In ’21, GBCS to focus on meeting students’ needs now and for the future

GRAND BLANC — Some big changes are in store for the Grand Blanc Community Schools in 2021, but perhaps the greatest priority is the effort to return to something familiar.

“If I’m asked what is our number one goal, it’s to get our kids back in school,” said Superintendent Clarence Garner.

The Board of Education has set a Jan. 26 target date – the start of the second semester – for students to return to the classroom. The students likely will return to a hybrid schedule, with half going two days a week, and half going a different two days.

The next priority is jumping into the bond projects. In May 2020, voters approved a zero-increase bond that will generate $87 million in revenues.

As a result, the district expects to break ground in March on a new aquatic center, football stadium and practice turf.

“We are absolutely excited for that,” said Garner.

The new aquatic center will feature 12 lanes and seat 500 spectators. The stands will look out over the football stadium, which will go where the soccer field currently sits.

The new, state-of-the-art football stadium will feature concessions on both sides and an area for food trucks.

At the back of the aquatic center, a turf field will provide practice space for band students. Down the road, Grand Blanc will have turfed baseball/softball fields and climate controls in all buildings.

Designs can be found on the district website.

The school board and administration also will review the curriculum in 2021, with an eye toward ensuring that the district offers a “good balance” and meets the needs of all students, including at-risk youth and those who come from various backgrounds.

“We also have a huge tech initiative,” Garner said. “We just finished purchasing about 1,500 additional devices, so all 9th and 10th graders will get new Chromebooks. So, we’re excited, as well, to roll out the new technology.”

Some big renovations also will take place at the middle and high schools. Media centers will get overhauls with updated technology and redesigned work spaces that are more “kid-friendly” in terms of how students learn and collaborate.

“It’s no longer the student in the seat doing their own, individual work,” Garner said.

Today, in terms of how kids are educated to meet the demands of the workforce, school systems are placing more emphasis on “soft skills” like collaboration, communication, design and finding solutions in a collective environment.

“So, what you’ll see in Grand Blanc, is a redesign of our physical shape, having that (collaboration) in mind for our kids,” Garner said. “That’s what’s difficult with the pandemic right now. They’re missing that collaboration. That’s what kids are being asked to do today, and that will help our workforce moving forward.”

Toward that end, the most noticeable change will be in the furniture.

“When we were in school, it was fixed furniture, located in a fixed spot,” Garner explained. “What you’ll see now, our furniture will all be flexible furniture, it can be moved easily by the students. Maybe they need to work with three other kids. Their desks will be able to move quickly.

“Also, we will see soft surfaces – couches, cushions, more comfortable seating options, so they’re not necessarily always sitting at a desk. The other big thing you’ll see is more vibrant color, in furniture and walls.”

From psychological and social standpoints, vibrant colors and flexible furniture create a more comfortable environment.

“By lowering the degree of anxiety or tension, it allows them to be freer to express ideas and thoughts. It’s not as formal or stuffy. What we’re seeing is it pays great dividends.”

And, of course, you’ll see technology.

A generation ago, it may have been unheard of to see televisions in classrooms. Now, it’s typical to see more than one flat-screen mounted in a classroom to allow students and educators to put presentations on the screens.

“It’s that flexibility to meet the kids where they are that’s important,” Garner said.

The work of 2021 also will involve keeping close watch on the district’s bottom line.

“We want to make sure we remain solvent, and we’re spending dollars wisely,” Garner said. “That’s always a goal. Grand Blanc has traditionally done very, very well in that area, making sure, even as we’re opening new facilities, that we’re financially sound and we can maintain these facilities.”

Another big goal is making sure the district has the appropriate staffing levels.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with staffing,” Garner said. “So, one goal is to ensure we’ve incentivized our positions and we have the staff, whether its bus drivers or teachers, to meet the needs of our kids.”