School board still to vote on school closures, grade reconfiguration

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published June 10, 2019

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FARMS — After months of discussion, countless meetings, shared ideas and heavy emotion, the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education might be ready to vote on school closures and the grade level reconfiguration at the June 24 school board meeting.

The school board had planned to vote on the grade level reconfiguration at the June 10 board meeting, and the school closures at the June 24 school board meeting.

However, because the summary of recent listening sessions conducted by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, or MDCR, regarding both issues would not be available by June 10, MDCR President Agustin V. Arbulu asked the board via a letter to delay taking up the grade reconfiguration vote until the June 24 meeting. This would allow the department time to assess and compile the responses to the listening sessions prior to the board’s vote on both the school closings and grade level reconfiguration.

The MDCR held four listening sessions in the school district — two on May 29 and two on June 4 — to give district residents an opportunity to speak on the district’s redistricting plan who could not attend school board meetings or town hall meetings on the matter. It was a chance for all GPPSS residents to be heard, according to school officials.

The primary purpose of the MDCR is to investigate complaints of discrimination in employment, education, housing, public accomodation, law enforcement and public service. Arbulu and MDCR staff members are evaluating the testimony they heard at the four listening sessions. A summary will be compiled and shared with school officials and the public; however, it would not have been ready by the June 10 meeting.

“Given the wealth and nature of the comments we heard along with information provided to us, it is not possible for us to properly compile, analyze and assess the information into a format that will be helpful to you in addressing a proposed reconfiguration of your school district in time for it to be considered at the June 10th meeting,” Arbulu’s letter states.

“I am, however, able to commit to providing you with our analysis in writing approximately seven days before the June 24th meeting,” Arbulu continued. “I propose that I be allowed to present about what we observed and then answer any questions members of the Board may raise. I am most hopeful that you will not nullify our efforts to collect and provide the input of those who will be affected by your decision by taking any action on the 10th and I look foward to meeting with the Board on the 24th.”

District community relations specialist Rebecca Fannon sent an email to C & G Newspapers during the early afternoon of June 10 in which GPPSS Superintendent Gary Niehaus recommended that the board delay the grade reconfiguration vote until June 24.

“The Superintendent is recommending, based on the clarified request from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, that both the reconfiguration and the school closure votes be held on June 24th after the district receives the report from Dr. Arbulu,” the email states. “The agenda would have to be amended by the Board at the meeting tonight under item 2 (approval of the agenda).”

The anticipated grade level reconfiguration and school closings are part of a district reconfiguration process designed to address the district’s size. Because of a steady decline in enrollment in the district in recent years, the school board is considering closing schools. The reconfiguration plan also is an opportunity for the district to offer more educational opportunities for students.

The district currently has nine elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, one early childhood center and one administration building, known as “389” in the plan because it is located at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City.

Several scenarios have been offered under the reconfiguration process. Four scenarios have a plan of adopting a K-4, five-eight and nine-12 grade configuration and possibly closing two of the four following elementary schools: Trombly, in Grosse Pointe Park; Mason in Grosse Pointe Woods; Poupard in Harper Woods; or Maire in Grosse Pointe City. The idea of closing a middle school also has been discussed. The reconfiguration plan is to be implemented no earlier than the 2020-21 school year.

The current grade configurations are K-5; six-eight; and nine-12. Some board members have expressed in an interest in providing K-4 at the elementary schools, and a five-eight grade level at the middle schools.

Board President Brian Summerfield, for example, said he is “heavily leaning” toward the K-4 and five-eight option.

“I think the five-eight, as it’s been developing over time, given my discussions with the administration, principals, teachers, the public … what we’re developing here I think has got a lot of real potential. I think what they’re doing with the fifth grade is going to be great for the fifth graders, even better for the sixth graders, and great for the seventh and eighth graders. … There are some things hopefully we can explore with the seventh and eighth grade.”

Trustee Cindy Pangborn, however, is opposed to the K-4 and five-eight grade level configuration.

“I do not think fifth grade should be moved into the middle school,” she said. “We do not have research on it. … I still think we are not looking at ways to make elementary schools whole so that we can keep them.”

The June 24 meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Brownell Middle School multipurpose room, 260 Chalfonte Ave. in Grosse Pointe Farms. For updates to ensure the time, date or venue has not changed, check the district’s website at www.gpschools.org.

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