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New charter school in Livonia already has waiting list

Karen Smith staff writer

6/27/2014

The new K-8 charter school in Livonia is expected to be at full capacity with 429 students
when it opens Sept. 2, as parents from Farmington Hills, Novi, Livonia and Redford seek a
moral-focused curriculum for their children, Principal Alan Harper said.
So far, 344 students are fully registered for Grand River Academy on Eight Mile Road at Grand
River Avenue, and another 136 have applied – meaning there already is a waiting list.
 
“Enrollment is going very well,” Harper said. The majority of students are coming from Farmington
Hills and Novi, where parents are familiar with other schools operated by the Grand Rapids-based
for-profit National Heritage Academies. The management company operates 47 public charter
schools in Michigan, including schools in Plymouth, Canton and Southfield.
Smaller numbers of students are coming from Livonia and Redford, he said. There is no cost for
families to attend.
 
Some of the students couldn‘t get into other NHA schools because they were full. Parents are
drawn to the school because of its structured environment, sense of community and safety
measures, Harper said.
 
The moral-focused curriculum teaches universal values such as integrity, compassion, respect and
gratitude, Harper said. “The curriculum supports what I think most families want for their kids
growing up, to learn to be good citizens and good people.”
 
The dress code requires polo or dress shirts tucked into slacks or dress pants with belts. No
makeup, fake nails, extreme hairstyles tattoos, pierced jewelry (other than earrings for girls) or
hoodies are allowed. The dress code, Harper said, “helps establish an appropriate structure for
learning.”
 
Students greet adults with handshakes, and manners are modeled by the staff, said Harper, who
answered interview questions with “Yes, ma’am” and “No ma’am.”
 
The school will start off with kindergarten through fifth grades, then add one grade up to eighth
grade in each succeeding year. To start, there will be four kindergarten classes, three first through
third grades, and two fourth and fifth grades. Kindergarten will have 25 students in each class; the
older grades will have 28 in a class.
 
Harper believes in the K-8 model of education. While the older and younger students are
separated most of the school day, they come together for structured activities, such as when the
older students read to the younger ones, contributing to a sense of community. “The older students
support and encourage and become positive role models for the younger students,” Harper said.
The school follows strict safety measures, Harper said, such as keeping exterior doors locked and
requiring all visitors to have their drivers license scanned by an electronic monitoring system or be
accompanied by a staff member.
 
Authorized by Grand Valley State University, the school “puts as many children as we can on a
college-readiness path,” Harper said. The school day goes from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., about a
half hour to 45 minutes longer than most school days at traditional public schools. HNA pays to
have students take Northwest Evaluation Association computer-based tests, assessments that
compare the students’ level of proficiency with that of students throughout the nation. “It tells us
what skills they really have learned and what skills need additional instruction,” Harper said.
Harper, who came from a NHA school in Ohio, said the students there were among the
top-performing in the community.
 
Grand River Academy’s curriculum is aligned with common core state standards. Art, music and
physical education will also be taught. “As the school begins to grow and expand, there is always
the possibility of additional classes and extracurricular activities that incorporate foreign language,
math skills, STEM, and science opportunities,” said Jennifer Hoff, senior communications
manager for NHA. “We are excited to explore the possibilities and hear what both parents and
students would like to see as additional options.”
 
The school is located in an old Farmer Jack store that was part of a strip mall on a seven-acre
parcel. Besides renovations to the building, there will be an outdoor play area, including a grassy,
landscaped section. National Heritage Academies is investing more than $7 million in capital
expenditures to renovate the site, Hoff said.
 
Harper said so far, the school has been welcomed by the community. While some people have
opinions based on their perceptions of charter education, he said, most understand that Grand
River Academy is offering parents another choice for providing their children with what they believe
is the best possible education for them.
 

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