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New elementary, early childhood center to address growing enrollment

Kentwood — The most diverse school district in Michigan and second largest in Kent County is planning for continued enrollment growth with a new elementary school, new early childhood center and other facility projects.

Kentwood Public Schools, with an enrollment of 9,368 students last school year, has grown by 545 students since 2012-2013, according to data from CEPI Student Enrollment Counts

It is one of three Kent County districts that have grown in enrollment over the past 10 years and now has the highest enrollment it has ever had, according to Sunil Joy, the district’s executive director of strategy and innovation. (During the same time period, Michigan as a whole has experienced a 16 percent decline in enrollment for pre-kindergarten to 12th grades at public schools.) 

“The good news is Kentwood Public Schools is a destination district so we do anticipate the needs will continue to cascade,” said Superintendent Kevin Polston, referring to the need for more space in school buildings. “We are trying to get ahead of it.”

Enrollment is projected to continue to increase as more homes are built. New developments are expected to consist of 700 homes and bring in 275 more students.  

For a community that is 75 percent (low income) and 74 percent a community of color to have this kind of investment — where kids get to experience the very best — is not typical.’

– Superintendent Kevin Polston

The district has also seen huge increases in diversity in the past 20 years, growing from a student population with 37 percent students of color in 2002-2003 to 74 percent in 2022-2023, according to the CEPI data. There has been a 40 percent increase in Black students, a 211 percent increase in Hispanic students and a 146 percent increase in Asian students. There has been a 160 percent increase in English Learners.

Bonds approved in 2016 and 2021 have allowed for facility improvements and expansion that are continuing to meet growing capacity needs.  Polston said he’s grateful for a supportive community.

“These are world-class facilities that we are building and renovating. For a community that is 75 percent (low income) and 74 percent a community of color to have this kind of investment — where kids get to experience the very best — is not typical,” Polston said. “We feel a great deal of responsibility to provide the best and we feel pride that we can deliver it in partnership with our community.”

Opening Soon

The district plans to open the Hamilton Elementary and Early Childhood Center, 3303 Breton Road SE,  in time for the 2025-2026 school year. 

Kevin Polston, Kentwood Superintendent
Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Polston

Funded by the $192 bond passed in 2021, the $20 million project involves extensively turning the current Hamilton Early Childhood Center into an elementary school that will include an early childhood center space with eight new classrooms. The project is expected to cost $20 million.

The building will serve up to 450 students as the district’s 11th elementary school. (The district closed Hamilton Elementary during the Great Recession and reopened it a few years later as an early childhood center.) The most recent new elementary school was Discovery Elementary, which opened in 2006.

The district has completed its first stage of community engagement around planning the school and will host more in 2024. Focuses are the attendance zone for the elementary school, and changes to other elementary attendance zones, which have not yet been established. 

Several other district construction projects funded by the 2021 bond are under way. Under construction and slated to open by 2025 is a new, 40,000 square-foot Townline Early Childhood Center near Townline Elementary, 100 60th St. SE. It will include 16 new classrooms.

The district’s investment into early childhood aligns with the state’s move toward free preschool for all 4-year-olds, Polston said the district is projecting to add about 100 preschoolers, the equivalent of eight classrooms to the 400 preschoolers the district already serves.

“We are growing our early childhood footprint by 50 percent in the district to try to match the resources that are flowing into early childhood but also to match the increased need,” Polston said. “We know parents want quality, affordable early childhood options. We want to be able to meet that need and serve the community.

The district is also adding a 100,000 square-foot multipurpose building on the East Kentwood High School campus to be used by athletic teams, student groups and members of the community.

“Any asset we have in this district is a community asset,” Polston said. “We want this facility to be like our Aquatic Center.”

It will include a large indoor field surrounded by a track for sports teams, the marching band, fine arts groups and physical education classes to use. The indoor track will be open to the public.

The district is also adding classrooms to Crestwood Middle School to accommodate the need for space, as well as fine arts classrooms and STEM classrooms.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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