The 2021 back-to-school season holds special significance for the Grosse Pointe Public School System (GPPSS). On a crisp late-summer morning, students, faculty and staff gathered for the district’s 100th first day of school.
“We have such a big year ahead with our 100th anniversary,” says Mary Howlett, GPPSS communications coordinator, hinting at a bevy of exciting events and centennial celebrations planned throughout the school year.
As GPPSS celebrates a rich history since its 1921 founding, the district also looks forward to an innovative and productive future, Howlett says. We take a look at what has made GPPSS such a special place for the last century — and how this tradition will continue in new and innovative ways for the next 100 years.
The place to raise a family
As a community, Grosse Pointe is a place where families grow and thrive — and where young adults return to raise their own families. The strength of a well-supported school system is a big part of this draw, says Rebecca Fannon, community relations specialist.
“We have witnessed this over and over. We really love how the schools are a key part of drawing generations back. They might leave to pursue higher education and start their careers in Chicago or New York or Philadelphia, but when they are ready to have kids, they come back to Grosse Pointe,” Fannon says. “It’s such an interesting dynamic. People want to raise their children in Grosse Pointe.”
The high quality of education at GPPSS is a pull for parents who have educational choices, Howlett says. “We have a backbone of excellence and have always had the best teachers, which shows in our rankings,” she says. “This consistent quality provides the foundation for our strong, family-oriented community.”
Residents, whether they have children who attend GPPSS or not, consistently support bond proposals at the ballot box, and they show up to support students, too. “If you come to the North-South game, there are literally thousands of community members who come to cheer on the teams. They come to musicals and band and orchestra performances,” says Fannon. “They can’t wait until our calendar of Gold Card events comes out because they want to support our kids. It’s such an important piece of the health of our community that this strong commitment is still here, 100 years later.”
Tradition and innovation
There’s a certain pride in many of the district’s buildings, and each tells a story of the rich history of GPPSS. “If you look at some of the buildings, at Grosse Pointe South High School or Pierce Middle School, for example, you will see the marble and brick and the strong commitment to maintain these historical gems is evident,” Fannon says.
Look deeper to see the extra work that provides the technological innovation necessary to modern education — a surprising feat in a well-preserved legacy building. “If you go inside the buildings you will see how we’ve had to update for Wi-Fi, for example. We don’t knock down the marble walls, but we preserve and update for the best technology and athletic facilities, right into the 21st century. There’s a real commitment to preservation,” Fannon says.
As GPPSS moves into its second century, Superintendent Jon Dean has launched listening sessions in each school to gather vital information for a strategic planning process, now in progress. While the recommended attendance is limited to about 25 individuals, Fannon and Howlett expect three times that number to participate. “It’s really exciting to see that level of commitment,” they say.
A new strategic plan will create a vision for the next three to five years. “We will look at our current strategic plan, address our vision and our mission, and look at what we need to do differently as we focus on the next few years,” says Fannon. “We want it to be actionable and driven by timelines and key people who will champion each area.”
While the previous plan focused on building needs, this plan will “go beyond Pewabic and marble” to address what the educational community expects for its students. “We can’t rest on our laurels,” she says.
Witness the achievements
Of course, the strength of any school district lies in the achievements and successes of its students. Rich resources and strong community support allow GPPSS to offer ways for every student to shine.
“We love to share with our community the many different ways our students excel and lead with their talents,” Howlett says. From highly-recognized choir and marching band programs, to expanding Career Technical Education offerings to a strong college-prep curriculum, each student has avenues to achieve success.
“One of the unique aspects of our district is how many class choices kids have. The high school course catalog alone is 100 pages, and we offer 26 AP classes to encourage students to stretch themselves to prepare for the next level and to get ready for that rigor,” she says.
In Fannon’s personal experience, the proof of the quality of a GPPSS is right in her own family. “My oldest is in college now and three separate professors asked him where he learned to write. When he told them he attended Grosse Pointe schools, they said ‘Ah, yes.’ The preparation he received here to move onto the next level is unique,” Fannon says. “And decade after decade, our teachers have shown they know how to prepare future leaders.”
Learn more about the past, present and future of the Grosse Pointe Public School System at the district’s website.