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What the bond buys: better food, arts, technology and a year-round school

District voters approve $192 million funding request

Kentwood — Families, students and staff can look forward to new fine arts facilities, equitable nutrition and broader education opportunities, following the passage of a $192.15 million bond earlier this week. 

Over the next 10+ years, new construction, additions and remodeling will take place at all 17 schools in the district, to advance innovation, enhance technology education and ensure student and staff health and wellness, thanks to Tuesday’s decisive yes vote

“The coronavirus pandemic taught us that you can never plan enough for the future,” Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said. “This bond referendum will allow us to enhance health and safety features within our facilities.”

It will do so without a millage rate increase but will actually come with a projected net decrease of 0.25 mills from the current levy of 4.25 mills, according to Todd Bell, executive director of finance and business operations. That’s due to low interest rates, an excellent district bond rating and increased commercial and residential property values in Kentwood, Bell said. 

Related: School board names new superintendent

Brookwood Elementary will receive additions and renovations to allow meals to be made on-site in full-service kitchens instead of having pre-packaged food and meals delivered

On-site Kitchens for Healthier Eating  

According to Bell, the bond targets student equity, including nutrition to provide students what they need to succeed in their education. 

All 10 elementaries will receive additions and renovations to allow meals to be made on-site in full-service kitchens instead of having pre-packaged food and meals delivered, starting with Brookwood Elementary in September 2021. 

“Our new kitchens will allow our staff to start preparing food in the morning, so the meals are fresh and ready for consumption by lunch time,” Bell said.

Some buildings will receive new spaces for arts and athletics, including auditoriums, gymnasiums and music classrooms. 

“We’re going to get new ceilings in here for better acoustics and pianos for the kids to make music,” Bell said about Brookwood’s new music classroom addition. “It’s going to be a real music room, not just a regular classroom with kids singing and playing instruments.”

“It’s going to be a real music room, not just a regular classroom,” said business and finance director Todd Bell

Year-round Option for K-8 

On the academic front, the bond will fund a Career Technology Education Center and a  new year-round K-8 school. The latter innovation will give parents a choice and provide educational benefits for some students, Zoerhoff said.  

“We have heard for years that some parents, students and staff would prefer a school calendar that reduces the time from the end of school to the start of the next,” Zoerhoff said. “A blended calendar will offer the choice of a year-round schedule, with short breaks between each semester and quarter; that means less summer learning loss and more opportunities to provide enhancement and remediation during the breaks.” 

Education Week identified the main pros and cons of a year-round school, with focus on the Holt Public Schools’ balanced calendar. Pros cited included creating a daily routine of face-to-face teaching that puts teachers in a better position to respond to students’ educational, social and emotional needs; more opportunities for remediation; and less stress for teachers and students.

Cons included increased cleaning and sanitizing schedules; parent resistance to disrupted work; and vacation routines and reduced summer job opportunities for students and teachers.

More Training for the Workforce

Zoerhoff described the idea for the Career Technology Education Center as a response to the community’s needs.

“Kentwood is a large manufacturing community and currently there is a high demand for skilled workers in construction, HVAC and plumbing to name a few,” Zoerhoff said. “Our goal is to best prepare our students, whether they choose to go to college or choose to go directly into the workforce after high school.”

The location of the center is to be determined and the timeline for design and constriction will develop with input from the Board of Education, district administration, staff, students and the community, according to Zoerhoff. 

Community Investment in Excellence

With new opportunities and advancements on the horizon for Kentwood schools, the overall focus remains on equity and educational excellence. 

“When communities invest in their schools, they invest in the future of the community. The vibrant partnership between Kentwood Public Schools and the Kentwood community certainly reflects these findings,” Zoerhoff said. 

‘The coronavirus pandemic taught us that you can never plan enough for the future.’

— Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff

After enduring the challenges and changes of a year in the pandemic, Zoerhoff is hopeful about the positive impact the bond funds will have on schools, students, staff and the community.

While we cannot predict the next pandemic or problem that our society will face, we can predict that technology will continue to play a critical role in the lives of our students,” Zoerhoff said. “This bond will allow the district to continue to maintain and enhance our equipment and software so that our graduates are ready to compete in the marketplace.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia and Kenowa Hills and is a roving reporter for Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN. Read Alexis' full bio

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