Kent ISD focused on improving outcomes for center-based special education students

Luis Hernandez learns the tablet from teacher Robbie Becksfort at the Pine Grove Learning Center (photo by Dianne Carroll Burdick)

Paul Dymowski wears a smile of relief these days. The director of Kent ISD’s Center Programs spent the summer months overseeing the transition of nine center-based special education programs from Grand Rapids Public Schools.

By the start of the school year, Dymowski had transferred more than 350 GRPS teachers and staff to Kent ISD and hired 40 new teachers. That involved personally going through more than 3,000 resumes from applicants. “That involved me not sleeping for months,” he says with a grin.

Child care worker Patrick Herdegen gives a high-five to Ashlin Miron Aguilar as they get ready for circle time at the Pine Grove Learning Center (photo by Dianne Carroll Burdick)

Except for a handful of instructional support positions that are still open, they were fully staffed by July 31, says Dymowski, who was hired last year after Kent ISD and GRPS agreed to the transfer. The hiring process, which expanded the Kent ISD’s payroll by about 40 percent, required an “all hands on deck” approach, he said.

Located in 16 different buildings, the nine center-based programs serve students who have severe physical impairments and learning disabilities that prevent them from attending regular K-12 schools. The programs are designed to provide a learning environment for students from age 3 to 26.

Kent ISD agreed to take over the center-based programs at the request of GRPS, which had developed and operated the programs for all of Kent County since the late 1960s. GRPS board members said the transfer would benefit all students in Kent ISD while enabling GRPS to focus more intensively on the needs of its own.

Paul Dymowski was hired as director of Kent ISD’s center-based Special Education program last fall

Improving Outcomes for All 

Now, Dymowski says he wants to focus on improving the outcomes for the nearly 1,400 students who are served by the center programs. “That’s the reason I took this job,” he says. Towards that end, Dymowski has hired three teaching coaches to help in the classroom where needed.

Dymowski said he also is working with his staff and teachers to establish a mission and vision statement that will reflect their core values. “Our goal is to work towards what an exemplary program looks like,” he said.

Before he was named director of Center Programs last fall, Dymowski had been a transition coordinator for Kent ISD’s Special Education Department. He came to Kent ISD in 2017 from Allegan Area Educational Service Agency, where he served as assistant director of specialized instruction.

Here is a list of all nine center-based programs that transferred from Grand Rapids Public Schools to Kent ISD this summer:

  • Ken-O-Sha Home Community, moving to a remodeled space on the Lincoln campus on Crahen Road NE. Serves 1,000 children from birth to 3 years old with home visiting services.
  • Early Childhood Special Education Center @ Campus, 1326 Thomas St. SE. Serves 65 students, aged 3 to 5 years old.
  • Grand Rapids Oral Deaf School, moving to space in the Northview Public Schools. Serves 30 deaf and hard-of-hearing students from 3 years old through fifth grade.
  • Kent Education Center – Oakleigh, 2223 Gordon St. NW. Serves 45 behavioral and emotionally impaired students from kindergarten to eighth grade.
  • Kent Education Center – Beltline, 1606 Leffingwell Ave. NE. Serves 70 behavioral and emotionally impaired students from eighth grade to age 26.
  • Pine Grove Learning Center, 2101 52nd St., Wyoming. Serves 110 students with severe cognitive impairments, severe multiple impairments, moderate cognitive impairments and autistic spectrum disorder.
  • Lincoln School, 862 Crahen Road NE. Serves 150 students ages 5 to 26 with severe cognitive impairments, severe multiple impairments, moderate cognitive impairments and autism spectrum disorder.
  • Lincoln Developmental Center, 860 Crahen Road NE. Serves 100 students with severe cognitive impairments, severe multiple impairments and autism spectrum disorder.
  • Community Transition Campus, 225 Mayfield Ave. NE and several other locations. Serves as a resource for employment and life skills for 220 students aged 18 to 26 years old.
Paul Harris, left, paints his pot with help from art teacher Lori Reuben, while Gabe Dehn also works on his pot assisted by child care worker Debbie Smith at the Pine Grove Learning Center (photo by Dianne Carroll Burdick)

CONNECT 

Related stories about the transfer of Grand Rapids Public Schools’ center-based special education programs to Kent ISD:

James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio.

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