which is the better school. That has nothing to do with this.”

Parents who support Unite the Farms have expressed a concern that their children have to be split up — once they reach high school — from the children in their community that they went to school with and played sports with.

At the Dec. 16 meeting, several people came out to talk about how they would not like the boundaries changed and spoke on the quality education that North provides.

Despite the comments of a couple of the board members, the initiative doesn’t have the support it needs to pass if it were to come to the table, since the other board members voiced their plans against supporting any boundary changes. It’s an issue that is not on the table for board consideration at this time.

“I think the Unite the Farms movement is a little divisive. It’s unnecessary,” Trustee Brian Summerfield said. “We’ve had this boundary for 45 years.”

Anytime a boundary is in place, some people are going to be split up from neighbors, but Summerfield said that “both schools are phenomenal. I think nobody’s questioning that.”

While Jakubiec and Pangborn said that they didn’t understand how the issue spiraled into something controversial, board Treasurer Judy Gafa said there have been some emails that have not been supportive of North.

She, too, is not in favor of any change.

“We have a boundary that’s been in place for 45 years,” she said. “I don’t know why, after 45 years, we have this burning need to change it. I can see why people are upset and feel like they’re being degraded.”

Board Secretary Lois Valente added that she’s embarrassed that North staff and families feel they have to come out and support North at the meetings. She reassured those in the audience that they didn’t have to spend their evenings at the meetings to make their case that North is a quality school.

She also is not in support of a change.

“Nothing has changed within the community itself to suggest that we need to change the boundaries,” Valente said.

She acknowledged that issues like social anxiety are real among adolescents, but if there are special circumstances for a change in schools, the district has a policy in place. 

“That is the exact reason that the board policy is in place to have a transfer request and a transfer-request appeal process,” Valente said.

There needs to be a better reason than a family would rather see their child attend one school or another, she said.

“I am comfortable with leaving that appeal process in place,” Valente said. “It has been successful.”

“I’m not interested in supporting any kind of boundary change,” she said.

Board President Joan Dindoffer and Vice President Daniel Roeske also voiced their opposition to boundary changes.

“We all know that both of our high schools are outstanding high schools, and we’re really glad to hear all of the good-news stories from North high school, but you don’t need to convince us,” Dindoffer said.