Kim Waalkes doesn’t dip her toes in interests. When she gets into an organization, she needs to be involved.
“That’s just my philosophy, we can’t just join a group and not get involved,” she said. “If you don’t, you miss out on an opportunity.”
She said often 20 percent of people do 80 percent of the work within an organization. The more you get involved, the more influence you hold.
Waalkes’ daughter befriended the then-president of the PTSA of Grand Rapids Public School’s City High-Middle School.
She became interested in helping the group.
“When I feel strong about something, I volunteer,” she said.
Her husband warned her not to get too involved, “Don’t become presdient,” he said. Sure enough, three years in, Waalkes is president. Mostly because no on else wanted to do it.
An interested and willing leader is what the City group needs. An involved group of parents is key to the success of the school, which annually ranks at the top of the state’s schools.
The group’s main focus is to fundraise to keep the school competitive, but Waalkes doesn’t like to look at it that way. She more likens the role to a social group.
She referenced a recent pie baking event that transformed the cafeteria into a bakery.
“That was a cool day, we all got to know each other,” she said. “It raised nearly $4,000, but it brought every one closer together.”
The school is an international baccalaureate school, which requires CAS hours — creative action and service hours. The PTSA recently had its first student on an executive board.
“Most groups drop the S as PTA,” she said. “We really try to get the students involved.”
But the for the students too be involved, a solid parental guidance is required.
“There’s a direct correlation between parental involvement and success in students,” she said. “When you have a hand on the pulse, you know what’s going on, not just academically, but socially.”
When the teachers and parents know you, and you know them, it’s easier to have a say. You know if the child is just blowing smoke when they complain about a teacher.
Waalkes said her kids don’t always like it that the principal knows them well, but it’s something they have to deal with.
Waalkes and her husband have lived in Grand Rapids since they were married and always had the intention of keeping their kids in the system, despite all the negative associated with the district.
Although City often gets labeled with a snobby attitude, Waalkes said it’s anything but, and even is close to being a Title I school; close to be 40 percent in poverty.
“We are far from being elitest,” she said. “Most families are too proud to admit they’re in poverty.”
But the best thing about GRPS, and City specifically is the diversity.
“We love the diversity; social, economic, cultural,” she said. “The diversity at City almost exactly mirrors the diversity of Grand Rapid.”