Neal announces retirement after 44 years of serving GRPS

Led development, implementation of Transformation Plan

Teresa Weatherall Neal

In announcing her retirement Monday, Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal pointed to accomplishments under her leadership including increased graduation rates, reduced absenteeism and passage of a $175 million bond.

After more than four decades of working for Grand Rapids Public Schools — and more than six years as superintendent — Neal said she will retire at the end of this school year.

Neal, 59, made the announcement at a press conference at Gerald R. Ford Academic Center. Effective June 30, 2019, her retirement caps 44 years of serving the school district, and a lifetime of involvement beginning as a kindergarten student at Madison Park Elementary.

“Having spent most of my life with GRPS, it has become like family to me. It is family to me!” Neal said in a letter to the community. “I have a special place in my heart for the GRPS children, families, staff, and community and I always will.”

Thanking residents for their support, she said “it has been my honor to be your superintendent and to serve you and this great Grand Rapids community.”

Hired as interim superintendent in January 2012, and appointed to the position the following August, Neal led a turnaround of a district that had lost thousands of students and community confidence. Under her leadership the Board of Education launched a comprehensive Transformation Plan, which closed some schools, reorganized others and initiated innovative schools such as the Grand Rapids Public Museum School.

‘Having spent most of my life with GRPS, it has become like family to me.’ – Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal

The plan was “a remarkable success story,” said Board of Education President Wendy Falb, who was on the board when Neal was hired. It was a “fragile time” for public schools in Grand Rapids and nationally, Falb said, and Neal renewed confidence in the school system by synthesizing many voices across the community to create a unified vision.

“She has tremendous personal charisma, and she used that to channel social capital back into the public school system. She said ‘These kids matter, there is value here, and we should all care for it and champion it.’ I think it’s changed the trajectory of kids’ lives.”

The school board will begin work to choose her successor following the Nov. 6 election of new board members. Neal said she will be available to help with the transition.

Following are the statements issued Monday by Neal and Falb.

Signs of Success
Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal highlighted these points as signs of the progress GRPS has made under her leadership.

  • Increased graduation rates
  • Increased student learning
  • Stabilized enrollment
  • Decreased suspensions
  • Decreased number of safety and security incidents
  • Cut chronic absenteeism
  • Increased dual enrollment and Advanced Placement offerings
  • Re-opened and invested in neighborhood schools
  • Created new and expanded existing theme schools
  • Received the highly competitive XQ Super School award to reimagine high school
  • Partnered in the creation and launch of Challenge Scholars
  • Purchased new books and curricula
  • Rebuilt our fine arts program
  • Reinvested in our athletic programs
  • Reached multiple-year collective bargaining agreements
  • Secured a voter-approved $175 million bond
  • Invested in new technology and security systems
  • Opened GRPS University professional development and conference center
  • Built strong community partnerships with  colleges and universities
  • Further strengthened  bond with the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation
  • Launched Parent University
  • New student information system
  • New district financial system
  • Launched Early Middle College at Ottawa Hills High School
  • Reinvested in  academies at Innovation Central
  • Increased Montessori options
  • Began renovation to Ottawa Hills academies and small schools
  • Collaboratively began Plaza Roosevelt development
  • Increased International Baccalaureate schools
  • Strengthened community and stakeholder relationships
  • Deepened partnerships with foundations and secured millions of dollars in support for teaching, learning, professional development, schools, programs, and students
  • Secured a Promise Zone designation for Grand Rapids

Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal
Dear Grand Rapids Board of Education Members, Staff, Parents, Students, Volunteers, Partners, and Community Stakeholders,
 
Grand Rapids Public Schools has been a part of my life for more than 55 years, beginning as a student and now ending as the superintendent.  It has truly been a remarkable story that I could not have imagined when I stepped into the kindergarten classroom at Madison Park Elementary in 1963. However, as a bookend to my time with GRPS, effective June 30, 2019, I will be retiring as your Superintendent of Schools. 
 
When I accepted this position, it was only supposed to be for six months as the interim superintendent.  Seven years later, I can say that it has been my honor to be your superintendent and to serve you and this great Grand Rapids community. I appreciate the unwavering support that enabled us to accomplish what we as a district and community have done in these short years. 
 
From the beginning, I realized there were many areas where our district needed to transform.  After spending countless hours leading strategic planning meetings and listening to our stakeholders, we developed, and the Grand Rapids Board of Education unanimously approved, the GRPS Transformation Plan. 

The core of this plan was investing in what is working, investing in our talent recruitment, retention, and development, and investing for stability and growth. We consistently and effectively implemented this plan, and as a result, I am proud to say we have accomplished great things. GRPS is now gaining state and national attention for our success story.

None of this could have happened without the hard work, passion, commitment, and dedication of every individual and organization working with and for our students, teachers, parents, schools, and the district as a whole.
 
Having spent most of my life with GRPS, it has become like family to me. It is family to me! I have a special place in my heart for the GRPS children, families, staff, and community and I always will.
 
I want the staff and community to celebrate what we have accomplished so we can continue to grow stronger for our children and ensure their success.  That is important to me as I make this transition.  When I became your superintendent, you supported me and amazed me with your strength and courage.  I ask that you continue to show this same spirit as a new superintendent takes the helm, so we can continue our legacy of commitment to a stable, strong, vibrant urban school district and community.
 
I also want to assure you that I am staying in our community and remain committed to education, making systems better for our children, and working with the Grand Rapids Board of Education to ensure there is a stable and smooth transition — one that honors and builds on the success of the GRPS Transformation Plan.
 
Thank you for allowing me to serve you for the past 44 years as an employee of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
 
Respectfully submitted,
 
Teresa Lynn Weatherall Neal
Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools

Dr. Wendy Falb, President of the Grand Rapids Board of Education
On behalf of the Grand Rapids Board of Education, I want to express heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal for her leadership and her 44 years of service to the students, parents, staff, and our community.

It has been an honor for us to work with Superintendent Weatherall Neal since she was appointed interim superintendent in January 2012. She hit the ground running day one, and within just a few months, the board, the district, and this entire community knew we had a special kind of leader who was ready, willing, and able to transform Grand Rapids Public Schools.

She engaged and reunited this community around a transformative vision and plan to stabilize the district and improve academic outcomes for all students, bringing renewed confidence in our public schools which has contributed greatly to the vitality of our city. She and her leadership team have been unwavering in their commitment to executing the GRPS Transformation Plan that has resulted in the remarkable success story that is gaining state and national attention.

We are heartened to know that while she may be retiring, she will remain in the community, pledging to work with the board and the next superintendent to ensure a smooth, stable, and successful leadership transition.

A new board of education will be sworn in in January, consisting of returning members as well as new members.  It will be their responsibility to choose Superintendent Weatherall Neal’s successor and the process by which to do so.   

The legacy of this superintendent is considerable, and it will be with this inheritance that the next leadership will build the future Grand Rapids Public Schools, ensuring that all children in our community will reach their full potential.

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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