Category Archives: Schools

Back to School Celebrated at the Backpack Bonanza

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The Backpack Bonanza provided Vicksburg school children with supplies and sneakers. This little girl proudly displays her newest gear.

By Paula Schriemer

The 12th annual Backpack Bonanza was held on Saturday, August 3, at the Vicksburg Community Pavilion. It was a lovely summer day for the event, sponsored by Generous Hands, Inc. (GHI) and South County Community Services (SCCS). Participating families arrived throughout the morning and were provided with new backpacks for the school year, as well as age-appropriate school supplies such as folders, pencils, pens, erasers, notebooks, scissors and crayons.

“The community was so generous this year that with the many donations that were dropped off and a generous gift card from Meijer, we didn’t have to purchase any school supplies or backpacks,” said GHI Executive Director Sheri Louis. Louis and SCCS Assistant Director Drew Johnson coordinated the event.

There were smiles all around as elementary-aged kids were fitted with new pairs of athletic shoes by the staff of First Day Shoe Fund, a nonprofit organization from Kalamazoo. “This is the third year that we’ve partnered with First Day Shoe Fund for the Backpack Bonanza. They are an outstanding organization to work with,” Louis said. Middle and high school students each received a new reusable water bottle to start the new school year. The 161 people attending the event enjoyed a breakfast of yogurt, muffins, juice and snacks and were provided with additional information on the upcoming programming for both organizations during the next school year.

Vicksburg School Superintendent Keevin O’Neill also attended this year’s Backpack Bonanza. “What an incredible event! It made me so happy to see the kids fill their backpacks with school supplies and get fitted for new shoes. Our families were so thankful. What a great way to kick off the new school year! Vicksburg Community Schools cannot thank Generous Hands and South County Community Services enough for what they do for our students and families,” O’Neill said.

Both organizations expressed gratitude for the 31 community volunteers who turned out to provide supplies for over 100 children. Another 80 students will be picking up their school supplies over the next few weeks at the GHI/SCCS offices on Spruce Street.

It will be a busy fall for GHI and SCCS. Both organizations participated in the Community Tailgate on Friday, August 30. Generous Hands is looking forward to its annual fundraiser, the Fall Extravaganza, on Saturday, November 9 at Indian Run Golf Course. Tickets are available at 269-370-7965. Finally, SCCS will partner with GHI to host their annual Holiday parties on December 6 and 7. They also have the Fabulous Flapjack Fundraiser on October 9 to help raise money for United Way.

Schoolcraft’s Facilities $39.9 Million Bond Proposal

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Jennifer Gottschalk, Schoolcraft school board president, holds up a campaign sign for the November bond proposal.

By Linda Lane

Schoolcraft school district voters on a Nov. 5 ballot will determine the fate of a $39.9 million bond proposal that includes a three-mill hike in homeowners’ current tax rates.

Included in the $39.9 million price tag are: a new pre-kindergarten-6th grade elementary school at a cost of $28.3 million; a new wing for grades 7 and 8 added to the High School, sharing common areas such as the library and cafeteria, for $8 million; improved security, additional accessibility for disabled students, more energy-efficient facilities and modernized learning spaces; and a renovation of athletic facilities, including a 6-lane running track at the Roy Davis Stadium, eight new tennis courts and other athletic improvements totaling $3.6 million.

For a homeowner with a $100,000 home in the district, the increase in property taxes of $3 per $1,000 taxable valuation will amount to approximately $150 per year.

Schoolcraft teachers, administrators, and community members received training to become “Informational Campaign Ambassadors” with a goal to help voters become informed on the bond proposal details. The training session was conducted by Rick Chambers, a communication consultant hired by the district. The session outlined “Top 10 Questions” on the bond proposal and basic details on why, what and how the bond proposal was developed.

The Schoolcraft Board of Education has had a Long-Term Facilities Planning Committee studying possible options for the district’s aging facilities for nearly two years. The committee boiled eight possible options for facility improvements down to two. After conducting a facility assessment last fall, the committee found a complete renovation of existing elementary and middle schools would cost $32 million—just $7.9 million less than the bond proposal. The committee decided the cost-effective approach was to replace them.

Proponents of the bond proposal say the new facilities are needed because:

The Elementary School is 50 years old and the Middle School is 64 years old. Both have heating systems which are outdated, inefficient and failing.

New buildings will provide facilities designed for “modern learning,” safer and more secure environments, energy efficiency, and long-term sustainability; improvements to athletic facilities are sorely needed, including tennis courts, restrooms, equipment storage, new six-lane track, bleacher safety railings, lighting and greater disabled accessibility; new facilities will greatly influence businesses decisions to invest in the district, providing a greater tax base and improved property values.

Opponents to the bond proposal cite the following concerns over what has been proposed: over half of parents surveyed by the district objected to mixing 7th and 8th grade students with high school students; the unknown impact and cost of the possible Village of Schoolcraft’s sewer project currently under discussion; properties of the out-of-district “school of choice” families, which comprise a small portion of the district’s enrollment, will not contribute to the tax levy, although those students do bring added state per-pupil money; the scope of the proposal and projects requested are too massive; athletics are already too much of a priority for the district; taxes are already too high.

Two surveys have been conducted by the district, one a survey of 372 Schoolcraft parents (Schoolcraft has 1,065 students) and a community survey of 200 of the district’s 3,200 voters conducted by Epic MRA from Lansing. Both surveys show strong support for Schoolcraft’s bond proposal. Information is available on the Schoolcraft Community School’s website schoolcraftschools.org under the main menu’s “facilities-study.”

“If voters approve the Bond Proposal, we will work with the community to develop a design that meets the district’s needs. It will likely take 12 months to finalize the design by working with school parents and community leaders. The facilities wouldn’t be built and ready for students until the fall of 2022,” said school board President Jennifer Gottschalk.

School Board Approves Changes to the Athletic Handbook

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Jeff Clark, Schoolcraft athletic director, reported the changes being recommended to the Athletic Handbook for the 2019/20 school year to the school board.

By Sue Moore

Holding Schoolcraft’s athletes to a higher standard was emphasized by Athletic Director Jeff Clark in proposing several changes to the athletic student handbook. Most of the changes were minimal, he told the school board at its August meeting.

Anyone out for a sport must have a passing grade in 80 percent of their classes, which Clark said hasn’t changed. Under the previous system, student athletes with low grades during the semester were given two weeks to study hard and get their grades up so they could compete. Now they only get one week per marking period to get their grades in order, he explained.

Another change that gives more flexibility permits students in several sports to use the gym at the same time. The intent is to urge student athletes to take part in more than one sport while in their middle and high school years, Clark said.

Head coaches drafted a new coaches’ conduct section that will be included in the handbook, Clark noted. Superintendent Rusty Stitt applauded the coaches for taking the lead in the revisions and Clark for facilitating what the board then approved.

Ticket prices for students were changed to $1 per event (with student ID) in order to encourage more kids to attend sporting contests when there might be several in one week. The prices for adults did not change, per the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s requirements; Schoolcraft is a member. A season pass will be offered to students for $25 and $60 for adults. Senior citizens, active military and veterans will get in free.

School budgeting came under discussion led by board President Jennifer Gottschalk when the board was presented with estimated closing general fund figures for the 2018-19 school year. The new information showed the year ending in the black rather than the red as had previously been projected. “It’s like putting a puzzle together without all the pieces,” Stitt said later. “We are still closing out the year and we don’t even know what the state per-pupil formula will be for the 2019-20 year so we recommended adopting a negative budget back in June. Now we have a better handle on our actual expenses for the past school year, so at least we know that we can meet our promises, especially to the teachers when it comes to figuring out the revenue sharing in November.”

“The discussion really was not so much about budget recommendations for 2018-19 – other than in the perfect world, the budget and actual would match at the end of the year,” explained Finance Director Rita Broekema after the meeting. “My world is not perfect and the Board would have liked [the numbers] to be closer than it was for 2018-19.  So would I, so we agree on that point.  The 2018-19 budget discussion was reminding everyone that we have a teacher contract that determines how we allocate any surplus revenue over expenditures.  It is binding and can only be altered through negotiations.”

Local Students Tour Europe with Ambassadors of Music

By Paul Stanton, director of Schoolcraft bands

Five Schoolcraft and two Vicksburg students were selected over a year ago to travel with the Michigan Ambassadors of Music (MAM) in this year’s summer tour of Europe. Their selection was based on the students’ outstanding musicianship, leadership, and character.

Students had the exciting opportunity to participate in the 16-day performance and educational tour of seven countries. Stops included London, Venice, Paris; Crans-Montana and Zermatt in Switzerland, Vaduz in Liechtenstein, Seefeld and Innsbruck in Austria, and Dachau and Rothenburg in Germany. The performances showcased the talent in the ensemble and proved that these students truly were musical ambassadors.

The Michigan Ambassadors of Music Europe Concert Tour was comprised of over 150 instrumental and vocal students from all over Michigan. Students for the group are nominated by their band and choir directors to participate in the Voyageurs International program, a company based in Colorado. Barry Martin, professor of music at Grand Valley State University and conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphonic Band, was the director of this year’s MAM Band.

Each year, students from 25 of the 50 states go overseas to sing in a choir or perform in a band. The next year, students from the other 25 states have the opportunity to participate. Over the two weeks the students were overseas, they had the opportunity to make friends with fellow Michigan band choir members and many remained in contact with their travel companions.

Schoolcraft senior Erin Lockwood said of the tour, “It was an amazing adventure filled with countless new experiences that I’m blessed to have had. MAM allowed us to see beautiful places and learn about the world around us while growing in our musical careers with new friends.”

Many of the students have shared their favorite place to visit was Switzerland, including a trip to the famous Matterhorn mountain. All students can certainly agree their travels this past summer were a life changing experience which has enriched their lives and musicianship.

Sunseeker Captain a Vicksburg Graduate

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Alysia Zimmerman, fourth from the right, stands with her fellow students who were involved with the WMU Sunseeker.

By Sue Moore

Alysia Zimmerman of Vicksburg had a lot of obstacles to overcome in her early years. She is a 2014 graduate of Vicksburg High School’s Way program, now called Pathways. Today, she is the captain of Western Michigan University’s Sunseeker solar-powered racing car which took 5th place in the Formula Sun Grand Prix competition in Texas this spring.

Suffering from migraine headaches since she was 11, Zimmerman missed 53 days of school in her sophomore year at VHS. She became pregnant in her senior year and opted to put the child up for adoption. She worked and went back to school in the Way program under Steve Fryling and Kristen Hossink’s tutelage, while residing in Traverse City for a year. “Way is a tool for kids with alternative issues,” Zimmerman said. “Still, you need your own motivation to make it work.”

She got her inspiration from her mom, Sue Craft, who worked in the family business at Bartholomew Heating and Cooking, where she performed energy audits. Zimmerman’s cousin, Brad Bartholomew, was passionate about energy auditing for his customers. “That piqued my interest in renewable and clean energy,” Zimmerman said.

She chose to attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College before entering WMU to major in electrical engineering with an emphasis on solar energy. The migraines had ceased when her pregnancy began, so she was able to concentrate on her schooling a whole lot better, she said. Scholarships, loans, Pell grants, and her mentors helped to keep her going toward furthering her education. She will graduate in the spring of 2020 from WMU and plans to begin a master’s degree program before getting into the field and starting to work in research and development.

Meanwhile, the Sunseeker team is looking to build a new car with Zimmerman in charge of the project. She was responsible for the solar power on the car which raced earlier this year, preparing the plans and schematics, purchasing the solar panels, encapsulating the panels and mounting and wiring them. The team is aiming to take part in a cross country race with her as captain in 2020.

Zimmerman is engaged to a fellow who wants to be a nurse and works full time at Aunt Millie’s in Kalamazoo, making bread. They joke that he is supporting her by bringing home the bread while she goes to school.

Walking to Western for Schoolcraft Scholarships

By Sue Moore

A team of 10 Schoolcraft teachers and administrators continued Superintendent Rusty Stitt’s walk and ride in 2018 to raise money for scholarships last year. This August, they chose an 18-mile road trip to Western Michigan University (WMU) via the Kalamazoo Valley Community College campus.

The money raised will provide scholarships for the class of 2020.

Seven of the walkers made it all the way to the University campus through back roads and highways to be greeted by University administrators and the Schoolcraft High School band. When they arrived at the College of Education building, WMU pledged $500 scholarships for two students. Kalamazoo Valley Community College had pitched in with two more Trustee scholarships. The University’s scholarships will be awarded to Schoolcraft seniors who expect to major in education or human development.

The goal is $15,000. The fund now totals $13,445, according to Matt McCullough, director of innovation in teaching and learning in Schoolcraft.

Dr. Stitt was the only one on the team who ended up with blisters so bad that he had to drop out at the 16-mile mark. Two others had prior appointments and had to leave by 11:30. The team rolled into Western at about 12:30 and were bused back to the high school campus after the brief ceremony. Donations are still being sought to be able to offer the class of 2020 $7,500 worth of scholarships through this walk. The other half will go to the Schoolcraft Foundation to help grow the fund.

Sunset Lake School’s Air Quality Questioned

By Rob Peterson

Vicksburg school district parents at the August meeting challenged the board and administration on air quality issues at Sunset Lake Elementary.

According to a press release sent to MLive in July from unidentified persons who said they are teachers at the school, they have experienced “unusual illnesses”, including miscarriages, infertility, endometriosis, and struggles with reproductive health. The press release also reports that students and teachers are suffering from migraines, and that one teacher had suffered two strokes this past winter.

Parents showed concern about the number of health issues that teachers and students have reported at the building.

The administration claims that absenteeism at Sunset Lake is similar to other buildings in the district. School board member David Schriemer, a physician, said he feels badly for those suffering from health issues but added, “It’s a huge leap to believe that the building is causing the issues.”

Sunset Lake Principal Amy McCaw told the audience that she has spoken with a number of the teachers at the school; none have indicated that they are leaving. She said that some were even surprised by the information in the press release. McCaw indicated that there is a general feeling among the teaching staff that the administration is taking the proper steps to ensure a safe environment, and added, “We are all very excited to get back to school.”

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill spoke at length about the data they have received which show that there is nothing wrong with the air quality at Sunset Lake. He promised that they are “working to ensure the health and safety of everyone who enters the building.” The district hired Nova Environmental of Ann Arbor to conduct an air quality investigation. It found no major concerns in the air quality, including evidence of mold.

However, Kalamazoo-based Wonder Makers Environmental reviewed that data and other reports dating back to 2015 and found “a consistent pattern of fungal spore types” that would suggest a mold source in the building. That company said that additional mold testing is warranted.

The administration has contacted the National Institute for Occupational Health & Safety (NIOSH) to conduct a study this fall. It will include staff interviews and a building inspection. According to the administration, NIOSH recommended that the school district not take on any further testing until after their visit and instead spend the money on improvements.

One improvement undertaken this summer is replacement of the carpet with tile throughout the building, something the board indicated it had planned to do but accelerated the project out of potential concerns. To pay for the replacement, the district re-allocated half of the $1 million set aside from the last bond issue for technology upgrades. The school board is considering another bond issue in 2020, which may include replacement of some heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems in the district.

Parents asked about the timeline and process for the NIOSH studies. Assistant Superintendent Steven Goss answered that the visit will begin on September 23. The agency’s investigators will evaluate the working conditions and speak with staff before making recommendations on further testing. They will be on the site for approximately one week.