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Parents and teachers frustrated with proposed GRPS classroom model

4:45 AM, Apr 6, 2010   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - For hours members of the school board looked at plans to revolutionize learning at Grand Rapids Public Schools. A blend of traditional classes and online learning. However, teachers are very concerned about the new model.

"As a social studies teacher I might see students twice a week and then the other three days they are going to be in front of a computer," said teacher Dennis Branson.

The plan calls for roughly 90 students per class, with one subject teacher, one special ed teacher and paraprofessionals.

"I don't know how we're going to do it with 90 kids all together. It's 90 kids every hour for four hours. That's 360 kids that I am supposed to know individually and intimately," said Louise Wilson, a math teacher.

Parents are equally as concerned and voiced their opinions at a special meeting of the Grand Rapids Public School Board Monday.

"I agree the current model for education is outdated, however I disagree that plugging computers and guided responses into that model is a fix of any sort," said Anne Kuipers.

One of the online courses is E-2020. While it and similar style learning is used, this would be the first large scale implementation. Spokesperson John Helmholdt says the district is also researching other models such as Florida Virtual.

"Right now, what we have is failing. How can we justify not trying something else even if there are no guarantees in life?" said board member Amy McGlynn.

The chief concern expressed Monday is timing. The model is scheduled to change next fall.

"For it to come at this late hour when students are already registering and for the community and the board to respond to it I don't feel is good governance, I don't think is good implementation of a policy that is going to dramatically change how we're going to do education in this town," said Dr. Wendy Falb, GRPS Board Member.

Dr. Falb said she was very enthusiastic about the Hub schools. The "Hubs" will focus on special interests like the arts. Students electing to take a course will have to go to a respective hub location three days a week and get out at 3:40 p.m. There are still logistical concerns regarding transportation.

When WZZM asked Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor about bussing last week, he said he could provide further information once the board talked with Dean Transportation. GRPS eliminated bussing at the high school level several years ago during budget cuts. Many high school students take The Rapid public transportation to get to school.

Several board members however, did express concern that transportation issues might limit or prevent students from taking electives or even extra curricular activities such as athletics if students are traveling and extending their days to participate in sports.

Additional details regarding the elective or Hub curriculum will be available to the school board by April 15th, offering a more thorough course description.

You can get more information about the district wide reform plans thanks to an FAQ document on the GRPS website. 

By state law, the school board must adopt a balanced budget. Currently GRPS faces a $12 million to $15 million deficit. Dr. Taylor says this blend of online learning will save money, and Monday GRPS Chief Financial Officer estimated roughly 11 teachers at each of the four high schools school could be eliminated.

Branson says with even fewer teachers, education will suffer. "A lot of this decision making is being done behind closed doors. It is driven by Dr. Taylor, and it is driven solely on budget concerns with a disregard for student learning."

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