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Ottawa Hills High School community pushes back on leadership changes

Ottawa Hills High School
School News Network
Ottawa Hills High School

Ottawa Hills High School students, teachers, and community members voiced concerns this week over the removal of the school’s principal and dean of students.

The Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education says the decision is part of planned leadership changes throughout the district.

The Monday night school board meeting was held in the Ottawa Hills High School auditorium. The change in venue is part of an ongoing effort by the district to meet at various schools in the area.

GRPS Board President Kimberly Williams addressed the audience before the April 17 meeting, stating that the board is committed to excellence. She added that the school district will undergo changes that are meant to “inspire growth” and “improve performance.”

“Some of the changes mean a shift in the placement of our leaders, our effort to put our people in places where their talents shine the brightest for the betterment of our scholars,” she said.

Williams did not specifically name either OHHS Principal Stephanie Davis or the Dean of Students Nieco Jones.

However, several students pleaded with board members during Monday night’s public comment session to reverse the board’s decision. They said both Davis and Jones “were like family” and had motivated them to do well in school.

Community members also echoed support for both Davis and Jones. Many individuals shared concerns about how the change in leadership could perpetuate a revolving door-like atmosphere for students, while others questioned whether Davis was given enough resources to succeed.

Shaq Anthony told board members the students are being stripped of someone who is making a difference.

“If you don’t think there are results, then I think we should look at the equation and ask do we have enough resources,” he said. “I believe [Davis] is doing her part relationally through partnership…if you feel like the results are not there, sometimes it’s not the seed, it’s the soil.”

In an email to WGVU, a GRPS spokesperson Leon Hendrix wrote: “There have been some leadership changes planned at GRPS including shifts at Ottawa Hills High School for next school year. While we have moved leaders throughout our system, we want to be clear that all of our leaders involved in these shifts have been invited to take on a new role.”

It’s unclear what new roles were offered and if either Davis or Jones have accepted those positions as of Wednesday. Also unclear, is the timeline to fill the roles at OHHS, or if the board has already identified who will fill the roles.

WGVU reached out to the district for further comment, at the time of this report, phone calls were not returned.

After the meeting, GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby said she rarely responds to public comment but felt compelled to do so.

She said, often when new superintendents enter their role, they “clean house” but that is not who she is as a leader. Roby was appointed to her position as superintendent in 2020 during the pandemic.

“I’ve measured the strengths and opportunities, and then gradually have begun to make changes, this is the beginning of that, it doesn’t imply that something is wrong, this not coming from the place of something wrong, and change does not mean negative, it’s about growth,” she said.

She acknowledged communication between the board and the community has gone “clunkily,” but assured attendees that the board is working on several initiatives that will support Ottawa Hills High School during the 2023-2024 school year. Roby mentioned lab schools, staffing, and mental health support.

“We will do better and continue to do better to make sure that people are communicated with on the positive side, but I have to address that there has never been any ill intent, my work is about lifting up children and always has been,” Roby said.