Category Archives: Schools

Vicksburg School Board Deliberates on the Budget

vix retirees can you fix this for me
Vicksburg school retirees that were honored for their years of service to the school district include: Bottom Row L to R: Joni Nichols, Sue Haines, Mary Kilpatrick, Steve Fryling. Second row from left: Charlie Glaes, Mary Hess-Quinones, Karen Hill, Elizabeth Craig. Third row: Jim Cagney, Lucia Dalla, Martie Ritter, Nanette Sperry, Henry VanTuyl. Not pictured: Linda Thompkins, Deb Homan.

By Sue Moore

After honoring the district’s 15 retirees, the Vicksburg School Board settled in to hear the annual budget review from Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss for the fiscal 2018-19 school year.

His assumptions for the $27.4 million overall budget showed a student enrollment of 2,542, seven down from the current year. The Pathways program show a decreased enrollment projection of 14 students, down from the 80 this year. All of the numbers presented were predicated on state per-pupil funding of $7,861. That’s up 3 percent, he told the board, a $230-per-pupil increase.

Salary and benefit costs were estimated at $21.1 million and $4.76 million for non-compensation expenses. Thus, he predicted a $56,000 shortfall from a balanced budget.

This did not worry Goss, saying the overall picture was essentially a balanced budget, given some unknowns that are still to be factored in.. Goss noted that one of the state budget proposals under consideration called for an increase of $240 per pupil compared to the $230 increased used in the preliminary budget. If the $240 increase is factored into the final budget, it would generate approximately $26,000 of additional revenue, which would not significantly change the budget.

Goss explained the allocation of functional expenditures, and in reference to the $9.24 million allocated for support services, Goss reminded the Board and audience that, “school districts are complex systems, and every function is interdependent with the others. Each plays a vital role in the success of students.”Trustee David Schriemer was hoping the Federal government might come through with funding for school safety efforts that are needed in many schools across the country. “There is no cavalry coming over the hill,” Superintendent Charlie Glaes exclaimed. “We had two grants in 2004-05 for cameras and initial funding for a school resource officer but that’s the extent of it.”

Goss went on to explain that in 2020, the bonds to build the auditorium and new gym will be paid off. “It is our hope to incorporate more funding for security systems in a future request to the public along with other upgrades.”“Our most recent bond issue of 2014 that we divided into three segments was sold successfully for the remaining one on May 31. The work is already rolling ahead on the $4.3 million from this issue and should be completed in the 2018-19 school year,” Goss remarked.

Evelyn Brockway Honored for Commitment to Athletics

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Evelyn Brockway is shown at the bingo hall in Kalamazoo.

For 47 years, Evelyn Brockway has been hosting bingo nights in Vicksburg and Kalamazoo to raise money for Vicksburg High School athletics. The most recent estimate? More than $1.5 million for the school’s athletes.

The Vicksburg Athletic Boosters held a retirement party for Brockway June 4 in the high school cafeteria. Several current and past coaches stopped by to express their gratitude for her 47 years in running the bingo, the primary fund raiser for the Vicksburg Athletic Boosters.

She was also honored at the beginning of the spring sports awards banquet by Booster President Josh Baird, who showed a video that included current and past athletes and grateful community members thanking Evelyn for her lifelong commitment to the children in the community.

Evelyn, 79, was joined on stage by her daughter, Carla Brockway, 44, and granddaughter Katrina Holmes, 31. Evelyn and Carla will take a smaller role in running the bingo operations and Katrina has agreed to accept the primary responsibility in running it for the Boosters.

In 1991, when Evelyn was inducted in the Vicksburg Athletic Hall of Fame, an article on the front page of the Commercial-Express indicated she had already raised $500,000, a third of the current estimate.

During a dedication ceremony two years ago while naming the softball complex after her, Superintendent Charles Glaes said, “Through Evelyn’s and others working with her over these past 45-plus years, the current generation of children do not have to pay to participate in sports, but neither will their children or their children’s children.”

Board Approves Hiring of New PE Teacher and Coach

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft School Board made the hiring of new physical education teacher and football coach Nathan Ferency official at its June meeting.

High School Principal Ric Seager said they look for employees based on values. It quickly became obvious Ferency was their man. “When we went through that process, Nathan just stood out,” Seager said. “As soon as he stepped out of the room, the teachers on the panel said ‘This guy will fit right in here.’”

Ferency brings a host of coaching experience in a number of sports from Shepherd, near Mt. Pleasant. “I feel it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of your district and your community,” Ferency said.

The board also approved moving to a trimester schedule for the elementary and middle schools. The move means the schools will have three equal trimesters of around 60 days each. The first will run from Sept. 4 to Nov. 29, the second from Dec. 3 to March 14 and the third from March 18-June 13.

The change isn’t a huge one, even for teachers and staff. But elementary principal Matt Webster said it does allow for better alignment across the district, especially with professional development dates and card marking since the board approved an “unbalanced calendar” for the high school back in February.

Board President Darby Fetzer said the move just made common sense. “I love the flexibility of this district,” Fetzer said.

Laura Chang Selected Michigan Teacher of the Year

By Sue Moore

“Humble” is often used to describe Laura Chang, second grade teacher at Sunset Lake Elementary school. After the state of Michigan sent representatives to present her with the Michigan Teacher of the Year award, she seemed blown away by the accolades.

“No one deserves it more,” said Pat Moreno, her former principal at the school. “She was born to teach. She taught me so much during our years together that I have been able to share with other young teachers coming into the school district.”

“She just has a way about her,” said Shannon Richards, whose child was in her classroom several years ago. “She’s special. The kids feel very safe around her. She has their respect, she is kind and soft-spoken. She cares about the kids and their families too. We are like her extended family.”

There are thousands of great teachers in the state of Michigan. How did Laura Chang get singled out? This award has been given to a teacher in Michigan since 1952. That person is nominated to represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year recognition.

Sunset Lake Principal Amie McCaw decided it was time to nominate Chang because of the impact she has had beyond the classroom door. “She serves others through her leadership on teams for Sunset Lake, Sunset PTSO, Vicksburg Community Schools, Western Michigan University and also at the state level for the Michigan Department of Education. Laura is a visionary in education and she serves others, all with such grace.”

There were 850 nominees statewide. A committee of educators narrowed the list down to 10 finalists, one from each region in the state. Chang was selected from the southwest area. All 10 were interviewed in Lansing in a round of presentations and a Q & A session.

Chang also prepared a video that described her philosophy of teaching. “Her enthusiasm, energy, her words kind of wrapped around us,” said Pamela Harlin, director of the MEEMIC Foundation, who was on the selection committee.

Sheila Alles, interim superintendent of education for the state, came to Sunset Lake school on May 18 to announce to the students and faculty that Chang had won the award.

“Chang was inspired by her dad, who was a teacher. She cares deeply about her students that they reach their highest potential. She is admired by her colleagues. Now she will be on a trajectory for a whole year of talking to legislators in Lansing and in Congress. She will sit in on state board of education meetings where she will be asked for her advice on the many education issues that come before the board.”

Chang, a WMU graduate, has been teaching in Vicksburg for 18 years. “I feel so supported here,” she said. “It’s a team. We are sharing students more across the whole spectrum of learning. Our building has nearly doubled in size since I started here. It’s alive, thriving, exciting and fast-paced. It’s a thrill that so many families want to move to Vicksburg.”

The Chang family lives near Tobey Elementary school with their children, Cassie, 12, and Andrew, 8, both involved in school activities. Her husband is in technology with a company in Kalamazoo. Besides volunteering in both children’s activities, Chang teaches at WMU online and on campus in the literacy studies department.

She credits the parents of the children in her classroom. “They are amazing and supportive on field trips, volunteering to read and taking part in math activities. If families want to volunteer but are unable to come during the school day, I often send work for them to complete at home. When parents are engaged, then students are engaged.”

There are three main teaching fundamentals Chang uses and actually carries around on her phone if a reminder is needed: 1. Kind, contributing members of a community 2. Passionate for learning throughout their lives 3. Empowered to stand up for one another.

“What children learn here will have an impact all their life. Learning is never done. I want the kids to be curious. These take practice every day.”

Chang said, “I’m just an ordinary second grade teacher and happy to represent the voice of our region elsewhere. It’s important to look at the whole child’s needs. We are not just making sprockets here!”

Keevin O’Neill Named Vicksburg School Superintendent

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Keevin O’Neill with his wife Lisa at the school board meeting when he was announced as the new superintendent of Vicksburg Community Schools.

By Sue Moore

The interview room was crackling with anticipation as the Vicksburg School Board convened in May to question its internal candidate for school superintendent, Keevin O’Neill, to replace outgoing Supt. Charlie Glaes.

Over the last 65 years the board has gone outside the school district only twice to select a superintendent. Board members aspired to select from within the district, according to Skip Knowles, board president. This year was no exception; trustees have had their eye on O’Neill, the high school principal, for eight years as the preferred candidate.

Knowles told O’Neill, “We are looking for a long-term relationship with our superintendent. We want that person to be the voice for education in the community.”

O’Neill did not disappoint. He read from a prepared statement and then took questions from board members, handling each with humor and directness, Knowles observed. At the end of the Q & A, the vote came down with lightning speed, 7-0 to promote from within.

O’Neill came to Vicksburg 17 years ago as assistant principal. “My next step in growing as a leader has been to become a superintendent,” he told the board. “I’m prepared to do so as I’ve learned from some of the best leaders in the state by attending the Michigan Association of School Administrators Leadership Institute and Navigate Leadership Program the last three years.”

When questioned about his strengths and weaknesses, O’Neill responded that he is a hard worker, always on time, and a strong communicator. “I think I’m real and relate well to others. My weakness may be in that I want to be perfect and yet I’m a risk taker. I want to be out in front of everything.”

O’Neill was asked what his priorities would be if the school was handed two million dollars as a one-time gift. “I would put the money in people. Invest and build your people. It’s what makes a school district great. If the people feel valued they will perform well.

“We have talented thinkers, writers and readers. I would embed rigor into programs we have while focusing on raising the bar. I would put everything on the table including summer education. There is a burn out factor if classes go year-round. Kids get tired so we would have to evaluate each program and ask ourselves are we getting the product we want? It’s about evaluation: See what’s working here and elsewhere and then decide [direction].”

“Career and technical training are in a monster paradigm shift. Seven out of 10 jobs are in technical fields that don’t require a four-year college degree these days. How do we have these conversations with parents? It comes down to what’s best for kids in the end,” O’Neill said.

“The Vicksburg community is a supportive family that doesn’t get in the way of achievement. We have a talented staff with awesome teachers. This is my home and I want our education system to be the very best,” he said. “I’m a life-long learner but learning is about failing along the way. I’m ready for this opportunity and hope to continue to grow what we have that is so positive.”

Adam Brush Promoted to Principal

The Brush family from left to right: Reese (11), his wife Jen, Preston (10), Adam, Paige (7).

The Vicksburg Board of Education has promoted Adam Brush to high school principal. He has served as assistant principal for the last eight years, working closely with Keevin O’Neill, who will take over as superintendent on July 1.

“He is familiar with the building culture and the team throughout the school,” Superintendent Charlie Glaes announced. Brush’s wife, Jen, is the computer technician in the middle school. The couple have two sons and a daughter named Reese, Preston, and Paige.

Program Offers Local Students a Free College Degree

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VHS student Casey Grace organizes equipment for an experiment in his KVCC physics class.

Steve Fryling, Vicksburg Schools Communications Director

What if there was an option in high school where you attend classes for an extra year, but in return graduate with a two-year college degree that was free of charge? That day is here for students at Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and other county high schools in the Early Middle College program, known as EMC. As two of only 137 schools statewide that provide this pathway, these schools are providing students yet another way to earn a college degree without charge to their families. The degree can provide immediate access to a career or as a way to a four-year school to complete a bachelor degree.

Since these students must also meet the requirements for their Michigan High School Diploma, they start in their freshman year by taking as many high school requirements as possible. In the next several years they begin taking college level classes in their chosen area by either attending KVCC, attending classes taught at the high school by instructors brought in by KVCC or by current high school staff certified by KVCC to teach college level classes locally during certain parts of the day. Transportation is offered to KVCC. Due to the specialized nature of many of the classes, a vast majority of the EMC students attend KVCC to get their college credits.

Vicksburg awarded its first diploma to an EMC student in June to Casey Grace. Casey signed up for the program several years ago when it first came into being and this spring will have an Associate Degree in General Studies as well as a Vicksburg diploma, saving a year in time and $6,000 in tuition costs over a traditional high school graduate who goes on to get an Associate Degree.

Casey says he decided to become an EMC student in his sophomore year at VHS because, “The high school ‘scene’ was not for me. I knew what my goals were. I wanted to get a college degree as quickly and with as little expense as possible. This was the perfect way to do it.” Grace has been accepted at WMU and will be going on to study secondary education there. “While other kids were at home or out socializing, I was working overnight shifts at McDonalds to pay my future way through Western. Without having to pay tuition at KVCC, I was able to put a lot away. I also changed majors three times, but I went through all of that here at KVCC, so I did not waste time and money at WMU.”

Grace has been at KVCC full time since his junior year in high school. He says he did not find it awkward to be a “year 13” student or watch others graduate from high school last spring. “Everybody who goes to college will be a year 13 student eventually,“ said Grace, “I just did it for free and got a year ahead of everyone.” He said he wasn’t treated differently by other students or staff because he was a high school student. “Unless you tell people you are a high school student, they would have no way of knowing, so you are treated like everyone else,” said Grace.

Because the program is very new and competes against other options like dual enrollment, Advanced Placement classes, and the Education for Employment program, EMC in Vicksburg currently has a very small enrollment but looks to grow as high school students look for options that are tailored to their needs and desires for post high school education.