Strategic Planning Process
The strategic planning process was based on extensive engagement of our community. Over the past year, we have conducted community surveys, focus groups, design sessions, community feedback sessions, open houses, and virtual idea exchanges. We also engaged community partners in planning teams alongside our district staff.
The process began in April of 2021 with an analysis phase, including assessment of our past performance and perceptions of stakeholders throughout our community.
We conducted a community-wide survey with over 1,300 respondents. We also held focus groups with representative community members from the following groups.
Stakeholder Focus Groups
- Parent Action Leaders
- Grand Rapids Education Association - Teachers
- GRESPA (facilities, operations and food service staff)
- Grand Rapids Education Association - Ancillary and other GRPS Unions
- Affordable Housing Advocates
- Business Leaders
- Higher Education
- Community Organization Leaders
- Kent School Services Network
- GRPS Equity Team
- Municipal Leaders
- Extended Learning Organization Network
- Neighborhood Associations
- Faith Leaders
- To College Through College / Our Community’s Children
Strengths & Assets to Leverage for the Future
The strategic planning process provides an opportunity to celebrate and honor the many strengths and assets of our school district and our community. We will leverage these as we work collaboratively to implement this plan.
Strengths & Assets Overview
Our student performance on state assessments in 3rd grade has shown steady increases between 2015 and 2019. Students performed at about the same levels in English/Language Arts (including reading) as in Math.
Our high school graduation rates have steadily increased for all groups of students. Our overall graduation rate of 80.9% in 2020 is closing in on the Michigan graduation rate of 82%, although it is below the most recently reported U.S. graduation rate of 85%.
The entire community was provided the opportunity to rate their perceptions of the district through an online GRPS Strategic Plan Community Input Survey. The highest rated strengths and assets among the over 1,300 respondents.
Summer 2021 Percentage Who Agree or Strongly Agree that Item is an Asset or Strength:
Positive connections between students and teachers = 91.2%
Improved graduation rates = 90.9%
Dedicated and supportive employees = 89.9%
Variety of academic programs and choices = 89.3%
Community partnerships = 88.6%
Theme schools = 86.9%
Diversity = 86.7%
A number of additional strengths and assets were mentioned in our stakeholder focus group discussions:
District teachers and staff are viewed as caring, student-focused, and dedicated. This was voiced by students, families, and community members. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, teachers, principals and school staff went outside of their normal duties to support students and families, not only to access learning but also basic needs and services.
Grand Rapids is a community with a strong sense of pride that extends to the school district. Community partners across faith, business, nonprofit, and government organizations are keen to work with the school district to support student success.
General academics are viewed as strong overall. There is common acknowledgment of the increasing high school graduation rates.
GRPS provides a wide variety of academic choices for families that are appreciated and highly regarded. The opportunity to choose options that best meet the needs of individual students is seen as a tremendous asset. The district is viewed as innovative in its efforts to define new programs that respond to student needs and interests.
Parent engagement is clearly a focus of the district with many opportunities for parents to be involved.
Recently renovated facilities are seen as community assets. There is a great deal of pride in the visual appeal and design of these buildings
Opportunities to Enhance GRPS in the Future
We have also taken honest stock of our opportunities to improve, and ensured this strategic plan is grounded in data and stakeholder input that identify the highest leverage areas of our work to enhance in the future.
From 2015 to 2019 our student achievement on state assessments in 5th and 8th grade was relatively flat. Note that there was an assessment change in 8th grade so the results are not comparable to prior years. In these grades, our students performed at much lower levels in Math than in English/Language Arts.
Not all of our students achieve at the same levels. Students from lower income families consistently achieve at lower levels than other students as illustrated by the solid bars on the adjacent charts. However, even when considering differences in household income, our students who are African-American, Hispanic, and Native American perform at lower levels than Asian and White students.
Students in our high schools have the opportunity to participate in a variety of advanced academic coursework, including Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and International Baccalaureate courses. The students in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses reflect our overall student population, but the student makeup of our International Baccalaureate courses includes a higher proportion of White and Asian students.
We also see disparities in our disciplinary practices. While African American students represent 32% of our overall student population, they represent 55% of the students who are expelled or suspended from school.
The proportion of our graduates who enroll in a 2- or 4-year college has remained fairly stable as seen in the graphs below. Our most recent rate of college enrollment within 6 months of high school graduation was 51.1%, which was below the national average of 66.2%.
We also value graduate options to move directly into work and/or career certification programs, including the military.
Our focus group conversations surfaced some additional areas where we can enhance student success:
While the many school options in GRPS are highly valued, schools that operate as traditional neighborhood schools have not always obtained the same level of district or community attention. Many stakeholders perceive a comparative lack of resources and student opportunities in our neighborhood schools, and in the past, theme schools have been heavily promoted while neighborhood schools have not. Additionally, the theme school application process can prove daunting and cumbersome for many families causing disparities in access.
Some students and families experience cultural bias and a lack of inclusion in classroom, school, and district interactions. This not only creates an unwelcoming environment, but it results in students and families being excluded from programs and services that support their success.
There are opportunities to better support students in preparing for life after high school graduation, whether that be immediately pursuing a college credential or a career pathway. Community stakeholders in the business, higher education, and philanthropic communities are poised to support greater focus in this area.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in disruptions in learning for many students.
Focus groups with all stakeholders indicated that employee compensation and retention are significant problems across all employee groups.
Students voice that extended teacher vacancies are negatively affecting their learning (even prior to the pandemic). Additionally, many stakeholders feel that the district is not allocating a sufficient number of non-teaching staff to meet student needs, such as counselors, social workers, custodians, and maintenance staff.
The percentage of teachers who are White (89%) is dramatically greater than the percentage of students who are White (21%). Across the United States, the proportion of teachers who are White exceed the proportion of students who are White; however, the national teaching pool is 79% White while 89% of GRPS teachers are White. Exacerbating this problem, in the 2020-21 school year, teachers of color were more likely to leave GRPS and less likely to be hired.
Students and caregivers in focus groups expressed that the lack of demographic representation among school-based employees creates a climate that can feel exclusive and culturally unresponsive.
Engaging Our Stakeholders
Community partnerships provide expanded opportunities to meet student needs. There are many ready, willing, and capable community partners in Grand Rapids, but the internal GRPS systems to engage and leverage partners are sometimes circuitous and inconsistent.
We have an opportunity to enhance parent and community engagement in decisions about our schools, particularly in our neighborhood schools.
Our students also express an interest in having greater influence over their education. Students in strategic planning focus groups offered astute perceptions about enablers and barriers to their learning that could be leveraged for change.
Our Strategy Development Process
Following our analysis, a group of over 100 community stakeholders including students, family members, principals, district administrators, and community organization leaders participated in a session to craft a draft strategic plan framework.
Strategic Plan Framework
This framework was then tested through community input sessions with employees, families, and community members at schools, neighborhood associations, and community organizations across Grand Rapids. In addition to the in-person sessions listed below, we also conducted a virtual meeting for the general public, a virtual meeting specifically for employees, and an online survey. Representative students also discussed the strategic plan framework and provided insights on how the district could best address their interests and aspirations. Student sessions were held during the school day at every GRPS high school as well as with students at Bridge Street Ministries and the Boys and Girls Club.
After analyzing all of the stakeholder input and incorporating the recommended changes, our Board of Education adopted a set of priority outcomes, strategic themes, and objectives designed to attain our equity vision.
Multi-dimensional teams of district staff and community leaders then worked to develop strategic initiatives to achieve these objectives, continuing to incorporate stakeholder input throughout the process.
Community Input Sessions
- CA Frost Middle High
- City High Middle
- Grand Rapids Montessori High
- Grand Rapids Museum High
- Grand Rapids University Prep Academy
- Innovation Central High
- Ottawa Hills High
- Southwest Middle High
- Union High
- Garfield Park Neighborhood Association
- Neighborhood Association Leaders
- Grand Rapids Association of Educational Office Personnel
- Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities
- Padres Fuertes/Strong Fathers
- GRPS University
- Southwest Community Campus (Elementary, Middle, High)
- Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
- LINC UP
- Treetops Collective with Youth
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- Tribal Council Leaders