Trombly Elementary School families held “A Walk Thru Rush Hour” the morning of May 17 to demonstrate to school officials the increase in pedestrian traffic that will occur along Jefferson Avenue if Trombly students walk to Defer Elementary.

Trombly Elementary School families held “A Walk Thru Rush Hour” the morning of May 17 to demonstrate to school officials the increase in pedestrian traffic that will occur along Jefferson Avenue if Trombly students walk to Defer Elementary.

File photo by Deb Jacques

Reconfiguration to begin in the 2020-21 school year

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 30, 2019


GROSSE POINTES — The year 2019 was an emotional one for Grosse Pointe Public School System staff, parents and students as a major change was approved by the school board.

At the June 24 Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 5-2 to approve a resolution to close Trombly Elementary School and also Poupard Elementary School at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Maire and Mason elementary schools were considered for closure but will remain open.

Closing Trombly, located in Grosse Pointe Park, and Poupard, located in Harper Woods, will save the district approximately $1.1 million. Board members Brian Summerfield, Margaret Weertz, Judy Gafa, Kathleen Abke and Christopher Lee voted in favor of the school closings. Cindy Pangborn and Christopher Profeta voted against the measure.

The school closings are part of a district reconfiguration plan that was discussed for several months as school officials dealt with declining enrollment, which has caused some schools not to be at their full capacities, wasting district money. School districts also receive less per-pupil funding from the state when enrollment decreases, which has impacted the district financially.

At the June 24 meeting, the school board also voted 6-1 on a resolution to adopt a K-4, five-eight grade configuration effective with the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The elementary schools will now include grades K-4, and the middle schools will include grades five-eight. Pangborn voted against moving fifth grade students to the middle school. The configuration of grades nine-12 at the high school level will continue.

Early in 2019, a Blue Ribbon Committee was assembled to look at reconfiguration options. School officials held meetings throughout the district in April and May with community members to address the reconfiguration options.

According to a Blue Ribbon Committee list of frequently asked questions, the district has averaged a loss of 100 students per year for the past 10 years. Because of declining enrollment, the district has lost approximately $1 million each year from the state foundation allowance. School districts statewide, including Grosse Pointe, also have lost additional funding due to budget cuts at the state level.

After the  June 24 meeting, GPPSS administrators met to begin identifying, organizing and prioritizing actions regarding reconfiguration. On Aug. 8, a group of more than 40 teachers and 25 administrators met for half a day to discuss reconfiguration concerns and opportunities. On Aug. 12, administrators looked at a series of recommendations regarding various reconfiguration mechanics.

In September, the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency, or RESA, partnered with the district to recommend potential attendance boundary lines resulting from the closing of Poupard and Trombly. In addition, the district partnered with Wayne RESA to help review and analyze the boundary changes.

Five months after the vote in June, school officials presented an update on the reconfiguration process at the Nov. 25 school board meeting.

Jon Dean, the district deputy superintendent for human resources and educational services, presented a slide presentation that included steps taken during the reconfiguration process, projected enrollment, programming and capacity.

Three committees are conducting the reconfiguration work. A staffing committee jointly chaired by Dean and Mike Rennell, Grosse Pointe Education Association president, is working through the staffing process.

Director of Secondary Instruction Maureen Bur and Director of Elementary Instruction Keith Howell are chairing a committee with teachers, administrators and community members designed to focus on curriculum and instruction.

District Director of Student Services Stefanie Hayes is chairing a committee that is focusing on the emotional and social needs of staff and students.

Middle school level
Several middle school and elementary school administrators attended the Nov. 25 meeting. There will not be any attendance changes at the district’s three middle schools, which are Brownell, Pierce and Parcells.

“This has been a tremendous opportunity for us as building administrators and staff to work on reimagining in the Grosse Pointe Public Schools what really middle school is all about,” Brownell Middle School Principal Rodger Hunwick said, speaking on behalf of the middle school administrators. “Bringing the fifth graders up to the middle school is an opportunity that we just embrace, love, and are completely and wholeheartedly excited to work with and reimaging that whole step.”

According to Hunwick, the fifth and sixth grade students will have a separate lunch and recess time from the seventh and eighth grade students at the middle schools. In addition, educators will have dedicated a floor plan in each middle school building for fifth and sixth grade students and seventh and eighth grade students. The cognitively impaired program will remain at Parcells. Additional autism spectrum disorder classrooms will be added at Brownell and Pierce as needed.

According to the slide presentation, Brownell will transform three computer labs to classroom spaces to accommodate fifth and sixth grade students on the second floor. School officials also will convert existing classrooms to spaces for special education programs. With the changes, school officials project the Brownell building will be at 78% utilization with 587 students.

Parcells Middle School Principal Dan Hartley expects the school to have an enrollment of 795 students next year, and the building should be utilized at 87%. The school will convert existing computer labs and underused space to create five new classrooms.

According to Pierce Principal Sara Dirkse, the school’s facility changes will include converting existing computer labs to create three new classrooms. An enrollment of 610 students at Pierce is expected with a building utilization of 84%.

“We will be housing our fifth and sixth graders together in a consolidated wing of the building on the second floor together,” Dirkse said.

Boundary changes
Kurt Rheaume, the executive director of information technology solutions for Wayne County RESA, also addressed the board about the new school boundaries. RESA and the district look at several factors, including existing data, a review of safety risks and a review of walking distances.

Dean said administration is recommending that the current Mason Elementary School will maintain its current Mason students, and the Poupard students who live on Beaufait Street and north will attend Mason. Monteith Elementary will maintain its current students and also welcome Poupard students who live on Fleetwood Drive and south.

School officials also have recommended to adopt attendance boundaries for elementary schools in the south end of the district. They include maintaining the current Kerby, Richard and Maire attendance boundaries, shifting the multiage to Maire, shifting pre-K to Richard, and merging Trombly and Defer into Defer.

Parents and students of Mason, Maire, Poupard and Trombly did not want to see their schools close and did what they could to keep them open. One concern was the effect that closing the schools would have on the community and home values.

For instance, Trombly Elementary families held “A Walk Thru Rush Hour” exercise the morning of May 17. The event was designed to demonstrate to school officials the increase in pedestrian traffic that will occur along Jefferson Avenue if the Trombly students walk to Defer Elementary School.

Maire is a Blue Ribbon School. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve high learning standards or make notable improvements in closing the achievement gap. In recognition of its Blue Ribbon status, Maire families tied blue ribbons around trees in the school’s vicinity in one attempt to keep the school open.