Newly appointed Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Jon Dean, center, at the Administration Building in Grosse Pointe City June 23, held listening sessions with community members throughout June.

Newly appointed Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Jon Dean, center, at the Administration Building in Grosse Pointe City June 23, held listening sessions with community members throughout June.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Listening sessions focus on school issues

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 2, 2021

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GROSSE POINTE CITY — Preparing for his new role as Grosse Pointe Public School System superintendent, Jon Dean held several in-person listening sessions throughout June at various schools to answer questions from residents and discuss important topics.

The final listening session was June 23 on the front lawn of the Administration Building at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City. Dean officially began his term July 1 as prior Superintendent Gary Niehaus retired.

During last Wednesday’s listening session, which about 20 people attended, several topics were discussed, including COVID-19 mask mandates, enrollment numbers and critical race theory. The listening sessions drew a mix of different-sized crowds — the largest being more than 120 in attendance.

“COVID is on the downswing here,” Dean said. “Our hope is to be maskless in the fall, but we haven’t made that decision. We’ll make the decision in August.”

Discussion also centered on what the district learned from having to pivot several times from virtual learning to hybrid to in-person instruction during the 2020-21 school year because of COVID-19. Families also had the option of their children attending virtually all year in GP Virtual.

This past school year, the district lost approximately 500 students, thus receiving less per-pupil state funding. In an effort to bring back students, school principals over the past two months are calling families and reaching out to them through postcards.

About a third of students who left moved out of the district. In addition, “a handful went to home schooling and a handful went to private and parochial schools,” Dean said. “About 70 students left because they wanted face-to-face and are coming back now (that) we (will have) face-to-face.”

Another third also left because the families wanted face-to-face learning and are not returning to the district in the fall. One reason is because their children are older and in high school, and the families chose to have them finish out their school years elsewhere. Athletics had some influence on that because of Michigan High School Athletic Association guidelines.

Dean also addressed the $1 million sale of the Administration Building.

“It’s our property to sell. We did partner with the city to sell it,” Dean said. “The city does have site plan approval.”

The purchase agreement is available on the district’s website at www.gpschools.org. The administrative offices will relocate to the rear of Grosse Pointe North High School with a separate entrance.

Dean felt the listening sessions were “pretty successful. The feedback has been pretty positive. This has given me some really good information.”

Board members Ahmed Ismail, Colleen Worden and David Brumbaugh attended the June 23 meeting.

“I made a point to go to all of them,” Brumbaugh said. “You got to hear what was on people’s minds.”

Grosse Pointe City resident Heather Bresser, who has three children in the district, attended the June 23 session.

“I’m interested in trying to find out more about what’s going on and have a little input,” Bresser said. “I thought (Dean) did an excellent job.”

Bresser is an English language assistant at Maire Elementary School.

“COVID is stressful,” Bresser said. “I think (staff) has done a wonderful job. They made some really hard decisions and had to implement tough policies.”

Maureen and Charles Krasner also attended the listening session at the Administration Building.

“It was nice to hear the new superintendent,” Maureen Krasner said.


Critical race theory
CRT, which has become a hot topic nationwide, also surfaced. The website dictionary.com describes critical race theory as “a conceptual framework that considers the impact of historical laws and social structures on the present-day perpetuation of racial inequality: first used in legal analyses, and now applied in education, communication studies and sociology.”

At www.criticalrace.org, CRT is described as “a radical ideology that focuses on race as the key to understanding society and objectifies people based on race.” Several parents addressed the school board about CRT at the June 14 board meeting at Brownell Middle School.

“There were lots of questions about critical race theory at the last board meeting. That’s entered the public discourse on social media, news media and those sorts of things. It has become a talking point in the world of political discourse,” Dean said. “It’s not something that we as educators or administrators or board members are talking about inside of Grosse Pointe except when someone asks us a question and we give an answer. We are not pursuing critical race theory. We aren’t doing it.”

Niehaus commented on CRT at the June 14 meeting.

“I don’t know of any critical race theory that’s been introduced into our curriculum, been brought before (Educational Programs Leadership Council), nor brought before this Board of Education,” Niehaus said. “Those that came out to speak this evening, thank you for making us aware of what potentially might be there. At this point in time, it has to go through the process. If CRT is something being brought forward nationally, locally, otherwise, this board will have the opportunity to reject it, recommend it, amend it, whatever they want to do with it. But at this time, I’m not sure that I know of any case that we’ve adopted a critical racial theory curriculum in any form or any way.”  

Still, some parents are concerned and voiced their opinions at the June 28 school board meeting at Brownell.

“Critical race theory doesn’t come in on a silver platter with a blinking light so everyone knows it’s coming,” Terence Collins said. “It comes in when you’re not looking. I’m telling you, you’re not looking. It’s not only coming — it’s here.”

Anne Vanker referred to the board’s 2020 resolution to “Address Racism and Create a More Equitable and Inclusive School System For All.”

“Critical race theory begins with the assumption that there’s systemic racism. When I read the resolution, this is the same assumption that the Grosse Pointe Public Schools and our community is racist, and I strongly, strongly disagree,” Vanker said. “CRT is here and you guys need to face it, because the community’s woke up and we know.”

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