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Muskegon Heights school district responds to parents' concerns over lack of staffing, curriculum

After parents reached out to 13 ON YOUR SIDE for help getting answers, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System released a statement through an attorney.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Parents of students who attend Muskegon Heights High School are concerned over a lack of teachers, curriculum and transparency in the school district. 

After parents reached out to 13 ON YOUR SIDE for help getting answers, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System released a statement Thursday through an attorney.

Rob Gavin is a real estate attorney at Shifman and Carlson in Farmington Hills that represents 'New Paradigm for Education, a non-profit Charter Management Organization based in Detroit, which currently manages the district. 

Essentially, Gavin says the district has not been immune to the national, critical teacher shortage and they're still working out kinks during the transition to New Paradigm, which signed a contract in early August.

A mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the district only has seven to nine teachers to teach 7th through 12th grade.

"The kids are just sitting in classrooms or are being sent to the gym," she said. "They don't have a curriculum there. They just got math books like, two days ago." 

Another mother, who wanted to remain anonymous as well, has juniors at the high school.

"I'm like...what ya'll been doing? My daughters have been coloring for three weeks now. Word searches in the gym."

According to Gavin, New Paradigm signed a contract after a multi-month interview process through a committee composed of System Board members, Muskegon Heights School District Board members, and a community representative and multiple reviews of the contract by the System Board. 

Cory Brown, a high school alumni, is concerned about the outside organization not being present in the city.

"They thought they could come here and take over a school they thought people didn't care about but even though it's in shambles, there's really people that do care," said Brown. "We think we're putting people in there who can change it and they're going with their own agendas."

13 ON YOUR SIDE went to Detroit Thursday to track down New Paradigm's Founder and President, Ralph Bland, and we were met by Bland's Executive Assistant, Nicole Clancey.

"Unfortunately today he's not available. He's not in the building," said Clancey.

"You don't have any knowledge of the situation in Muskegon Heights and you can't speak on his behalf?" asked our reporter. 

"That's correct," she responded.

The district's statement reads in part... "Like most school districts and charter schools across the country, [we're] experiencing a staffing shortage. Despite this, we are working with New Paradigm and have staffed nearly all of the district's classrooms with teachers with valid certificates or permits in compliance with Michigan law..."

Gavin adds the district's working to fill any vacancies with qualified, competent teachers and staff as soon as possible. They've posted job openings, recruited from multiple sources and contracted with third party vendors. 

Their leadership team is in the process of procuring curriculum materials for the school year. Much of those curriculum materials have already been provided to the teachers, either physically or electronically, and the remainder is being secured for distribution. 

For those in the Heights, all they want is answers.

"If you're alumni or if you babysit kids in the Heights or if you stay in the Heights, come see what's going on because right now, they don't care about our kids. They're just gonna get our money and keep going," said Brown. "These are the future of our kids and we don't believe in them, where are they going to go?" 

Gavin says it's to his understanding that all classrooms currently have teachers. 

He added that Bland was unable to make time for an interview Thursday because his priorities are with the district and the School Board President works full-time.

Read Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System's full statement below:

Like most school districts, charter schools, and businesses across the country, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System is currently experiencing a staffing shortage. Despite this, we are working with our management company New Paradigm for Education and have staffed nearly all of our classrooms with teachers with valid certificates or permits in compliance with Michigan law. We are committed to our students’ education and are working to fill any vacancies with qualified, competent teachers and staff as soon as possible. 

Our leadership team is in the process of procuring our curriculum materials for the school year. Much of those curriculum materials have already been provided to the teachers, either physically or electronically, and the remainder is being secured for distribution. 

Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System and New Paradigm for Education have always encouraged communication and have done our best to share information in a timely and efficient manner. The hiring of New Paradigm for Education was done on a compressed timeline and there are logistical issues still being worked out during the transition to a new management company. However, both the System and New Paradigm are working to constantly improve all our process, including the sharing of information and communication, and we will continue to do so.

The Michigan Department of Education told 13 ON YOUR SIDE that they are aware of the circumstances regarding the schools and are looking into the matter.

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