The Rapidian

Open Letter to Theresa Weatherall Neal, Supertintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Family of Creston alumni voice concerns about closing Creston High School
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Creston High School crest and mascot

Creston High School crest and mascot /All Star Driver Education

Thank you for the opportunity to talk. I have lived in Northeast Grand Rapids all my life except for a couple of college years. My K-12 education was in the Grand Rapids Christian Schools; my wife also grew up in NE Grand Rapids but attended GRPS [Grand Rapids Public Schools] (Crestview, Riverside, Creston).

Because of the [transformation] plan proposed, I’ve been reflecting this Thanksgiving on what it is about GRPS that inspired my wife and I to become involved enough to choose GRPS for our five children, and the value I hope lasts for the next generation.

Our four daughters attended Palmer, Riverside and Creston (graduating in 2002 through 2009); two of them attended 6th grade at Zoo School, applied to City and were accepted, but decided to attend Riverside and Creston. Our son attended Palmer and did 6th grade at Blandford, but then did attend City Middle and High. He was able to still be involved in extracurricular arts at Creston, like Jewell Tones and performing in musicals.

Overall, all of their experiences were very positive.

Among the many reasons why our family chose to be involved at Creston was that it featured diversity in many ways: mental, emotional, economic, intellectual, religious, personalities and racial. While there are some students at Creston that are not serious academics, many are.

The cross section of culture at Creston reflects that of the world at large and prepares students to deal with such a world, understanding and valuing their motivations and personalities. I think that if you talk to families and staff that have been involved in both Creston and City, the effects can be synergistic, beneficial and instructive to both rather than harmful.

It may seem better to keep all of the best students completely apart from others; but there are several flaws in logic involved in that process. For one, they cannot stay segregated forever, at least to live fully and effectively.

This process also encourages an elitist attitude that ‘we’ are the best students, while ‘they’ are not; and that is just not always true…we all need exposure to counter examples in order to see the whole truth of the variety of people in the world, and what we can accomplish together.

Our kids, other than the Zoo and Blandford years, walked to school K-12, often with neighbors who for the most part remain friends yet. That linking of neighborhood, neighbors, and local institutions like school and church are a big part of why we live in the city.

Thanks in part to the current economy, but also due to the mindset of the current 25-35 year olds, we’re seeing a new generation of young families coming into our neighborhood that have similar goals. A thriving local school system would be an exciting part that they would be likely to participate in with their children.

Some of them may qualify for and choose to attend City, but that is not for everyone, as it wasn’t for all of my family. I fear that the end of Creston High School will lead to the next generation opting out of GRPS entirely in our area, in favor of the expanding charter and school choice opportunities.

That is a step in the wrong direction.

I see an opportunity for GRPS to establish a foothold with the new generation of parents and students that value an urban, inclusive life experience. In the absence of even a plan for a neighborhood high school in Northeast Grand Rapids, I think that the Northeast Corridor business initiative and the Creston Neighborhood Association’s efforts to keep improving the quality of life here will be a steeper uphill battle.

I hope that you will reconsider eliminating a general high school opportunity in Northeast GR.

-- Dave VanDyke

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