Grand Island Public Schools
123 South Webb Road
Grand Island, NE 68802
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Grover: Changes, choices part of exciting future for GIPS students

From Dr. Grover, GIPS Superintendent:

"We teach hearts as well as minds."

This phrase is as important at Grand Island Public Schools as "Every Student, Every Day, a Success." It impacts every decision we make.

That's why when we talk about educating the whole child and helping every student be future ready, it isn't a new concept. Just different words to describe the work this community rightfully expects its school district to do for our kids.

This week Grand Island hosted the SkillsUSA Nebraska Leadership and Skills Championship. Students across the state were in town for a few days focused on education, experience and expectations for future careers.

It struck me how what we are doing at GIPS - and will be doing in the next few years - to get our students future ready aligns with the needs expressed during the SkillsUSA week.

Though the strategic plan won't be finished and approved until the May Board of Education meeting, after the Board has a chance to hear more about the details and actions outlined at their April extended work session, I wanted to let the community know about work already taking place.

First, I must give a heartfelt thank you to the thousands (literally) of parents, community members, students and staff who attended meetings, filled out surveys and offered feedback and opinions about what they want for the youth of Grand Island. Without your valuable input the planning process wouldn't have been complete and certainly would not have been strategic.

Both the strategic planning meetings and high school visioning work required heavy lifting from the community, and you came through.

In brief, what you said - and what is shaping the future of GIPS - is students need to be prepared for life, students need guidance and relationships, students need more opportunities to have deeper connections to school, students need a challenging, rigorous, relevant education - one catered to meet the needs of all students. There should also be a variety of ways to measure the success of student demonstration of academic achievement.

These are large tasks, but they are incredibly important and are now a part of every decision we make. In order to accomplish them, our staff is going to need additional professional learning, planning and support time. It will also require community support. We - all of us - are GIPS, and we are better together.

So let's look at three areas we are looking at to make strides.

Elementary schedule changes

Much has been said about the new elementary schedule. It was designed with these thoughts in mind. Teachers rightfully requested plan time. Again, there is no way they can meet our expectations without additional planning.

In educating the whole child, we are putting a greater emphasis on guidance counseling and media/technology integration. Creating the four "specials" rotation so all students get music, physical education, guidance counseling and media/technology every week meets this need.

Yes, we are altering the time for music and P.E. in a four-week period by 60 minutes. School districts across Nebraska also utilize a similar schedule. School districts of all sizes have less minutes and less frequency, with positive results.

The 50 minute blocks add value by creating new learning experiences no longer limited by 30 minute blocks cut short by transition times. Our teacher-lead curriculum mapping process outlines what all kids will know and be able to do by the time they finish elementary. Our specialists in these four areas will utilize their instructional expertise to deliver our curriculum in the 50 minute time period.

What our students get in return is the guidance counselors working with them weekly from the time they start kindergarten on social, emotional and relationship skills, in addition to a deeper connection made between education, abilities, interests and careers. This is something the community and staff made quite clear was important for our students.

We also know understanding and creating media and integrating technology into everyday education are skills required for the success of our future ready students. From agribusiness to manufacturing to medical to fine arts, having an understanding of technology will continue to be a crucial skill. Starting with kindergarten, our students will be building these skills with our integration specialists.

This schedule takes effect for the 2017-2018 school year.

Preparatory Academies

The big change coming out of the Grand Island Senior High Visioning process is the shift toward Preparatory Academies. Work is already being done to research how we will make this happen for GISH.

The concept is breaking GISH into smaller schools within a school. Currently the thought is there will be seven Preparatory Academies, but this is merely a starting point:

  • GISH School of Performing Arts
  • GISH School of Communication
  • GISH School of Business, Marketing and IT
  • GISH School of Health Sciences
  • GISH School of Technical and Skilled Trades
  • GISH School of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
  • GISH School of Human Services and Education

GISH and district staff have begun the work. A team of GISH teachers and administrators recently attended a conference to see how these academies have worked in other districts. Administrators and teachers have started taking trips to other Nebraska schools where similar styles of academies are in place.

As the work continues, the team may find these are not the right six or seven Prep Academies. The goal of these academies is to create authentic learning and real-world knowledge, skills and abilities for our students.

This will be a staff-lead process. We will be relying on teachers to help shape the future of the high school. It will definitely be an exciting time, but there is a lot of work to be done.

Our goal is to start the 2018-2019 school year with Islander Preparatory Academies in place, with the GISH Visioning Team using the 2017-2018 school year to design the programs.

Magnet programs

Magnet programs are another potential solution for GIPS to meet the needs expressed in the strategic planning process.

We know students of all ages have specific passions. And much like guidance counseling, we know giving students a deeper connection to school isn't something that can wait until high school.

That's where the magnet concept could come into play. Magnets are schools with a focus, where students gain the same skills and master the same standards as traditional schools, but with a focus and more time on the magnet topic.

Perhaps a better name for them at GIPS will be Elementary and Middle School Prep Academies.

These magnet programs, whatever they end up being called, will offer Grand Island students and parents school choice. The preliminary idea for these GIPS academies would be six elementary magnet programs with all three middle schools hosting two magnets.

The plans are far from being finalized. Ideas we've been looking into would give students potential elementary and middle school magnet choices such as:

  • Fine arts
  • Health sciences
  • Multimedia production
  • STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics
  • Environmental sciences
  • Gifted and Talented

Again, these are early ideas and will likely change. A group of district administrators and principals is going to a magnet school conference in late April in Los Angeles. While there, they will spend two days touring different elementary and middle school magnet programs before a two-day conference on how they work and are developed.

The goal for magnet schools is to begin as soon as the 2019-2020 school year, depending on how our research and planning goes in the next 18 months.

It excites me to know there is a potential for this in Grand Island. Our city is growing. So should our choices for education within our public schools.

Students could be involved in an elementary fine arts magnet program, a middle school fine arts magnet program and the GISH School of Performing Arts. Or a similar path in health sciences.

All the while, GIPS will be dedicated to educating the whole child, Every Student, Every Day, A Success. It's our promise to you.

Media Inquiries
Mitchell Roush , Marketing & Communications
308-385-5900 ex. 201127