"I'm Nana first and as Nana, Ford Academic Center is perfect for CJ."

When your grandmother is the Superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and your mom is an elementary principal, it goes without saying that they will have an opinion about your education. Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal , along with her daughter and son-in-law, Denishea and Kerby Killingham, chose Gerald R. Ford Academic Center for her grandson CJ, a 6th grader who has attended Ford since it opened in 2013.

“The last two years since he’s been at Ford, CJ’s confidence has grown tremendously. As a father at home, I see that a lot. He’s definitely a lot more disciplined as far as doing his homework,” said Kerby. Denishea agrees, “He definitely takes the initiative to do his homework.”

Gerald R. Ford Academic Center is based on the model that was in place at Southeast Academic Center, a school both Kerby and Denishea attended. At SEAC, parents were partners in their children’s education and there was a heavy emphasis on academics. That influence can be seen at Ford, where Principal Jerry McComb requires parents to sign a parent compact. The compact requires parents to participate in their child’s education and offers them opportunities to be involved in the school.  

And considering that the school is named after Grand Rapids’ most famous son, it’s only natural that the values that President Ford embodied are also evident in the culture of the school.

“We do focus on leadership. We’ve partnered with the Gerald R. Ford museum staff and so we really wanted to have a strong focus on leadership, as well as academics, and preparing children for college. I knew that that was going to be the right school for CJ,” said Teresa.

Even as a 6th grader, CJ is demonstrating leadership. He frequently helps younger students and assists his teachers. In return, he earns “Bengal Bucks”, which he can use at the end of the year at the school store. In talking to CJ though, you can tell that for him helping others isn’t about the Bengal Bucks, but rather about the feeling he gets from doing things for others. A quiet kid, CJ is his most animated when he is talking about how he helps around the school.

Ford is also the home of a strings program, where CJ has learned to play not one, but two instruments- the viola and the violin. He has performed in front of hundreds at the Student Advancement Foundation’s MindShare event.

“CJ is shy by nature, but to see him performing with the instrument, to be involved in the school, it’s a lot growth,” said Teresa.

That growth comes about in part from the staff at Ford, who set an environment of high expectations and work hard to help their students succeed.

“I love the staff at Ford. We get a report card every couple weeks, a reading log that is brought home every week, and a homework slip,” said Denishea.


Act now! Apply today! Seats for theme schools and Centers of Innovation are limited and an application is required. Apply online at apply.grps.org, or visit any GRPS school or the Administration Building at 1331 Franklin St SE for a paper application.