Fourth-grader Emma Truza, 9, and her sister, second-grader Piper, 7, walk up to Maire Elementary School in the Grosse Pointe Public School District Sept. 4 for the first day of school. Their dad is in the background.

Fourth-grader Emma Truza, 9, and her sister, second-grader Piper, 7, walk up to Maire Elementary School in the Grosse Pointe Public School District Sept. 4 for the first day of school. Their dad is in the background.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Grosse Pointe schools are back in session

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 11, 2018

 New Maire Elementary School Principal Ryan Francis high-fives fifth-graders as they arrive on the first day of school Sept. 4.

New Maire Elementary School Principal Ryan Francis high-fives fifth-graders as they arrive on the first day of school Sept. 4.

Photo by Deb Jacques

GROSSE POINTES — On Sept. 4, students and staff in the Grosse Pointe Public School System embarked on a new educational journey with the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Students with new backpacks, parents capturing their children’s first day of school in photos, and greetings from new teachers set the tone last Tuesday. While some kids were apprehensive about the first day of school, others jumped right in.

While official enrollment numbers won’t be available until after count day Oct. 3, GPPSS officials predict an enrollment of 7,800 students. District Superintendent Gary Niehaus said there were no layoffs for the new year. In addition, 34 new teachers were hired to fill vacancies from retirements and resignations from the last school year.

Students also returned to the classroom last week with several new administrators at the helm, including Ryan Francis, new Maire Elementary School principal; John Kernan, new Richard Elementary School principal; Sara Dirkse, new Pierce Middle School principal; Geoffrey Young, new assistant principal at Grosse Pointe North High School; and Katie Vernier, new assistant principal also at North.

High school students thinking about becoming emergency medical technicians have the opportunity to enroll in a new EMT 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.

Prior to the start of school, the GPPSS administrative team held three days of professional development with the emphasis on restorative practices, teacher evaluation and investigations. Faculty and building principals had three days of professional development with Leader in Me training, Everyday Mathematics adoption, Schoology and best practices for teaching and learning.

Each workshop focused on various topics that educators will bring to the classroom this year. Restorative practices, for instance, is an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities.

The Leader in Me program, for example, was derived from Stephen R. Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” With the Leader in Me, students will practice the following seven habits: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood, synergize, and sharpen the saw.

And although the state’s third-grade reading and retention law doesn’t go into full effect until the 2019-20 school year, educators have been preparing for it since it became a state law nearly two years ago.

In October 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a third-grade reading bill requiring that all third-grade students must score proficient on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress standardized test, or they will not be allowed to move up to the fourth grade. Along with the M-STEP, other tests will be administered to determine the students’ reading levels.

Under the new law, which goes into full effect next year, the M-STEP reading score is reviewed for proficiency first. If the data shows that a student is one year or more behind, then an alternate test or portfolio of student work can be applied to determine if the child is less than one year or more behind.

Under the new law, all kindergarten through third-grade students who score below grade level on state assessments must have an individual reading plan with collaboration from the student’s parents, teacher and principal. If the student is a year or more behind on the M-STEP and the alternate, then the child may be retained in the third grade.

To avoid retention, a student must do one of the following: score proficient on a state assessment, score proficient on an alternate assessment, show proficiency through a portfolio or qualify for a good-cause exemption.

The third-grade reading and retention law comes with several “good-cause exemptions” in which the student can move to the fourth grade despite reading below grade level. The exemptions could include a student having an Individualized Education Program or a 504 plan, or the student being an English learner who has had less than three years of instruction in an English language program.

Other “good cause exemptions” include cases in which the student is proficient in all other subjects, the student demonstrates proficiency through a student portfolio, or the classroom teacher requests promotion with supporting documentation. In addition, a child’s parents or guardians can request an exemption so the student can be promoted to the fourth grade. Other exemptions within the law will be considered.

According to Keith Howell, GPPSS director of pre-K and elementary instruction, the district has literacy coaches on staff to work with students who are struggling with reading. Strategies for parents to use at home with their children also are available. Educators believe it will take time to adjust to the new law.

“I do think we’ll have students who will not pass the M-STEP,” Howell said. “If they show a portfolio or any other assessments, we would be able to move the student on.”

The M-STEP tests third- through eighth-grade students on English language arts and mathematics; fourth- and seventh-grade students on science; and fifth- and eighth-grade students on social studies.