MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — A crowd of parents, students and community activists gathered in front of Muskegon Heights High School Monday evening to protest what they viewed as a lack of transparency from the school district.
Tuesday night, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System and Muskegon Heights Public Schools are hosting a special joint meeting to address concerns.
Classes at Muskegon Heights High School were canceled Tuesday, according to a letter sent to parents by principal Erica Patton.
13 ON YOUR SIDE has been following issues involving staff shortages, incomplete curricula and other issues since last week.
Parents and teachers turned to us for the answers they felt they weren't getting from the district or from New Paradigm, the Detroit-based charter school management firm that took over in August.
In one instance, a teacher in the district reported fewer than a dozen certified teachers working inside the High School.
The district—which 13 ON YOUR SIDE has pressed for an interview—countered a handful of those claims in a statement from the board's attorney last week.
In part, the statement claimed most classrooms were fully staffed with certified teachers, though it acknowledged the effects of the national teacher shortage.
The district also claimed issues surrounding incomplete curricula were or had already been addressed as of this week.
"I was able to get extra help for my kids but I'm fighting for the rest of the kids," said Tasha, whose 11th and 12th grader attend Muskegon Heights. "My kids aren't the only two that are at that school. We have a whole community of kids we need to be fighting for. They need the same education that any other school district is offering their children."
New Paradigm Founder Ralph Bland responded to a Monday request for comment via phone.
Bland acknowledged many of the concerns voiced were valid, but again indicated the national teacher shortage was the root of the problem.
When asked why parents believed the situation was considerably worse than in surrounding districts, Bland said New Paradigm and the district were aggressively working to attract and hire new talent.
He also claimed problems concerning curriculum were or had already been remedied.
Bland said Muskegon Heights is a community with a great deal of pride and history and that the firm wished to live up to its commitments.
Parents and activists on site Monday said they were skeptical.
"What do we do to make sure our kids are being educated and not getting the short end of the stick," Michelle, a local activist said. "Pushed into the corner and told, hush, don't tell anybody? No, we can't do that anymore. It's time out for that."
At Monday's meeting, parents and district staff didn't hide their displeasure with New Paradigm.
"I didn't hire New Paradigm to pad their pockets," says Joseph Warren, a member of the Muskegon Heights school board. "We hired them to do a job."
During public comment, a teacher said the non-profit in charge of the district has left them understaffed.
"Sometimes we don't have lunches. We are wrestling with kids all day," a teacher within the district said. "I used to love my job. I hate my job right now. I love my kids though, that's the only reason why I show up everyday."
When questioned directly about the allegations of understaffing, Bland, who was at the meeting, said he hadn't seen that for himself.
"I would need to go over there and make an observation of everything that's going on," says Bland.
The board was not liking what they heard.
"That is an unacceptable answer, that is just crazy man," says Marquis Childers Jr., another school board member.
The members of the board went into a closed session to discuss the future of their contract with New Paradigm. While they could not address what was said, they strongly hinted the partnership would come to an end soon.
"I'm done being talked in circles so we're coming straight to the point with it," says board member David Fox. "And if you don't have an answer, then just say you don't have an answer."
Watch the meeting here:
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.