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Big changes coming for students this year at Catholic Central and West Catholic

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM)- Wednesday is the first full day of classes at Catholic Central and West Catholic High Schools in Grand Rapids.

This year, both high schools will have to adjust to some major changes.

Former West Catholic principal Tom Maj is now the sole principal for both high schools. "People are excited, of course, they're waiting to see if I can lead both schools,"said Maj in anticipation of his new role.

It's a job some parents didn't support back when it was announced this last spring.

A prayer vigil was held in hopes the decision would be reversed, but it wasn't. Maj says the position offers better alignment, an opportunity to right size staffing for the schools, and greater communications.

"For me it's been exciting," said Maj. "It's an opportunity to build something special to reclaim and reclarify our role in the city of Grand Rapids in terms of a catholic school and a catholic education which has been here."

Administrators see advantages in year-round schools

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM)- For most kids, school starts next week. But, for hundreds of others, class has been in session for a few weeks now.

Grand Rapids Public Schools has five "year-round" schools. Students report in early August, and waste no time getting right to work.

Dickinson Elementary is one of those schools. Students don't get a three month summer break, but according to educators that is to their benefit.

"The kids can continue to get those basic skills that they may loose over that long period of time over the summer because it is such a big gap," says Carmen Smith, a Kindergarten ESL Teacher.

Teachers say the longer the gap, the more time they have to spend reviewing things learned the previous year. And, with fall MEAP testing just two months away, time is precious.

District leaders say in years past children at the year-round schools have performed slightly higher on MEAP testing.

'Playback' filming in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM)- More than 100 people from West Michigan are working on the set of a new movie in Grand Rapids.  The thriller "Playback" is about a group of high school students who unlock evil while digging into their town's past. 

Crews temporarily closed down Fulton Street and Diamond Avenue Tuesday to film scenes for the movie.  It features a cast of young actors including Johnny Pacar and Daryl "Chill" Mitchell.

Mitchell says, "Yeah, you know what, I like it here because it is nice, it is peaceful, we're down there on the water, and you couldn't ask for nothing better." 

Actor Johnny Pacar says, "I get back to Michigan you know once to twice a year.  Um I've never been out this way to Grand Rapids, but I like it.  Got to explore downtown this weekend it's cool ya know, it's a lot different."

Tickets for Princess Diana celebration on sale

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - On the 13th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is preparing for an exhibit in her honor. On Tuesday, the GRAM kicked-off ticket sales with a ceremony, fit for royalty.

On the steps of the museum, there was a re-creation of the "changing of the guards."  The exhibit is called "Diana - A Celebration".

"It's traveled all over the world, so we were lucky to get it here," says Interim GRAM Director Randy Van Antwerp.

The most recognizable piece is Diana's wedding dress, seen by over one billion television viewers in 1981. "The exhibit also has 28 dresses, her designer fashion throughout, stuff from her childhood, and her tiara that she wore."

Scott Group makes rug for the Oval Office in the White House

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM)- President Obama will address the nation Tuesday night in a televised speech from the Oval Office.  If you watch, you might see a West Michigan company's contribution to the White House. 

The Obama family recently remodeled the Oval Office while they were away on vacation.  The improvements include a new rug made by the Scott Group which is based in Grand Rapids.

Scott Group President Michael Ruggeri says, "It is the rug that adornes the Oval Office which is the premiere address in the United States, if not the world, so for 140 people who got behind this project and were involved in one way shape or form it is an unbelievably gratifying experience."

Designer Mary VanHaaften says, "It is an honor to contribute to part of American History really words cant describe what an honor it is."

Renovations annouced for Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Renovations are coming for the Fulton Street Farmers Market.

Tuesday the Midtown Neighborhood Association unveiled plans for sweeping changes to the market's infrastructure.

Planners say the biggest change is a permanent open-air canopy, including a small building allowing venders to sell their goods year-round, and wheel-chair accessible bathrooms.

They also say the new plans will include better entrance and exit routes, making it easier for venders and the public to traverse the single-lane marketplace.

Construction is set to begin in November and wrap-up by April before the market re-opens for the public.

A total cost for the renovations has yet to be announced, but Project Manager Christine Helms-Malatic says the estimate is around $3 million.

Republican strategist loses round in campaign lawsuit

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP)- A federal judge in Grand Rapids won't stop Michigan from enforcing limits on some campaign donations.

After hearing arguments, U.S. District Judge Janet Neff rejected a request Monday for an injunction in a lawsuit that claims the restrictions are unconstitutional.

Republican political strategist Greg McNeilly says the limits infringe on his free-speech rights. He's challenging the $500 cap for donations to state House candidates and $1,000 cap for state Senate candidates.

The Michigan attorney general's office is defending the state law, which has been around for more than 30 years.