GV takes on four new charter schools

Archive / Robert Mathews
Tim Wood speaking during a previous Board of Trustees meeting

Archive / Robert Mathews Tim Wood speaking during a previous Board of Trustees meeting

Austin Metz

Grand Valley State University’s Board of Trustees met April 29 to approve a new master’s of public health degree program and authorization for Covenant House Grand Rapids and three other statewide charter schools.

“We have a unique responsibility here at Grand Valley State University with GRPS,” said GVSU President Thomas J. Haas. “There is no doubt about that. We collaborate in many, many ways because it impacts our neighborhood.”

The voting authorized four more charter high schools, which included one in the Grand Rapids area and increases GVSU’s number of authorized charter schools to 51. The four new schools, one Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids and three Covenant House Academies Detroit, will be used to benefit students who either were or are homeless or have been former high school dropouts.

“They are not the most attractive crew to talk about,” said Covenant House executive Sam Joseph. “Only when they commit a crime everybody jumps on them, but the kids dropped out because someone else failed them and we should not be the ones to fail them.”

Participating in the meeting were Joseph, Haas, Grand Rapids Public School board president Wendy Falb, GRPS superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal and Grand Rapids mayor George Heartwell.

The Covenant House Academy Grand Rapids will fill the former Grand Rapids Public Schools Campau Park Elementary building, which was sold for $400,000 by the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board.

“The partnership with Grand Valley puts us in contact with professors who have different skill sets and knowledge, so I’m really excited,” Weatherall Neal said. “We are not as flexible for many reasons, but we are not as flexible at serving the needs of children like this. I watched them during my visits to Detroit and they are able to move in and out of the classrooms.”

The Covenant House Grand Rapids will focus on helping to educating youth between the ages of 16 and 22. It will help provide data sharing and will share services like food service and school safety.

“I didn’t expect Grand Valley to get involved with this,” Joseph said. “I was so surprised they took a special interest and put Covenant House on a fast track to authorize. It’s wonderful. It means this is a community that cares about the most vulnerable.”

The goal of the schools is to focus on education by providing students with a low student to faculty rate so students can get the extra attention they need to succeed.

“We have one teacher for 14 students, which is a very unique, pure education only,” Joseph said. “So, there is a lot of interconnection with the schools.”

The three Detroit-based charter schools have been in operation since 2005 under the name of Covenant House Academy Detroit.

In order to be authorized by GVSU, the academies will be given defined legal performance standards to insure student growth and to retain students in the schools. The upgraded schools will give students year-round educational options and will serve 823 students in its first year.

GVSU’s involvement with the state’s charter schools began in 1994 at the request of then-president Arend D. Lubbers and has quickly grown to include the university’s 51 schools.

For more information about GVSU’s involvement with statewide charter schools, visit www.gvsu.edu/com.

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