Community Conversations: John Helmholt, Grand Rapids Public Schools

_DSC2160On Tuesday, August 18th, our Director of Development, Monica Stiemle, sat down with Grand Rapids Public Schools Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs, John Helmholdt, to chat all things GRPS, as well as the district’s role within the prevailing GR Forward Plan.

To begin the conversation, Monica asked John about the booming growth within the city of Grand Rapids. From housing development, to job growth and beyond, she wanted to know what GRPS’s plan was to grow along with the city, as well as its role within the GR Forward planning process. A few of the key points he touched upon were:

  • There is often a level of disconnect between educators and business owners. Students are being taught one thing, while employers are looking for a skill-set of another. In order to get on the same page, we need to get everyone speaking the same language.
  • Working alongside GRPS, and their plan to grow along with the city, is Talent 2025. They describes themselves as a “catalyst for the development of an integrated talent system to meet employer needs. Education, economic development, quality of place, and responsive public policy all play a role in a successful talent system.” Together, both organizations are looking to meet the needs of the workforce by creating more adequate college and trade career pipelines.

_DSC2147Furthermore, we discussed the misconceptions surrounding Grand Rapids Public Schools, and how we, as a community, can help support the reality and future of our schools. Overall, John communicated that:

  • There is a lack of awareness. In one of the surveys conducted by GRPS, only 55% of those who were polled knew about the Montessori schools offered by the district. We need to get the word out on what programs and opportunities are available for families and their children. As John phrased it, it’s all about “getting people to look at the menu”.
  • In order to live, work and play within Grand Rapids, a healthy K-12 district needs to be present. In addition to that, a walkable community that reaches all neighborhoods is also pivotal to our city’s overall growth and success.

* To learn more about Grand Rapids Public Schools and their role within our City’s master plan, visit the following link:
 Goal 6: Retain and attract families, talent, and job providers with high quality public schools.

Community Conversations: Tim Kelly, GR Forward – Part I

As a part of our Community Conversations series, our Director of Development, Monica Stiemle, recently sat down with Tim Kelly, Planning Manager for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and organizer of the GR Forward Downtown and River Action Plan.

To start off their conversation, Monica and Tim touched upon the following points that focus on the process to date of the GR Forward plan:

  • The GR Forward planning process started in April 2014
  • Community engagement has been (and will continue to be) key to the planning process
  • The GR Forward plan is a mutual effort among DGRI, GRPS and the City of Grand Rapids
  • The plan is composed of six different projects + goals surrounding the following: the river, downtown neighborhood, mobility, economic development, programming public space and area schools
  • GR Forward has incorporated existing neighborhood plans into theirs



Community Conversations aims to encourage dialogue among city and business leaders with the public on a variety of topics influencing local communities.