Four Candidates Running for Schoolcraft School Board

schoolcraft candidates
Schoolcraft School Board candidates from left to right: Darby Fetzer, Mike Rochholz, Rachel Phelps, and Wade Rutkoskie.

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft voters will face a choice with four people vying for just two open positions on the school board. They were featured in a question and answer public session sponsored by the Schoolcraft PTO in September.

Current board President Darby Fetzer and trustee Michael Rochholz are running for re-election. Challengers are Wade Rutkoskie and Rachel Phelps.

Rutkoskie is a Schoolcraft alum and parent of a seventh grader currently in the district. He has been heavily involved in the facilities study as a member of the committee. He said he chooses to live here despite having other options. “That desire to be a part of a community and to help make decisions to move our community forward is very important to me,” Rutkoskie said.

Phelps used to work in Schoolcraft schools and her husband’s family has lived in the community for over a century. “I have a different perspective as somebody that has been involved in what each day actually looks like in a school filled with children and the unpredictable things that go on,” Phelps said.

Rochholz brings 18 years of experience on the board and is also a director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, having served as its president in 2017. “It really is all about our students and what we do here is paramount to the success of the outcomes of our students,” Rochholz said.

Fetzer has served on the board for 14 years. The last three years she has been board president, saying she has overseen many of the big changes in the district recently. “I’m passionate about student education and having the structures in place to support learning,” Fetzer said.

All the candidates agreed one of the largest issues facing the district right now is the state of their current facilities. “In order to support the great work that our teachers and students are doing, I would change our facilities,” Rutkoskie said. He would like to see them aligned with the way education is delivered in a group or team problem-solving effort.

The candidates were also asked about increasing enrollment in the district. Phelps said it is important to keep the district’s high-quality staff members. “We don’t want to be a stepping stone, we want to be a solid place for people to land and they want to stay,” Phelps said. She also proposed investing in athletics and fixing up the stadium and track to make them more appealing.

The candidates were asked about their vision for the district 10 years down the line. Fetzer said she hopes to see more space for more active learning and an environment where students can feel safe. “I’d to see an even more inclusive environment where people can talk about ‘Gee, I’m dealing with anxiety or depression,’” Fetzer said. “I would like to see those conversations normalized.”

A member of the audience directly addressed the board about safety specifically pertaining to the problem of school shootings. The candidates all agreed the problem has much deeper psychological roots and the problems can probably be avoided ahead of time through conflict resolution and counseling.

Darby Fetzer

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am community-oriented, bring experience and dedication and will help ensure continuity and continued success of Schoolcraft Schools.

I model excellence in education and am passionate about all of our children being well prepared for life. I understand the value of education and earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, a master’s degree in organizational management and obtained advanced certifications in emotional intelligence.

All three of my daughters excelled at Schoolcraft Community Schools. I engaged extensively in helping to provide an excellent learning environment in the district. I served as president of the Co-op Preschool, vice president and then president of the PTO, taught Project Charlie and Junior Achievement. For the last 14 years, I’ve served on the Schoolcraft Community School’s Board of Education. I have served as trustee, secretary and for the last three years as president. I’ve taken numerous board-related coursework in order to assure our staff and administration have the resources and support needed for on-going excellence.

SCS’s success is no accident but rather the result of long-range planning, diligence and accountability to goals.

I am pleased that in my tenure, SCS’s Points of Pride include: #1 Middle School and High School in Kalamazoo County (source: Department of Education Index), Destination District for Educator Talent in Kalamazoo County, and #1 in Kalamazoo County for fiscal responsibility.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

Regarding long-range facility planning, it’s important that Board members serve a community-based process instead of championing any one solution.

The Board will follow good governance practices by holding subsequent community meetings to provide information, answer questions and obtain input.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

Regarding Standards Based Grading (SBG), I completely support this practice. SBG provides a better picture of what a student knows and can do and aligns with best educational practices. Colleges are finding that students from SBG schools are better prepared and endure longer in post-secondary education.

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

Regarding declining enrollment, a recent survey of SCS School of Choice families indicates that families would move to Schoolcraft if there were available housing.
The district meets quarterly with local municipalities to address shared community concerns (e.g. available housing, village wellhead redundancy).

I bring wisdom, experience and dedication to the board table, helping ensure stability and continued excellence for Schoolcraft Schools.

Rachel Phelps

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am running as a candidate for the school board because I care deeply for this community, the students and their families, and for the teachers and staff that make our school a great place to learn. I have invested time and energy in this district as a parent, a volunteer and an employee. All of those opportunities have given me the benefit of knowing what Schoolcraft is all about.

How would you recommend communicating the facility planning options to the public?
The Facility Committee has selected two options for the community to discuss and the postcards and website information have been helpful for keeping people up to date. I would like to see improvements to the stadium/track area be included in the upgrades, but ultimately the community needs to provide feedback to that committee on what is important to the voters.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

Standards Based Grading does not benefit the majority of our older students. First, colleges don’t grade this way and translating those 1-4 scaled grades into a GPA that colleges need to see on a transcript isn’t completely accurate. If we are continuing to encourage students to take KVCC/college courses, then we should be consistent in our grading to match up with the next level of education. Second, some students work really hard on assignments and understand the material, but struggle with testing and SBG doesn’t account for that. It will show the analysis and points for the lower testing scores, but not account for the study habits developed and progress that is made from daily assignments. Considering if this type of grading is a short term option in education or something that all schools will adapt to is important as we continue to spend time and money on this. It creates a lengthy report of data, but what does it really do to help students? Will students think high achievement or a perfect score is unattainable?

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

School of choice is a widely used option for families in our county and surrounding areas. Schoolcraft has been a popular choice because of the smaller class sizes, amazing teachers and programs that excel.

If we invest in our staff and in our programs/athletics, and remember the foundation of our school, families will continue to be drawn to our district. Schoolcraft is a community where family, longevity, and loyalty are all important and our school should be a reflection of those qualities.

Mike Rochholz

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I have been a leader with a proven track record of serving the school district, townships and village. The key to these successes is the ability to listen and bring individuals together to collaborate … establishing and seeing through a mission, vision and strategic plan. As a trustee of the school board, it is important to understand that our role is to set the vision and goals for the district, adopt policies that provide the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals, hire and evaluate our superintendent and adopt and oversee our annual budget.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

As for the long-term facilities plan, as a board member it would not be appropriate for me to offer an opinion. Until we have a meeting of the board and I hear what the feedback is from the community committee and the informational community sessions, I don’t have a particular option that I favor.

How would you recommend communicating these options to the public?

As for communicating the potential project options to the community, once decided, we will need to attempt to communicate this in a manner that will reach everyone, as individuals receive their information in so many ways today. We cannot rely on just one mode of communication.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

I do support the Standards Based Grading system that our instructional staff has been implementing. This is one area where we can once again recognize each individual student’s growth potential. If we truly believe that every child can learn, but learn at different rates … we must honor that! Understanding that mastery of subject is more important than the time in a seat is a significant change in education. But if we expect our student’s outcomes to be for career and college ready … this prepares our children for success at that next level.  It also empowers our students to take ownership of their learning and to set individual goals for improvement while having them celebrate their successes.

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

We began the formal process of addressing student enrollment about a year ago. We are actually looking for sustainability in enrollment more than uncontrolled growth. It is not our desire to become a large school district, but we do have to maintain a certain number of students to be able to offer the programming that we currently offer. It begins with academic successes. Many families have brought their children to our schools for the educational benefits that they have learned about. Additionally, we offer many successful extracurricular programs, and the “small school feel.”

Wade Rutkoskie

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

My name is Wade Rutkoskie, and I am 46 years old. I have lived in Schoolcraft since the age of 5, and I graduated from Schoolcraft High School in 1990. My wife of 20 years, Cari, works at Stryker, and my son, Thomas, is in 7th grade at Schoolcraft Middle School.

I received my bachelor’s degree in business administration from WMU in 1995 with a major in finance. I have worked in a variety of industries in the Kalamazoo area, including building management systems and medical technology. Currently I am the Senior Manager of Business Integration at Tekna, a product development company, where I manage client relationships, contract negotiations, financial agreements, regulatory affairs and other business development activities.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

I have served on multiple school facility planning committees to determine the best future for the kids in our community. I’ve also played an active role in the school’s long-term strategic planning committee. When I worked in the construction industry, I played an active role in the construction of our current high school and various district renovations. I have coached Schoolcraft Little League for eight years, and I also coached Schoolcraft Rocket Football for four years. I currently serve as the president of the Schoolcraft Athletic Boosters, a role I’ve held for the past four years. I also have been an advisor for Junior Achievement for several years at Schoolcraft High School.
What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

I would like to be a member of the School Board because I want to help influence the direction of our school district for the future. We have many complex issues to address, and I feel my education, experience and passion for our kids and community will be an asset to the board, as well as provide an opportunity to play a greater role beyond my past committee involvement. I believe that leaders serve others, and my service on the school board would be a way to give back to the community that has given me so much.

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