By Sue Moore
Southwest Michigan school superintendents described their districts’ triumphs and obstacles to the state’s top education official in a meeting early last month.
The superintendents met with Brian Whiston, state superintendent of education, in Schoolcraft on March 9.
Whiston toured Schoolcraft’s elementary, middle and high schools, read to kindergartners in Kelli Frey’s class, visited a middle school science day display, and interviewed two seniors who are participating in the Early Middle College program.
Whiston’s visit and meeting with superintendents put a spotlight on smaller school districts. Before his appointment to the statewide post in 2016, he had been superintendent in Dearborn, a district with over 19,000 students. Whiston’s education work began with teaching third grade in Oakland County and included a stint as lobbyist for the Oakland County Intermediate School District before moving to the Dearborn post.
Schoolcraft Supt. Wayne Stitt said it’s “a great privilege to have the state superintendent of schools visit our district to see the wonderful things that our staff and students are doing. It was great to hear that Whiston was impressed with our programs and services. We showed him how a small school can deliver a high-quality education. There are over 800 districts and academies in the state and he only has time to visit a few districts each year. We were fortunate to be selected.”
The department’s biggest challenge these days is how to implement the “Every Student Success Act” (ESSA), signed into law by President Obama in December 2015. Whiston’s department has been charged with implementing the federal standards. The department has also been involved in the School Resource Office plan which has promised to close 38 nonperforming schools across the state, including two in Kalamazoo.
Schoolcraft is not one of these schools, but Superintendent Rusty Stitt and his administrators took the opportunity to stress what it is like to work with fewer resources than a much larger district. The poverty rate in Schoolcraft has inched up from 10 percent in 2008 to over 20 percent in 2017 while the median income fell 29 percent during the same time frame.
Schoolcraft has incorporated the Reading Now Network to improve early literacy into the curriculum along with other districts in Region 7. This was an important topic in the afternoon meeting with superintendents; administrators signed a large banner which incorporated the tenets of the Reading Now program.
School districts will focus on collaboration and instructional strategies that implement the Roots of Reading Success, according to the document. “The Reading Now Network is a bright spot in public education,” said Kalamazoo RESA Superintendent David Campbell. “The core strategies, when implemented effectively and collaboratively, are showing very positive results.”