EUREKA TOWNSHIP — Tom Kreiner will be the first person to admit Grattan Academy isn’t perfect.
But the worst school in the state of Michigan?
That unhappy distinction is according to the third annual Academic State Champs report from Bridge Magazine and The Center for Michigan. The report ranks Michigan’s schools from best to worst, based on a combination of test scores and income levels of families.
Grattan Academy, a charter school with facilities near Belding and Greenville, ranked No. 540 — at the very bottom of the list.
According to Ron French, who authored the report, Grattan’s ranking was based on data from a Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) report which can be found at michigan.gov/cepi online. That report says 46.7 percent of Grattan’s students participated in the district’s free or reduced lunch program.
However, Kreiner, the superintendent of Grattan Academy, says 69.9 percent of his students participated in the free or reduced lunch program according to MiSchoolData.com online, which also tracks Michigan school data.
According to Kreiner, CEPI collects data for the Michigan Department of Education, as well as for MiSchoolData, so he thinks the reason for the confusion is that two sets of data were collected from two different time periods.
“I like The Center. I like what they’re doing,” Kreiner said. “But this report is only as accurate as the information that’s given to them.”
“We have double-checked and triple-checked the data,” countered French from his Lansing office. “The data we have is the data the state has for Grattan. Is it possible that the state has the wrong percentage of free and reduced lunch? It’s possible. We did not call each of the 540 schools and check their numbers, but we did receive the data directly from the state.”
A unique charter school
Grattan Academy operates under a public academy governance structure in which the academy is authorized by and receives its charter from the Saginaw Valley State University Board of Trustees.
Grattan opened an elementary school near Belding in 1995 and a high school near Greenville in 2003. Today, the district has about 180 high school students and about 90 elementary school students, most of whom live in the Belding and Greenville area, with a few students coming from Carson City-Crystal, Central Montcalm, Lowell and Rockford school districts, plus a number of foreign exchange students.
Kreiner previously taught math at Greenville High School, where he also coached baseball and football. He was hired as Grattan’s superintendent in 2010 and wears another hat as principal of the high school, while his wife, Libby, works as co-superintendent and principal of the elementary school.
Grattan is the type of school district where teachers bring their own dogs into the classroom for student enjoyment and stress relief, where the music department offers options for those hoping to audition for “American Idol” or “The Voice” and where Kreiner settles youthful disagreements by having students sit down in his office to discuss their problems over a lunch of KFC.
Kreiner describes Grattan as a district that’s “too small for cliques.” He says when students clash, it’s more like a disagreement between brothers and sisters.
“We get a large mixture of kids, kids who are looking for a choice,” Kreiner said. “To me, a choice is when you have something different. Our students are looking for a different culture. We try to provide something different to our students.”
Highs and lows
Grattan Academy seemingly peaked in 2001 when the district received the state’s prized Golden Apple award. The award, ensconced in a glass monument, remains on display in the high school office, a reminder of what district officials strive to be.
The district has had some bumps in the road over the past decade. Overall student achievement took a dip in 2008, right around the same time Michigan’s economy took a dive and parents weren’t able to afford to transport their children to Grattan anymore. The district implemented a busing program to make sure students could still come to school.
In 2012, the Michigan Department of Education performed a study on Grattan, leading the district to respond with an action plan for student files, district policies and procedures and staff reviews.
According to the MDE study, Grattan was noncompliant in three areas regarding individualized education program development and implementation and review of existing evaluation data.
But the MDE study also revealed several areas where Grattan showed strength, including a strong effort to ensure parental involvement, communication between special education and general education staff and a philosophy to provide special education services in an inclusive setting.
Discerning the data
Grattan began a free and reduced lunch program at the elementary school in 2012. The program expanded to the high school this current school year. Kreiner believes incorrect lunch program data is what’s skewing the Bridge report and causing Grattan to be ranked dead last.
French, who authored the Bridge report, said the school rankings are based on each school’s test scores combined with each school’s free and reduced lunch population.
Since students at the poverty level typically test lower than students at a higher income level, the Bridge report combines both factors and predicts how students should be scoring on their tests in their respective district.
Kreiner believes the Bridge report is using state data from the start of the 2012 school year, when Grattan had just introduced its free and reduced lunch program.
In years prior, Grattan didn’t require parents of students to report their financial status because the free and reduced lunch program didn’t exist. Since the program was implemented two years ago, parents began providing that data to ensure their children’s eligibility in the program.
“The 46.7 percent number was a snapshot of what our district had at the start of that school year,” Kreiner said. “We believe the 69.9 percent number to be an accurate number and it falls within the average of Belding and Greenville.”
Kreiner believes MiSchoolData has the most current data and said when the Bridge report obtained its numbers, CEPI hadn’t done an update since the beginning of the 2012 school year, when only a fraction of Grattan’s free and reduced lunch data had been submitted by the parents of students. He said had CEPI presented date from later that school year, Grattan’s ranking on the Bridge report would have been completely different.
“We’re obviously not perfect,” Kreiner said. “Overall, we’re advancing and we’re moving in the right direction. We’re putting pieces in place as we move forward. If you look at our data, we are definitely moving in the right direction. Most of our kids are meeting or exceeding our goals. Our expectations are set high.
“The study is what it is,” he said. “I think our achievement is actually higher than that.”
More questions and answers to come
Beth Ryan, the president of Grattan Academy’s school board, said she cannot speak for the entire school board, but she agrees with Kreiner that the report was based on incorrect state data. She said the topic will be on the agenda at Monday night’s school board meeting.
“I anticipate that we will tell parents that the report was based on incorrect state data and we will then direct them to various websites which do contain the correct data,” Ryan said. “We will strongly encourage them to peruse these websites and contact any of us if they have any questions or concerns.
“We will also inform parents that we use other forms of educational assessment, such as the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association), which, in my opinion, is a better tool to track individual student progress because it is given more than once per year,” she added.
The next Grattan Academy school board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Grattan Elementary School, 12047 Old Belding, Road, Belding. Anyone is welcome to attend.