Bond issue, curriculum, school safety highlight 2018 in Grosse Pointes

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 28, 2018

 Pierce Middle School student Miles Murray reads from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Other America” speech during a presentation at Grosse Pointe South High School March 14.

Pierce Middle School student Miles Murray reads from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Other America” speech during a presentation at Grosse Pointe South High School March 14.

File photo by Sean Work

GROSSE POINTES — In 2018, Grosse Pointe Public School System educators continued to make student achievement a top priority, while school officials also reviewed safety measures within the district.

The year also brought out conflict in the district as it went for a bond issue, which passed in November, although not everyone was in favor of the proposal.

Here is a look back at some of the school events that made an impact in 2018.


School safety
School officials continued to discuss safety and security, especially after a gunman killed 17 students and staff members Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

One month after the Parkland shooting, some GPPSS students participated in the National School Walkout March 14. The event honored the Parkland victims, demanded an end to school violence and encouraged kindness. Most of the demonstrations began at 10 a.m. and lasted for 17 minutes — one minute for each life lost at Parkland.

Pierce, Brownell and Parcells middle schools all held activities. Students at both Grosse Pointe South and North high schools had the option to participate in walkouts. Some North students decided not to participate in the walkout. On March 12, members of the North Pointe Editorial Board from the student news source North Pointe Now issued an editorial titled “On Our Own Terms” that stated reasons several students didn’t want to participate, including the gun control debate.

The GPPSS was not immune to school threats in 2018. On Monday, Sept. 24, members of the Grosse Pointe Public School System administration distributed a letter to parents, district staff and the media about two incidents that occured over the weekend regarding student safety.

One incident involved a Grosse Pointe South High School student who told his parents about a group chat on social media in which a person posted a nonspecific, threatening communication with an image of a person holding a firearm.

The post turned out to be a hoax. Local law enforcement and school administrators verified that the image was not a current or former GPPSS student. The post reportedly was made from a computer based in Florida, and it is believed that the person who made the threat is not local.

Officials also responded to another situation when two South students engaged in online interaction that brought in local police. One student had written “inappropriate things online about the other student and threatened online to use a firearm,” according to the letter. Local law enforcement identified the student who made the alleged threat and it was determined that the situation was not an active threat.


Bond issue, school board election
On Election Day Nov. 6, the voting majority in GPPSS passed a $111,040,000 bond referendum that, through taxpayer dollars, will provide building enhancements, security improvements and technology updates.

The district’s bond issue classified projects into four categories to keep students “safe,” “warm,” “dry” and “connected.” The bond is for 20 years; projects are slated for completion within the next five or six years.

Under the “safe” list, the district will implement safety and security improvements including the addition of secure vestibules, security cameras, public announcement system updates, and the completion of asbestos abatement in ceilings where energy-efficient lighting is being installed and more.

The “warm” items include having efficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems and electrical upgrades. The “dry” portion bond projects include the replacement of roofs, energy conservation, and mechanical system improvements.

Keeping students “connected” will focus on acquiring and installing technology infrastructure, including buildingwide wiring to support instructional technology equipment.

The first series of the bond will focus on buildings that will remain open. The first phase will focus on school security districtwide and at Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South high schools. The district will put off the second series of bonds until 2022. This will give the school board time to work through possible building closings before more investments are made to the elementary and middle schools.

Not everyone was in favor of the bond initiative. The local group Residents For Responsible Spending — made up of about 15 GPPSS residents — campaigned against it using the slogan “Not This Bond, Vote No.” While the committee agreed there are legitimate projects that need to be addressed throughout the district, the group felt the bond proposal was reckless and an exorbitant amount of money for the taxpayers to bear.

In the election, registered voters within the GPPSS not only voted on the bond issue, but also cast their votes in the district’s Board of Education race. Seven candidates ran for three open seats.

Incumbents Margaret Weertz and Brian Summerfield were re-elected to the school board, while Christopher Lee was elected for the first time. All three will take the oath of office at the first school board meeting in January 2019. This will mark Weertz’s and Summerfield’s second terms.


Other news items
The beginning of the year began on a charitable note when the Grosse Pointe Schools Charity Week began Jan. 26. The student association clubs at both Grosse Pointe South and Grosse Pointe North high schools held fundraisers for the I Love Lucy Fund at the Meade Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Unit, located on the campus of St. John Hospital and Medical Center on Moross Road on the Detroit/Grosse Pointe Woods border. The students’ effort raised approximately $13,346.

On March 14, the district held a special event at South High School to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to South in 1968, when the school was known as Grosse Pointe High School.

Anniversary event organizers played a video in the school gym that featured local residents who had heard King’s speech at the school in 1968. Several individuals recited portions from King’s “The Other America” speech.

Tragedy hit the district in April when Christina and Thomas Toth, and their children — third-grade student Ella and fifth-grade student Sophia, who attended Maire Elementary School — were killed on an interstate in Sterling, Colorado, during spring break.

“It’s sad and tragic. It’s just a tough day for everybody. They were two excellent students — just top-notch kids,” GPPSS Superintendent Gary Niehaus said when staff and students returned from spring break. “The parents were supportive. They were very active at Maire. Mom was kind of an organizer. She was active on the PTO, being a volunteer and as a room mother.”

Over the summer, the Niche Best of 2019 Schools listing voted GPPSS No. 1 in the Districts with the Best Teachers in Michigan out of 556 districts, and also No. 1 among the Best Places to Teach in Michigan out of 545 locations. On the list, the district was listed as fifth out of 548 districts among the Best School Districts in Michigan, and received the No. 6 ranking on the Best School Districts for Athletes in Michigan.

When the 2018-19 school year began in the GPPSS in September, it came with 34 new teachers who were hired to fill vacancies from retirements and resignations from the last school year.

One new class this school year is an emergency medical technicians class at Grosse Pointe South High School. It’s open to students from both South and Grosse Pointe North High School through Wayne County Community College District.