Black River Public School (Holland, Michigan)

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Black River Public School
"Preparing students for college and life."
491 Columbia Avenue Holland, MI 49423
Type Public, Charter
Established July 1996
Principal Shannon Brunink
Grades K-12
Enrollment ~850[1]
River Rats
Green and Black

Black River Public School is a college preparatory charter school located in Holland, Michigan with a young history. The school educates 850 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.[2]


Black River Public School was founded on July 1996 after receiving a charter from Grand Valley State University. Its operations initially took place in the Federal School building on 8th street and during its four years there, added 14 portables due to the limited area of the building. The Board of Trustees decided a relocation was necessary and began to search for a new complex. BASF Corporation donated a 50,000-square-foot (4,600 m2) facility, originally occupied by the Holland Furnace Company, to the school in 1998.[2][3]

For the 2001 school year, Black River added a Montessori elementary program.

In May 2003, Black River was accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) and in 2004, was accredited by the North Central Association Commission of Accreditation and School Improvement.[4][5][6]


Black River Public School, also known as Black River or BRPS, currently resides in 491 Columbia Avenue with students from grades K-12. The head of school is Shannon Brunink, who followed David Angerer and the original head of school, Dr. K. Don "Jake" Jacobusse. As a result of its limited student population, Black River aims to serve the students more efficiently through smaller class sizes, typically fewer than 20 students. Additionally, parents of Black River students and alumni play an active role in the school's direction. The entire Board of Trustees are past or present parents. Several parents are also teachers. The Parent Organization was promptly created for parents and other volunteers to address concerns from other parents and improve the quality of the school.

In the summer of 2003, Black River added two new 8 and 6 room modular buildings just outside the main building to accommodate more elementary students.

Each grade level is capped at 80 students. The 2005 graduating class contained 32 students and the class of 2012 gave Black River its largest graduating class with 76.

In the spring of 2007 Black River completed construction of a new 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) facility housing a gymnasium, lyceum (cafeteria), and music facilities. Previously existing facilities were remodeled to provide additional classroom space.

In the fall of 2011 remodeling was completed on a former storage/loading dock facility to house the kindergarten program following its transition to an all-day schedule. Black River has been lauded by the Michigan Montessori Society for the beauty and function of its kindergarten facility.


Black River Public School has been the home for many gifted students. In 2014, The Washington Post High School Challenge once again ranked Black River among the top five high schools in the State of Michigan, a distinction it has enjoyed since 2005, including five years ranked #1.

The Montessori program for elementary students has been successful since its inclusion into Black River.[7] Black River initially only served grades 4 and 5, but expanded to include all standard elementary levels because of the aforementioned success.

Black River offers 18 Advanced Placement (AP) courses, boasting a participation rate that ranks in the top 1% in North America. Approximately 50% of the students who take an AP course achieve a score necessary to receive college credit, compared to the Michigan average of 11%. The high school gives higher numerical grades for these AP courses. These grades are based on a 5 point grade system, as opposed to the standard 4 point system.[8]

Black River was the first Holland-area school to incorporate Spanish at the elementary level.[9]

In 2002 elementary teacher Fran Olesen was chosen Charter School Teacher of the Year. In 2003, then current Head of School David Angerer was chosen as Charter Administrator of the Year by charter school leaders in Michigan and was the third charter school to receive the Michigan Association of Public School Academies' Summit Award for innovation in learning.[10] In 2003 Marguerite Stephens was chosen as the Middle School Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Council for the Social Studies. In 2005 Marguerite Stephens was awarded a Japan Fulbright award. In 2010 mathematics instructor Nathan Meyer was chosen as a Class Nobel Educator of Distinction for the 2010- 2011 school year. In 2011 art teacher Peter Middleton received the Charter School Teacher of the Year award. That same year, Black River was named the first K-12 School of Excellence in Michigan.

Graduation Requirements[edit]

Black River has higher graduation requirements than most American public schools.[citation needed]

Black River requires:

  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of Math (4 years for the class of 2011 and beyond)
  • 3 years of Science (must include Biology)
  • 3 years of History (must include Government)
  • 2 years of a Foreign Language, 3rd year Proficiency in Spanish
  • 2 years of an Art course (Orchestra,Theatre, Choir, Band, Visual Art, Dance)
  • 1 year Physical Education (or 3 seasons of a sport)
  • 1 semester of Typing or Demonstrate 30 WPM accurate typing speed plus basic Word-processing Skills

In addition to these, Black River has three graduation requirements not typically seen in public schools.

Seniors must complete a Senior Project, approved by their adviser, on a topic of interest. Senior Project ideas and topics are left to each student.

Black River requires community service as a graduation requirement for elementary, middle, and high school (See below).

On May 9, 2007, Black River's school board voted to require admittance to a four year college or university in order for its students to graduate. The school implemented this policy starting with the class of 2011, the incoming freshmen in 2007. To ensure students get into college, the school runs a college readiness camp for freshman and organizes college trips for upperclassmen. In addition to helping maintain focus and accountability within their own programs, the school sought to place college admission within the reach of students otherwise not considering college. The decision to require college admittance was controversial at the time, but experience has shown the requirement accomplishes its goal. 100% of seniors from 2011 through 2014 were successful in meeting this requirement, with no student failing to graduate because of the policy.

Black River offers numerous club participation offerings that vary from year to year depending upon student interests. Topics range from equestrian team to Japan club, from video gaming to creative writing.

Black River collaborates with Holland Public Schools in FIRST Robotics. In 2014 this team and their partners won the World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri at a competition of more than 2,000 teams from countries around the globe.

Community service[edit]

Black River puts a strong emphasis on community responsibility by requiring students at every grade level to complete hours of community service. Grades 1-3 are expected to complete 10 hours of community service before moving on, grades 4-5 are expected to complete 15 hours, and grades 6-8 are expected to complete 20 hours. The high school requirement is 60 hours. Students have volunteered for various organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, the Red Cross, the Humane Society, the local hospital, and Herrick District Library. No more than 20 hours can be counted for any one activity, encouraging a wide range of volunteer activities.

At any time, two students from Black River are serving on the Youth Advisory Council of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area[dead link]. This student board awards grants to community projects which impact minors. Previous examples of funded projects include building a downtown skate park, supporting numerous summer camps, and the occasional film festival. The council annually awards between $30,000 and $100,000 in student directed grants.

Project Term[edit]

As part of their experiential approach to learning, Black River dedicates the final four weeks of the school year to Project Term. Teachers create and teach a wide variety of classes in which they put the students' knowledge and imagination into practice, expand their creativity and provide hands-on experiences. Students sign up in advance for a combination of one, two, or four week courses for the month-long period. Every year, new projects are decided upon, while some popular ones remain available. Examples of these courses include travel to various countries (Australia, Japan, Spain, etc), collaborative art installations, hiking and cycling trips and rock climbing. Other examples include the mathematical analysis of poker, classic cinema, learning to play the guitar, chemistry of crime, or community service projects in the local area. Grades for Project Term courses are assessed with a grade of Honors, Pass or Fail. These grades are not computed into the student's grade point average (GPA).[2]

In addition, a student is free to pursue an independent study project. The request must be approved by the school and requires a supervisor to oversee the activity.


Black River is a member of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and is a Class 'C' program. Additionally, they are a member of the Alliance League. The school's nickname is the River Rats and colors are black and green. Black River's athletic programs include, but are not limited to, soccer, basketball, baseball, cross-country, and volleyball. The school has no plans to add a football team. It's not uncommon for a full-time teacher to coach a school sport. The campus includes a soccer field directly behind the building, the home of 2008,2009,and 2010 Girls Varsity soccer Alliance League Champions and also home to the 2009 Boys Varsity Soccer Alliance league champions, the first boys soccer conference champions in school history. In 2014 the girls basketball team won the school's first district title.

A public funding campaign was successfully completed to raise money to construct a new building housing a gymnasium, lunch area and music facilities. The new building was completed and put into use in March 2007.


Graduates are required to have taken two years of music or art, and so approximately two-thirds of students are enrolled in the music program, which features bands, jazz bands, orchestras, a chamber orchestra, and choirs. Bands are divided into Concert and Symphonic bands and orchestra offers Concert and Advanced.

Both the band and orchestra have earned top marks from the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA). Black River's jazz program is recognized as exceptional, regularly earning top band and individual performance honors. The new building dedicated in April 2007 includes additional practice and rehearsal space with the large and small ensemble rooms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Black River Public School Mission". Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  2. ^ a b c "Black River Public School". Michigan Education Report. 2006-11-21. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  3. ^ Barton Deiters (1998-09-15). "Black River School gets a new home". Holland Sentinel. Retrieved 2008-01-17. [dead link]
  4. ^ Institution Summary, AdvancED, Retrieved 2012-07-08
  5. ^ "School earns accreditation". Holland Sentinel. 2003-05-20. Archived from the original on 2007-08-18. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  6. ^ "NCA CASI Accredited Schools (Michigan)". 2007-05-22. Archived from the original on 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  7. ^ "School's Montessori program a hit with parents, students". Holland Sentinel. 2005-05-03. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  8. ^ "Just a click away". Holland Sentinel. 2005-04-12. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  9. ^ "Districts expand Spanish study, despite dwindling budgets". 2005-07-05. Retrieved 2007-05-22. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Head of the class". Holland Sentinel. 2003-11-03. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 

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