Category Archives: Schools

Schoolcraft School Board OKs Facilities Assessment Team

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft school board approved the hiring of Kalamazoo architectural firm C2AE and Christman Construction to conduct a facilities assessment of the district’s grounds and buildings at a cost of $25,000.

“Looking at the proposal, what stood apart from others was this collaborative process,” Superintendent Rusty Sitt said. “They feel as if we need to involve the community right away.”

Community involvement will mean establishing a facilities assessment committee with community members, school staff, district administration and school board members. They also plan to have informative meetings for the public to learn more about the assessment and to give feedback. The first is scheduled November 30.

Stitt said the district is not currently planning a bond or project, but is gathering information at this point. The assessment itself will take 4-5 days and will happen in December. A report will be presented to the committee and community in January 2018.

Recommendations for repairs or improvements from the report won’t be presented to the school board until April 2018. Even though Stitt said nothing is planned at this moment, C2AE and Christman’s plan includes finding potential funding sources and potential bond planning, something that was noted by the trustees.

“I appreciated that it was very comprehensive,” Trustee Jill Hunt said.

Secretary Jennifer Gottschalk also said she appreciated how C2AE and Christman’s proposal walked them through every step of the process. “It’s a brand-new, fresh set of eyes on our buildings,” Gottschalk said. “We need a fresh perspective.”

The board also highlighted parts of the Michigan Association of School Board’s annual leadership conference. President Darby Fetzer gave a presentation on leadership at the conference. She said she took at least 10 pages of notes on other presentations she attended on topics from technology to fostering critical thinking skills in students.
Stitt and trustee Michael Rochholz were also at the conference where they gave a presentation on school growth and development in a rural district like Schoolcraft.

In the meeting’s closing comments, Rochholz brought up his concerns with Senate Bills 584-586, which were recently approved by the Senate and will move on the House. If approved, people with additional firearms training and a concealed carry permit could carry a concealed firearm into Michigan schools.

He urged everyone to contact State Sen. Margaret O’Brien, who voted in favor of the bills, to express their concerns.

Schoolcraft Community Schools Holiday Dinner

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The Schoolcraft School Board invited anyone from the community over 65 to a dinner in the High School cafeteria in 2016. They felt it was a good way to communicate with seniors about the direction of the school according to Darby Fetzer, the board president.

Schoolcraft residents 65 years and older are invited for a holiday dinner and program at the High School on Thursday, December 14 from 1:30 -3:00 pm. The menu includes: Brenda Lynn’s famous hot chicken salad, broccoli, tossed salad, roll, apple crisp, coffee and tea. The program will feature the Schoolcraft High School Choir and school district updates along with a Q&A session. Attendees are requested to RSVP by Thursday, December 7th to secure a seat by calling Darby Fetzer at 269-569-5557.

New Information System Coming to Vicksburg

By Linda Lane

A new information system, called Skyward, will be implemented in the Vicksburg Schools to replace the Infinite Campus system and a variety of other financial and human resources management systems currently in use. Steve Goss, assistant superintendent. explained the system package at the November school board meeting.

With the old systems running in tandem for six months to streamline the conversion, the new system allows the District to integrate between the student, human resources, and financial management systems, and eliminate the old standalone systems. The six months of overlap in licensing costs during the implementation period will total approximately $19,000. The functionality of Infinite Campus for parents, such as accessing students’ information on attendance, assignments or grades on phones or tablets, will hopefully be an enhanced experience with Skyward.
The Skyward system will cost approximately $115,000 which will be split into installments over three years, but will have a four-year pay-back in savings from the current systems. Although there will be increased costs associated with the new system, Skyward will ultimately reduce the District’s costs by 30 percent for each subsequent year, saving approximately $30,000 annually to the budget. This will result in a significant long-term savings for the District, Goss emphasized.
“The cost savings is really a bonus, because honestly I think we would implement this new system even if it were a break-even to the District because of the enhancements Skyward offers. It’s going to enhance the experience for parents, teachers and all the staff,” Goss said.

“We’ll devote a lot of time to training all the staff,” Goss explained. “We need to bite the bullet with this new system to better meet the District’s needs.”

Schoolcraft School Board Enacts Facilities Assessment

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft school board unanimously voted to approve a request for proposals to conduct a facility assessment of Schoolcraft’s existing school buildings and facilities.

The request seeks services of an architectural and engineering firm and construction management firm to assess all facilities and grounds and give a detailed analysis report. The idea is to use the report to plan for repairs, maintenance and a potential renewal of facilities.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re doing a project,” Superintendent Rusty Stitt said. “I just want to know the fees up front for a $10-20 million project.” Stitt said he wished he’d known those fees when he worked on a big project in his previous job.

The assessment will document and grade facility conditions looking at everything from security, safety and HVAC to traffic flow and environmental concerns. It would also identify potential areas of cost savings and useful life expectancy for existing facilities.

Recommendations for improvements would also be given based on priority of need. Highest priority issues would be ones to be completed within one year, while lowest would be 11 to 15 years.

The trustees decided to take a conservative approach with the assessment by including language that doesn’t obligate the district to actually do a project with the chosen architect and construction management firm.

Trustee Jill Hunt also expressed concern that a firm could change their fees if a project were to be more clearly defined. “I’ve seen the games they like to play. I think there’s some risk there,” Hunt said.

Stitt echoed this concern, saying a firm could lowball on an assessment and come back with a higher price on the actual project. Hunt suggested the interview process should include asking a firm whether it is willing to commit to the fees suggested by an assessment.

The district is looking for applicants that have done a minimum of at least three similar assessments for other K-12 schools. They are also asked to provide references and past performances on school building projects.

Interested architects and construction firms have until October 30 to submit proposals to the district. Administrators will begin going over the proposals the same day with plans to shortlist and notify firms for interviews by the next day. Interviews will be done on November 6, with a partnership chosen on November 7.

Craft Show Fundraiser

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The biggest craft show in Vicksburg takes place at Sunset Elementary school on Saturday, November 18.

For years, Michelle Morgan has been heading up the craft show that raises money for Project Graduation even though she didn’t have a senior student going on the trip. This year her son, Ryan, is in the class of 2018 and will benefit from a destination unknown to graduates until they board the buses in the high school parking lot on June 3, right after the ceremonies.

Morgan is super-organized, said Marian Steffen, who headed up the trip for the class of 2017. “It’s the most successful fundraiser of the many the parents and students put on to help pay for the trip. The event rewards the students for the years of effort culminating in graduation,” Steffen said.

Saturday, November 18, marks the 24th Annual Vicksburg Project Graduation Craft Show at Sunset Lake Elementary school. Included are over 75 craft vendors, a raffle, bake sale and face painting. Customers can browse the booths for Christmas decorations as well as gift ideas from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It features local crafters and even attracts many from out-of-town because of the vendors that Morgan recruits each year.

A Wacky Version of Shakespeare at Vicksburg High School

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From left to right: Director Melissa Sparks, Jacob Henderson, Jess Schmidt (in black wig), Samantha Carr, Emily Towns, Lindsay Fleck, Marisa Miller, Levi Shephard, Alex Smith.

By Sue Moore

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) will be presented by Vicksburg High School drama students Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18 at 7 p. m. and Sunday, November 19, at 2 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center (PAC).

All 37 plays in 97 minutes? Really?

It’s an irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s plays, according to Director Melissa Sparks. The compilation was London’s longest-running comedy, having clocked nine years in London’s West End. The Vicksburg high school cast weaves its way through all of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies in a wild ride that will leave the audience breathless and helpless with laughter, according to Sparks.

Shakespeare plays were a passion for Director Melissa Sparks when she was growing up. “I used to assign my teddy bears and dolls with names from his plays and line them up in my bedroom to perform with me. We lived on the east side of the state and summered in a cottage on Howard Lake where I had a book of Shakespeare plays which I loved to read to while away my days,” she said.

“I chose this wacky, wild and funny play because we like the madcap nature of it. We have a lot of fun with doing improv which is a new experience for many of those in the cast of 10. Additional students have been added to do their own sketches before the curtain opens, so we advise the audience to come early and enjoy the nuances of Shakespeare,” Sparks pointed out.

The cast includes Lindsay Fleck, Emily Towns, Jess Schmidt, Levi Shephard, Alex Smith, Sydney Andres, Jacob Henderson, Samantha Carr, Marisa Miller and Autumn Rose. Helping behind the scenes are Zach Russell as stage manager, Leslie Baird and Stephanie Slaughter as his assistants. Lauren Burke and Autumn Johnson are assistant directors. “I like to put them to work as staff members so they get the real-life experience. This is a play by the students and for the students. They get to help block scenes and all the rest that goes into a quality stage production,” Sparks said.

Tickets for this event are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for students (18 and under), and $30 for families of five or more. Reservations can be made by visiting vicksburgcommunityschools.org/pac or by calling the Vicksburg PAC ticket office at 321-1193 beginning November 12.

Non-Homestead Millage Renewal on November 7 Ballot

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg School District voters will go to the polls Nov. 7 to decide a single ballot issue: renewal of a tax on non-homestead property, a levy of $18 per $1,000 taxable value for five years. Rejection would cost the district $1.8 million in state funding.

The tax is levied on commercial and industrial property, multiple-family residential buildings and vacation and second homes.

School Supt. Charles Glaes explained, “All operation funding for schools has come from the state since 1994. However, the state will not give a district the full allowance for each student if we do not levy this millage. If the millage were to fail, we would lose approximately 1.8 million dollars in funding from the state, with no way to make up for it. That works out to about seven percent of our operating budget each year.”

Glaes emphasized that the millage has been in effect since 1994; no new taxes are being levied. He also emphasized that the levy does not affect the taxes on a resident’s main home.

In other business, the school board heard a report from Steve Fryling, the district’s communications specialist, about the crisis management system he has helped to install in the school buildings. The Crisis Go application is moving to cell phones with any staff member enabled to push a panic button which goes to an administrator with a check list. It will have a map of the buildings with prescribed tornado and fire escape routes. The office staff has the function in place now along with the school resource officer.

Don Puckett, director of technology, reported that doors to each of the district’s five school buildings are locked and have an entry buzzer system in place.

The student count for 2017-18 was pegged at 2,644, down 21 students from last year but up 11 from the estimate used for budget projections.

There are 538 students at Sunset Lake Elementary where the board meeting was held. Principal Amie McCaw presented progress in the “Leader in Me” journey which Sunset teachers and students embarked upon in 2016-17 school year. The mission of being “lifelong learners and lifelong leaders,” was based on the teaching of educator Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Trustee Dave Schriemer noted that families “need to understand what we are trying to do, how we want to engage parents in learning and how we can improve in this area.

“We want to concentrate on critical thinking and be more data-focused. We want our standards to be clear on what we want students to learn. It’s fantastic to see the kids take ownership of their education. I was impressed upon visiting last spring when the kids did all of their own presentations. It will be interesting to see how this progresses to the middle school as these students advance.”