Category Archives: Schools

Schoolcraft Expresses Concerns about School Facilities

facilities3By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft school district residents had an opportunity to address their Board of Education at its regular November meeting in the aftermath of defeat of a $39.9 million bond proposal. Following the forum, board members placed the proposal before voters in a March 10 election.

At the forum, Board President Jennifer Gottschalk said the school trustees wanted to hear the community’s input on what to do next before they made a decision. “I know we had a rough couple of days after the vote. We’re going to move forward and we’re going to figure out a new plan and we’re going to get this thing done,” Gottschalk said before turning the floor over to the approximately 70 residents in attendance.

Dr. Lloyd Peterson, first to speak, said he liked the plan but voted against the bond because he felt the price tag was too high. “Overall, I would say it was a big bite to begin with,” Peterson said.

He felt a better plan that would have gone over better with the community would have been a $10.5 million, one-mill proposal to move seventh and eighth grade to the high school and fix things like the tennis courts and football stadium. “That would have been a smaller bite and would have alleviated the over-crowding that you say we have.”

He also questioned what the board was referring to when it used the term “modern learning” in its promotional materials. “It sounds like you’re trying to baffle us with BS instead of telling us the truth.”

Several speakers agreed with some of Peterson’s thoughts, especially on the costs. Another speaker suggested taking photos of all the deficiencies to share with the community and show the problem areas.

Kyle Corlett, superintendent of Delton Kellogg Schools and a Schoolcraft resident, spoke first-hand about the challenges of passing a bond. His school passed a $23 million bond last year, so he said he was aware of the work done by the district and board of education in trying to pass the Schoolcraft bond. His family purchased a home in Schoolcraft before he got the job. He said they moved to Schoolcraft specifically for the schools.

“I thought you went about it all the right way and that’s why it’s so disappointing that it didn’t pass,” Corlett said.

Corlett has a kindergarten and second grade student in the district. “I think their teachers do an amazing job considering the facilities that they have,” Corlett said. “They make their rooms look amazing in a crumbling old building.” He thanked the board for its efforts and said he hoped it would try to pass it again.

Adam Haley voted against the proposal because he didn’t like how it shifted the grades around. “I don’t like 11 and 12-year-olds in with 17- to 18-year old high school kids, Haley said. “I know a lot of people say that’s not a big deal, but I look at my 12-year-old daughter, who I absolutely love to death. She’s an incredibly bright young lady. But she wants to be an older kid.”

He said he felt the current setup was already making some of the fifth graders grow up faster than when they were in the older building. “They see those 13-year-olds and they all want to be like them,” Haley said.

Haley said another reason he voted no was because he still has questions on the proposed schedules around lunch periods. He worried that some students will still end up having lunch too early in the morning and it will affect their studies later in the day. “Kids can’t learn when they’re hungry.”

Haley was one of several residents that also spoke on the issue of athletics being included in the bond. These residents didn’t seem to like the idea of so much emphasis of the failed bond being on new athletic facilities and updates over education. A few speakers suggested splitting it off as a separate ballot issue.

The objections to sports were met with emotional responses from some residents. John Pincumbe noted that the current facilities were paid for by the community through various fund raisers. He suggested that could be an option again. “Go out and get the thing built yourselves like we did in the first place,” Pincumbe said. “Do something as a community.”

Physical education teacher and varsity football head coach Nathan Ferency also spoke up in defense of athletics. “It’s obvious to me working in the high school that school of choice students come here for athletics,” Ferency said.

He said many people may not realize the challenges the athletics programs are facing because the school’s many programs are so successful. “We have failing athletic fields and stadiums,” Ferency said. “We missed probably half our home season on the baseball and softball fields because they were constantly flooded.

“Our weight room is a tin can. We work out in a closet basically. It’s very small and it’s hard to accommodate our kids,” he added. “Our athletic programs deserve better. Our PE programs deserve better.”

Former board of education trustee Skip Fox also defended the place of athletics in Schoolcraft. “Our football team has had the honor of not only winning championships, but also being honored for having the highest grade-point average by the High School Coaches Association which honors football teams with the highest GPA. In 2018, the Eagle football team was awarded First Team All-State for Academic Excellence with a team GPA of 3.91,” he said. “When I was on the board, we looked at athletics as being an extension of the classroom. And I believe that is still the thought of all our teachers.”

He also gave a little history on the construction of the high school, noting the infrastructure was designed for more students and future additions. “It was also built in mind that we could add to the wings and add classrooms which would be the cheapest thing to build,” Fox said.

Several residents spoke about the controversial sewer issue playing a role in the failure of the bond issue. Julie Reisner thanked the board for its efforts, but felt the timing was bad on the vote. “I will say that I don’t think this bond failed because of the work that you did,” Reisner said. “I think there’s more going on in the community and that’s why I believe that it failed.”

She also cited a lack of affordable housing, noting that Schoolcraft homes cost more than Plainwell, Portage and Vicksburg. She said because of the high costs of homes, there are more school of choice children. And the parents of those children can’t vote or pay into the school system.

“I think it’s a community issue,” Reisner said. “And until you get the community making changes, it’s going to be really tough to sway that.”

Other concerns raised at the meeting revolved on what was being done with the old buildings. At least one attendee said he voted no because of confusion dealing with keeping part of the middle school while still building new facilities. Gottschalk clarified that late in the bond process, they decided part of the middle school might be worth keeping for athletics and after-school activity use only.

Some residents suggested they should go to other communities like Mattawan to see what they did to finally pass a bond issue.

At the close of the meeting, Gottschalk asked if there were people willing to volunteer for another bond campaign. There ended up being a lot of raised hands and the board passed around sign-up sheets where people added their contact info.

She also encouraged people to keep reaching out through phone or email on the issue with their thoughts. “I want to hear from you.”

Schoolcraft Board to Retry Bond Request in March

Jennifer Gottschalk, president of the Schoolcraft School Board, on the right with Trustee Wade Rutkowski, listen to members of the community at the November board meeting.

By Travis Smola

After hearing concerns from the community on Schoolcraft schools’ failed bond proposal, the Board of Education chose to go to the public on a second proposal in March.

The proposal will be unchanged from the $39.9 million project that failed by 61 votes in November. “The proposal is not flawed; we just need the boots on the ground,” Board President Jennifer Gottschalk said. “We need more bodies. If we can get more bodies, we can get this passed.”

Mitchell Watt, senior vice president of Triangle Construction and one of the district’s potential construction managers, acknowledged it was unusual to go after a bond again in March. But he encouraged the district to do so after observing turnout to the community forum held after the election. Watt said it made sense in this case because they could build on the momentum of this meeting. “There’s three months where we can engage a very passionate, hot off the press group that is interested in success,” Watt said.

The discussion continued for about an hour after the community forum as board members weighed questions on many topics relating to the bond such as athletics and how to engage the community better on the costs of the project compared with other districts.

At one point, Lloyd Peterson, who spoke earlier at the community forum, suggested again that the district either try to take the project in smaller chunks or begin saving money for a project further down the line.

Gottschalk responded, saying the district’s use of state funds is restricted; saving money for the future isn’t an option. “We have a fund balance, but the problem is 80 percent of our budget goes to pay our staff,” Gottschalk said. She noted $250,000 is put into maintenance costs and buying a new bus each year. “We don’t have money to put in the bank for a rainy-day fund,” she said. “And that’s a really cruddy thing to say, but that’s just the cold, hard facts of it.”

She said the district also does not have the funds on hand to deal with a major malfunction to a vital piece of hardware.

“We’ve worked for two, long, hard years. And I am at the end of my fraying rope with this,” Gottschalk said. “Because I don’t know what we’re going to do when the boiler dies. We have a steam line that broke last week. It could have been underneath the building. Thank God it wasn’t.”

“We’ve got to do something. We cannot do nothing,” Gottschalk added.

Eduardo Blanc, the senior vice president for TMP Architecture which would be involved in building design, agreed with this sentiment noting that budget constraints by the state are something every district must deal with. He also said conditions in the current buildings will only get worse as time goes on.

“It doesn’t matter if it is today, March, May or 10 years from now,” Blanc said. “The buildings are going to continue to deteriorate.” He added that at some point building and fire codes would no longer support the current buildings.

Gottschalk then asked board members for their opinion on the matter. Secretary Ryan Ledlow wanted to hear more from the community and think about it some more. But he also noted that timing was important. “We’ve got to move forward,” Ledlow said.

Trustee Rachel Phelps agreed she felt community feedback is important. But she also said it made sense to go after the issue immediately. “March makes sense just because we do have the momentum,” Phelps said.

Around this time, Superintendent Rusty Stitt took a moment to inform the board that if they chose to go for March again, a decision had to be made at this meeting because the necessary paperwork would be due in Lansing the next day.

There were some discussions about not enough people being aware of an election in March. Trustee Wade Rutkoskie said that would be a non-factor because this time they’d make sure there were more volunteers spreading the word on it.

The idea of putting the issue on the ballot next August or November was discussed. But Gottschalk worried the issue would be lost in the shuffle with other proposals and the Presidential election. She also said they wouldn’t do an August vote because of low turnouts due to many residents being on vacation at that time of year.

Trustee Kathy Mastenbrook, who also serves on the village council, told the rest of the board the sewer project is moving at a snail’s pace and she doesn’t expect it would interfere with a March election as some citizens suggested in the forum. “We’re not going to have any more information by March,” Mastenbrook said.

She added that even if the issue were to pass in March, the district will still have to put money into current facilities to get them through the three years of new construction. “To think that we will not have to spend any money, I just want to be fully transparent here because I don’t think that’s real,” Mastenbrook said. “I think there’s a very good possibility we’re going to still have to spend money.”

There was some discussion on whether it was too soon to go for a bond issue again and the message it might send. Rutkoskie noted that Mattawan’s third attempt at a bond was successful. The board there chose to re-run the same bond issue after it failed the second time. He said they learned from those trustees that community support made the difference. “Literally the difference is feet on the street,” Rutkoskie said.

“I’m fully in favor of moving forward,” Rutkoskie said. He added he felt strongly about this after speaking more with the community. He also said he was not in favor of splitting off athletic updates as some had suggested in the community forum. “I heard from far more people that feel we’re not doing enough in athletics than I have heard from people who don’t think we’re doing enough,” Rutkoskie said.

The vote to place the issue on the March ballot was unanimous.

Common Bond Extended to Schoolcraft Elementary

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft Schools’ Common Bond program is expanding to include students in third and fourth grades. The first event to celebrate the expansion of Common Bond will take place on Wednesday, December 11. It will focus on some team bonding activities, learning about individual differences and enjoying the entertainment of local magician, Alan Kazam, putting on his “I Can Do It” show.

Led by teacher Amy Green, Common Bond has been an extracurricular club at Schoolcraft High School for over 21 years. The club provides various activities for students of all abilities. Students who attend Common Bond events are provided opportunities to increase relationships with peers, gain a better understanding and tolerance of others’ differences and form friendships. All Schoolcraft High School students are welcome to participate in Common Bond. By doing so they learn to respect and work with others who are different than themselves. “It is a life skill all of us take to the streets every day as adults. The club has been a positive culture builder for students at the high school,” said Green.

Several years ago, the program expanded to the middle school with the help of special education teachers Chris Kato, Aaron Beery, and Alyssa McCoy. Most recently, Christine Fenner has been busy planning this first elementary-grade Common Bond event.

Schoolcraft Schools is dedicated to promoting and accepting an inclusive environment for all students. Common Bond is an extension of building this culture, Green pointed out. Common Bond’s theme is, “Be A Superhero, Join Common Bond!”

Big Red Machine to Play at the Sugar Bowl

IMG_9991By Sue Moore

Vicksburg’s marching band, affectionately known as the “Big Red Machine,” will perform with eight other bands during halftime at the Sugar Bowl game in New Orleans on January 1. The top teams from the Big 12 and the SEC are scheduled to play in this game unless one or the other has been selected as a Top 4 in the college football playoffs.

Every two or three years, Band Director Ben Rosier likes to plan a trip out of state over the Christmas holidays, preferably to warmer weather. “These are the memories students take from high school as they are being “cultured” while experiencing life outside of Vicksburg,” Rosier said. “Only high-quality ensembles are asked to perform in these events. We will be stopping in Memphis on the way to New Orleans for our two jazz bands to perform at Alfred’s jazz club on Beale Street. Early Dawgs and Top Dawgs will play in one of the most famous places outside of New Orleans for jazz performances.

“We will perform with eight other bands for the halftime of the Sugar Bowl.  Those bands are from Georgia (2), North Carolina, Alabama, Texas (3), and Kansas. We have the music and color guard choreography to practice.  We have utilized the tutorial times at the high school to take advantage of group rehearsal times,” Rosier said. “We will also have a Natchez Dinner Cruise and attend a dance award ceremony for the participating bands where we will accept any awards from the competitions such as parade and field show.”

The half-time show will feature the women’s suffrage movement’s decades-long fight to win the right to vote for women in the United States. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy. The halftime finale honors this 100-year anniversary and all those that worked so hard to make it happen. This select group of young musicians and dancers from across the United States will perform two iconic female superstars’ great hit songs highlighting the Women’s Suffrage 100th Celebration: Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off!”

Nearly 130 students out of 180 in the band will make the trip by motor coach over December 28 through January 2. They have raised the money themselves to make the trip along with the parent chaperones who will accompany them.

“We will do a community service project through Hands On New Orleans, which will be a great afternoon of revamping a park that has remained ‘dormant’ since the likes of Hurricane Katrina,” Rosier said. “When we went in 2010 the students talked about the community service project more than anything else and I’m excited to do that with them again.”

Vicksburg School Board Talks Tobey Elementary Plans

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg School Board meetings rotate among each of its five buildings during the school year. This gives administrators a chance to highlight activities taking place in their buildings. In November, it was Tobey Elementary’s turn. The school is headed by Principal Mike Barwegen who loves to emphasize “the Tobey Way” in his report.

“We are working on becoming a National School of Character,” he told the board. “We emphasize character traits such as patience, integrity, honesty, having a safe and caring environment with a focus on kindness.” The school received a grant from the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation to purchase a tower garden planter to demonstrate how food grows from seed to table. Two students were present to give a demonstration about the garden and its new plants that are just sprouting.

In other business, Food Service Director Sarah Dyer has instituted some new and helpful ways to make sure students do not go hungry and can learn more easily on a full stomach. She has instituted “grab and go” salad options at the high school similar to those she started at the middle school last year. For breakfast, kids can take their grab bag into class or eat in the cafeteria. A new slushie machine has been installed in the high school that dispenses 100 percent fruit juice that she said the kids really love.

Auditors from Plante & Moran were at the meeting to praise the financial position of the school system and in particular Assistant Supt. Steve Goss’ department for a clean audit for the last two years the firm has been retained. “You showed an increase in the fund balance at 10.5 percent of total spending,” an auditor said. “The state average is 13.9 percent. We would encourage you to aim for 15 percent but know it isn’t going to happen right away. Enrollment has held steady and that is a good thing.”

SVSU Picks Educators for Gerstacker Leadership Program

teacher of the year 2
Laura Chang.

A new group of 11 K-12 education leaders committed to professional growth will join the Saginaw Valley State University Gerstacker Fellowship program in 2020. Among them is Vicksburg’s Laura Chang, who was selected as Michigan’s teacher of the Year in 2018-2019.

As part of the initiative, the teachers, principals, and program administrators from across Michigan will receive concentrated leadership training over a one-year period. The experience will include a trip to Japan in June.

This trip will send participants to educational institutions, where participants learn about international educational systems and corporate settings. There, they discover how leadership plays out in different cultural and economic settings.

The program was established in 2005 with a $1.5 million endowment from the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation of Midland. Participants are known as Gerstacker Fellows. They meet monthly on weekends.

Experts in the field instruct the group on subjects such as organizational leadership, ethics, finances, communication, human resources, entrepreneurship and education with a global perspective.

Travel costs to and from Saginaw for Chang are funded by a grant from the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation’s Bardeen Teacher Incentive program.

Vicksburg High School Food Drive for SCCS a Success

First hour Computerized Manufacturing food drive
Pictured from left to right: Seth Crabtree, Luke Becker, Tristin Decker, teacher Lorrie Jancarz, Noah Haines, Jacob VanderBor, teacher Greg Mills, Collin Crandall and Benjamin Welch.

The totals are in. The week of November 18, was a very busy and productive week for the Computerized Manufacturing class at Vicksburg High School. Instructor Greg Mills’ students in the class were diligently bringing in many food and personal care items for the annual food drive for South County Community Services (SCCS). The National Honor Society sponsored the drive with hundreds of items collected.

The students answered the call for donations and brought in so many items that they took first place school wide. It was a head-to-head competition with other classes throughout the week. These students realized that there are many families that need assistance with food and personal care products. The students stepped up to the plate to make this food drive a success, according to Mills.

“We are very proud of this class for their generosity,” Mills said.