Category Archives: Schools

Stadium Options a Separate Issue

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft’s Facilities Planning Committee included construction of new tennis courts in the two major options for new school buildings. But the committee also presented three options for the district’s aging athletic facilities.

School board secretary Jennifer Gottschalk made it clear these options were a separate issue from the two options they presented for new elementary and middle school facilities.

The most expensive of the three is a new stadium which comes with an estimated cost of $7 to $7.5 million.

The other two options are for renovating the stadium and adding a new track. The cheapest option at $4-4.5 million would be to renovate and build a new 6-lane track. The other option at $5-5.5 million is to renovate and build a new 8-lane track.

Eight lanes is now a more standard size and would allow the school to get through track events more quickly. An 8-lane track would also allow Schoolcraft the possibility of hosting a regional event, something that can’t be done on a 6-lane track.

One option on the stadium is to simply do nothing with it as far as a new bond issue is concerned. At least one attendee at the meeting wanted the focus to be purely on education. Gottschalk said she feels the same. “We may have to go out and fundraise to fix our track,” she said.

Schoolcraft Students and Staff Train for School Shootings

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Tracey Branch one of the English Language Arts teachers in Schoolcraft shows students how to barricade a classroom door against an active shooter possibility.

By Schoolcraft 11th grade English Language Arts students Dalton Adams, Kaitlyn Parker, Savannah McDonald, Dawson Shearer, Bowen Steen, Josh Stokes

In August, teachers at Schoolcraft Community Schools began training for a new school shooter protocol called ALICE, an anticipated improvement to their previous lockdown procedure. The intense two-hour training introduced teachers to five options should they ever face a shooter in their school building.

ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate – the five options staff and students could use in order to stay safe from a potential intruder. While not a set of steps to be followed in a prescribed order, the ALICE acronym does provide staff and students with an easy way to remember their different options in a rapidly developing, stressful situation. “It allows us to use our own judgement and put our kids’ safety first,” said Schoolcraft Elementary teacher Amy Desmond.

Prior to the start of the school year, members of the Portage Police Department visited each building and trained the staff, putting them in realistic situations so they could compare the old lockdown strategy with the new ALICE training.

To make the training realistic, police fired real guns loaded with foam bullets while school staff – outfitted in long pants, tennis shoes, and safety glasses – responded with the appropriate ALICE option according to each situation. Alert and Inform options include verbal notification or the use of technology such as cell phones or the school’s PA system to keep people informed. Lockdown involves barricading doors with desks, chairs, and tables to prevent or delay a shooter’s access, possibly allowing for the Evacuate option, if it’s safe. Counter, the most frightening option, calls for quick action as students and teachers throw objects like books, laptops, or staplers at a nearby shooter to disorient him, inhibit his accuracy, buy time to escape, or possibly subdue him to secure the weapon.

“It was frighteningly realistic but empowering because we were given tools that not only will help save our own lives but could help save the lives of many of our students,” said Middle School secretary Shannon McDonald.

“Being shot at by real guns, although they were loaded with foam rounds, was sobering and unsettling,” said high school English teacher Doug Martin. “No one laughed. No one giggled. Huddling under a table with another teacher while hearing those rounds approach your classroom and hiding spot was terrifying.”

Training for high school staff differed from training of elementary staff, due to the age of the students. High school teachers were trained to work directly with students to help barricade classroom doors and throw things at a shooter; elementary staff members were trained to barricade the door themselves while small children help their teacher by supplying objects to distract an intruder and disorient him once inside a classroom. Elementary principal Matt Webster visited each classroom and read a book to young students called I’m Not Scared… I’m Prepared! by Julia Cook. The book allowed elementary staff to teach the children what to do in such a situation without scaring them.

Many students in the district agree the new procedure seems to make more sense than the previous lockdown-only procedure. It allows people to follow natural instincts in a “fight or flight” situation. Schoolcraft junior Carter Griffioen said, “It is a lot better because rather than sitting in a corner like ducks, we are actually able to do something about it.”

The ALICE training procedure has been adopted by several schools to improve the former “shut the door and hide” lockdown procedure. More trainings and drills are scheduled for Schoolcraft staff and students to practice together later this year.

Schoolcraft Facilities Committee Narrows Choices to 3

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Community Schools Facilities Study Committee has narrowed down its options on how to address the district’s aging elementary and middle schools.

The committee has been meeting and working with Christman Construction and architect C2AE for over a year to narrow the number of options for the buildings from eight to three.

Each would call for a bond issue.

Option A is building a new building, approximately 88,000 square feet, housing preschool through sixth grade building on property next to the high school. This option would also add a seventh and eighth grade wing and middle school gym at the existing high school. The cost of this project is estimated at $36-38 million.

Option B would be a $39-41 million 117,000 square foot building to house preschool through eighth grade.

If the district chooses to go with either of these new building options, the existing buildings will be demolished. Their sites will be returned to grass. The costs of demolition are figured into both of those estimates. After demolition the district could either keep or sell the land.

If the district chooses the higher cost, the committee estimates a millage increase of 3.5 mills, $3.50 per $1,000 taxable valuation. The current millage is around 4 mills and has been steadily declining since 2010. With the increase, the levy for a home with a market value of $100,000 and taxable valuation of $50,000 would increase about $175 a year.

The committee also included what it calls a “baseline option” for simple additions and remodels to the existing elementary and middle school buildings. This option is the cheapest, coming in at a cost of $32-34 million. The baseline would just address the mechanical, electrical and handicap accessibility issues of the buildings.

“That’s a lot of money just to fix things,” School Board Secretary Jennifer Gottschalk said.

Brian Crissman of Christman construction agreed, saying the baseline didn’t even address issues like classroom size. “The problem with the renovations is it doesn’t solve all the problems,” Crissman said. “You still have a 50-year-old and 60-year-old building.”

At the school board’s regular meeting the following week, Gottschalk said the study committee would not support the baseline option at all because of the issues it would leave unaddressed. The baseline was included to show how new facilities could be provided for slightly more money.

A telephone survey will be conducted in November to further gain insight into what the community will support. The plan is to consider placing a bond issue on the May ballot, although Gottschalk said it might be put it off until August or November 2019.

“We’re not going to rush,” she said. “If we don’t get it right this first time, we’re toast.”

Common Bond Enjoys Success in Schoolcraft Schools

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Pictured here are from left to right: Brendan Stoddard, Brady Flynn, Karson Leighton, Carter Graber, Logan Rinderspacher, Trey Schneider and Ryan Engle.

By Sue Moore

A huge gathering of students in support of those with disabilities celebrated the 20th year of the Common Bond organization in October. They were served pizza and drinks, played on a bouncy house, met with an artist doing drawings of kids’ faces as fast as she could, and took turns on a bull riding machine.

Common Bond is a club for Schoolcraft students which brings together students with disabilities and those who will mentor them during their years in middle school and high school. It is led by special education instructor Amy Green, a dedicated teacher of 31 years in Schoolcraft.

Coaches of the football, volleyball and cross-country teams delayed practice so all of their athletes could come to support Common Bond. The crowd of students swelled to at least 100 during the after-school party.

The mannequin in the picture, named Eugene Green, has become Common Bond’s mascot. He has become a symbol in the high school building to represent all of the clubs and activities. What started as a place for Common Bond announcements has evolved into a school mascot that has every school club shirt, athletic jersey, and marching band uniform. Eugene has shown up at school events and even the prom. He’s a fun icon that sports tons of outfits, wigs, hats and fun costumes. Amy Green is in charge of dressing the mannequin for each special occasion.

Vicksburg High Presents “The Heart of Robin Hood”

Senior Jacob Henderson, portraying Robin Hood, is on the left. Linsday Fleck, a junior, at right, plays Marion in “The Heart of Robin Hood.”

By Sue Moore

“The heart of the Robin Hood legend is a tale reminding us to look out for the weakest, stand up for injustice and to strive to be the best versions of ourselves,” according to director Melissa Sparks. The play “The Heart of Robin Hood” will take the stage at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18.

David Farr’s The Heart of Robin Hood was developed in 2011 for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It contains many Shakespearean devices, including the heroine dressed as a boy to assimilate with the merry men. But it still feels current and contemporary in the writing and style. “I always love giving our high school students some important messages, challenging texts and some new skills,” Sparks said about choosing the play.

In this production, every student has learned both armed and unarmed stage combat for the show. Not only are there many swashbuckling scenes, there are also these great acting moments where the characters are honest, authentic and show humor, sadness, anger and, of course, love. Sparks said, “we are also creating some live music for the performance, played mostly by the ‘clown’ character and Marion’s sidekick, Pierre. Pierre is played by senior Graham Donelson.”

This is a fun, modern take on the Robin Hood tale full of sword fights, romance, comedy and fun. While there are some dark moments in this play, there is also great fun. “When it was performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company, they encouraged it for audiences aged nine and up because of the violence in the play. I would encourage the same,” she said.

In the spirit of Robin Hood, the players are collecting items for Generous Hands, Inc which provides Friday backpacks of food to Vicksburg school children in need. Every donation will receive a raffle ticket to win one of the prizes in the raffle. They are looking for donations of: jars of peanut butter (18 oz.); applesauce cups; mac ‘n cheese; granola bars; fruit cups; bottles of water; oatmeal packets; canned tuna and chicken; toothpaste (4 or 6 oz.); and cans of soup.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 students, and $2 more the day of the event. Call 269-321-1193 or visit

Literacy Grant at Sunset Elementary

By Sue Moore

Sunset Lake Elementary school got its chance to shine when the Vicksburg School Board held its monthly meeting there. Principal Amie McCaw headed up presenters with a big thank you to her PTSO officers, school resource officer Derek Guthrie and the teachers in her building.

“Literacy on fire” is the way she characterized the goal of a three-year High Impact Leadership grant the school received in the 2017-18 school year from Western Michigan University.

Sustaining literacy connects the building’s library with the classroom, the summer reading program and the parents, she said.

The culture in the school, the leadership, the academic team and the behavior strategies were all discussed in the presentation to the board.

Alyssa Thompson, community education director, revisited the over 20 percent growth in Kids Club last year. “This is a phenomenal program,” Steve Goss proclaimed as he has two youngsters enrolled. “My son Zachery asked if he could stay another hour past his pickup time just yesterday.”

Goss, who serves as assistant superintendent for finance, reported that the district enrollment count of 2,663 students was preliminary but is about 40 above the budgeted count. “Our small predicted shortfall for this school year of $43,000 will come close to being erased with the state’s per-pupil payment expected in October.”

Christmas Gifts and Décor Take Over Big Craft Show

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Vendors array their products in the Sunset Lake Elementary cafeteria for the 2017 craft show.

The biggest-ever craft show in the Vicksburg area is set for Saturday, Nov. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sunset Lake School. It’s devoted largely to Christmas crafts with over 80 vendors lining the halls of the elementary school and spilling over into the gym and cafeteria area.

“The success of this craft show is vital to the high school graduating senior class, which coordinates it to raise funds for Project Graduation/Grad Bash,” said Mindy Reno, manager of the craft show. This will be the 25th annual show that was organized for many years by Michelle Morgan. It is the largest fundraiser of the year for sending high school seniors for a night on the town following graduation on June 2. “We are trying to make it be most successful yet,” Reno said.

The admission is free along with the parking. Concessions are available and a bake sale will also be underway to raise money. The all-night bus trip takes the 200 plus graduates to an undisclosed destination where they can hang out, listen to music, eat good food and return home in the wee hours of the morning, Reno said. “It’s always a surprise location and activity. The kids have to earn points throughout the year to help fund the trip. Much of the rest is raised by parents and family friends to make sure they stay safe on graduation day,” she said.