Vicksburg Middle School Reports to the School Board

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg school board, at its monthly meeting discussed a 1.5-mil special education millage set to go on the ballot on May 5.

The proposed millage by Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) will hopefully pay for federal and state-mandated special education costs. “During this year, it is estimated that Vicksburg Community Schools will be paying a half million out of general fund dollars,” said Supt. Charlie Glaes. “The intent of this millage is to have the local district’s special education costs paid for.”

While there is already a millage in place covering special education, Glaes says there is less money to go around for the $14 million in special education costs district-wide. As a result, schools have to dip into their general fund to cover the costs. He says one big issue with the current millage was the housing crash. “That millage is paid by property owners, as property values tanked, so did the revenue,” Glaes said. “Consequently, there is less money to go around.”

The millage may face some difficulty because it is going on the same ballot as Proposal 1, to increase state sales tax to fund roads and schools. Glaes says polls for that proposal have been weak statewide. “The more voters learn about this, the less they like it,” Glaes said. “Things are just gearing up; it looks like it is going to be a very heated campaign for and against.”

He also says the millage will in the long run, help with the funding for all Vicksburg students. “It is certainly the hope of KRESA and school districts throughout Kalamazoo County that it will pass in May,” Glaes said. “That would make a huge difference in the budget.”

Principal Laura Kuhlman and assistant Principal Matt VanDussen made a presentation on the middle school’s instructional progress.

Kuhlman says her staff overachieved over the course of the past year in the face of many difficulties. “If I had to describe them with a phrase, it would be ‘rise to the challenge’,” Kuhlman said. Both Kuhlman and VanDussen have high aspirations for the students in charting and planning ways to improve student progress. “We want to make sure our planning and our focus stays on our vision,” VanDussen said. “We want all students to be proficient no matter the content area.”

VanDussen says the state gave a baseline in 2012 for where students should be achieving in the future. “What we want to have in 12 years is 85% of students proficient in those areas (math, science, reading, social studies),” VanDussen said. The state has set benchmarks for each year so the schools know what marks they have to hit to eventually reach the 85% proficiency level. These standards are based on common core curriculum. VanDussen says Vicksburg is well over that 85% mark in reading already, and is also above where it was supposed to be last year.

In math, the school has made use of the Delta math program, which tests students three times a year, to assess student readiness for the next grade level. To help kids who are struggling, they are implementing a new program where students can get additional tutorial time in place of an elective class. The students are pulled from their elective for a couple weeks at a time or every other week. “We’ve tried to keep elective opportunities strong and not pull out so many for extended learning opportunities,” VanDussen said.

Math teacher Dawn Simpson demonstrated a math website that can give students practice in many different areas. She says that her students completed over 50,000 math problems in a week on the website. “I would equate this to a form of accelerated reader,” she said. “They log right on and are engaged. You could hear a pin drop.”

English teacher Joe Lukowski demonstrated how he incorporated a kid’s blogging website into his writing curriculum. When his classes wrote science fiction stories, he had the students read each other’s stories and give positive feedback on their classmate’s stories. “The students were waiting for people to comment on it (their story),” Lukowski said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

In other news Steve Goss reported bids are in for roofing projects and will be available for approval at the next meeting. “The good news is, it appears all those bids came in better than we were hoping for,” Goss said. He says they should be ready to begin work on these projects once school lets out for the summer. Goss also reported that as a result of re-financing of 2005 bonds to replace athletic facilities, the school will be able to repay the loan a year ahead of schedule in May 2020, saving over $100,000. “The savings there will accrue back to the general fund,” Goss said. He also said that in two years, the district will be able to refinance the 2007 bond.

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