The Vicksburg Homecoming Court is pictured below.
By Travis Smola
Schoolcraft Superintendent Rusty Stitt was recently one of two persons selected to receive the Golden Apple award from Western Michigan University (WMU).
This award goes to graduates of WMU’s College of Education and Human Development who show great enthusiasm for education and have a distinguished service record, with a history of developing good relationships with students.
Stitt was nominated for the award by Teresa Belote, superintendent of St. Joseph County Intermediate School District, who was a principal in Sturgis with Stitt in 2006. She said Stitt also received letters of recommendation from other supporters, including former Sturgis Superintendent Rob Olsen, State Representative Aaron Miller and Von Washington, executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise.
Belote said it was easy to nominate Stitt after seeing the way he worked with students. “I was really just impressed with the way he built relationships with students,” Belote said. “He really knew how to support and scaffold for success. He understood the importance of knowing your students.”
“I remember him standing at the curb waving at families as they pulled in. I’ve seen him high-five,” Belote added. “Lots of fist bumps and chatting with students about what they did the evening before. He knew his kids.”
She has continued to work with Stitt through the Michigan Association of School Administrators where he served as president. Belote credited Stitt for his work there with the targeted intervention program called the Reading Now Network. He also helped to get a grant that has provided for school library improvements and money for instructional leaders across the region.
The news of the award came as a complete and overwhelming surprise to Stitt. “I certainly was blindsided when I got the call from the Golden Apple committee chair,” Stitt said. “I did not know someone put my name in for it.”
At the awards ceremony, Stitt was quick to give credit to anyone but himself. Belote noted he handed the award off to his father during the ceremony. “He always recognizes the value of the team and I think his priority is building and maintaining relationships,” Belote said. “It comes across in his ‘It’s not me, it’s we’ attitude.”
At the October school board meeting, board President Jennifer Gottschalk took a moment to recognize the significance of the award. “Congratulations on your Golden Apple. That was a fantastic night for everybody and a great celebration for all your hard work,” Gottschalk said.
Finance Director Rita Broekema agreed with that sentiment. “It was fabulous. It was well-deserved and definitely just goes to show the power of education when done right because he’s a product of public education,” Broekema said.
Stitt credited the entire staff for the award at the meeting. “It’s a collective. So, while it says Rusty Stitt, it’s the work of the folks, great admin, great staff, great board,” Stitt said.
By Travis Smola
Superintendent Rusty Stitt and the Schoolcraft school board recognized the district’s principals and supervisors for Principals’ Month in October, surprising them with new jackets emblazoned with the Eagles logo.
“Principals and supervisors are among the hardest working, yet often least-recognized individuals in education,” Stitt said. “Principals and supervisors set the tone for the school and their departments. It’s their vision, dedication and determination that provide the mobilizing force for achieving success.”
Board President Jennifer Gottschalk took advantage of the moment to thank the superintendent for the job he has done, and they presented him with a small gift. “On behalf of the board, this is a token of our appreciation,” Gottschalk said.
The trustees approved the hiring of Amy Lawrence as an Innovation in Teaching and Learning instructional coach. This is Lawrence’s return to the district after a previous stint as a middle school teacher. Stitt said it was easy to recommend her based on her past performance in that job. “If you look back at her data, she was getting the job done,” Stitt said.
The board also saw a presentation from a representative from Yeo & Yeo on the results of a recent financial audit. The audit found no weaknesses or deficiencies at Schoolcraft schools. The audit did note a continuing downwards trend in enrollment from 1,155 students in 2010 to 1,059 in 2019. However, the district has also increased its general fund balance significantly. The balance was around $1.4 million during the 2011-12 school year and is at $1.9 million today.
The principals from all three schools also shared information from the student achievement data report at the meeting. The report goes into depth on scores in subjects such as reading and math. Elementary Principal Matt Webster noted that the data is available on the school’s website for the public to look at in depth. Overall, the data shows a trend upwards for all three schools.
“When I first came, we were the 16th ranked elementary school in the county,” Webster told the board. That has changed significantly, and it is now the sixth-ranked elementary school.
Overall, Schoolcraft, according to on-line ranking sites, now ranks number 40 in the state out of approximately 800 districts, which compares well to nearby Portage, Vicksburg and Three Rivers which rank 74, 147 and 292.
By Sue Moore
Set in 1995 – which alone may be a comic treat for those who remember being teens in that decade – “She Kills Monsters” is the story of average Agnes Evans, coming to the Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center Nov. 21-24.
Agnes in the play tries to come to terms with the death of her nerdy younger sister Tilly by playing her way through Tilly’s favorite game, “Dungeons and Dragons”. The play swings between Agnes’s real-world challenges and the fantasy adventure she undertakes to better understand the “geeky” sister she often dismissed. Through laughter, painful lessons, dangerous combat, and hilarious side quests, Agnes starts to come to the realization that maybe in the real world, Tilly’s legacy of kindness and bravery can outlast even untimely death.
Performances will start at 7 p.m. November 21-23 at 7 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on the 23rd and 24th. Tickets are $10, $7 for students and seniors.
Average Agnes is an uptight college grad who returns home when her family is killed in a car crash. She regrets never being closer with her younger sister Tilly, an adventurous but nerdy girl who was regarded as a weirdo. But when Agnes stumbles upon Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons module and begins a campaign, it’s as if she’s opened her sister’s diary: Playing the game reveals her sister’s friendships, conflicts at school, and thoughts on perfect Agnes herself.
“We’ve done some really fun shows in the last two years at Schoolcraft – from pirates to the duck yard to noir mystery with comic characters,” explained Director Leigh Fryling. “But once in a while, a show comes along that really delves into and deals with the issues that our students are facing in their real lives, both as high school students and as young adults getting ready to face a difficult world. They face a culture that changes faster and faster with every passing day; the pressure is to figure out who and what they are and want to be at a younger and younger age. These are questions about their personal identities that my generation didn’t encounter often until college.”
Fryling is now teaching in Schoolcraft and has been the theater director for two years. “When my students found out I was considering this play, they went out and bought the script on their own initiative. I was bombarded with requests to do this show. ‘This is me,’ one of my students said. ‘I feel like this is my story. These are my struggles every day. I want to put them on stage so maybe people will understand better how hard it is to be us.’ ‘I was laughing and crying at the same time,’ said another. ‘Stuff like The 39 Steps was fun, but this show is about how we really are now. We gotta do this!’”
To be clear, Frying pointed out, this is not a show for everyone. “There are themes which reflect the adult struggles our kids are starting to face, and real-world monsters that even as grownups we struggle to conquer. Students under 14 will need to be accompanied by a parent.” She added that is another reason that shows like She Kills Monsters are so important to bring to a community: “They open a door to dialogue between the generations and create a space for empathy and understanding that are hard to come by in our lightning paced world.”
“So, come adventure with us. Let’s defeat some evil. Let’s discover some magic. Let’s kill some monsters,” Fryling urged.
By Sue Moore
Sunset Elementary School honors its leaders every month as part of the Leader in Me program. Principal Amie McCaw instituted the Franklin Covey course work four years ago at the school. On October 30 it was her turn to receive an honor with a visit from Mary Judnich, regional manager for Senator Debbie Stabenow. She was with McCaw to shadow her activities as part of the National Principals Association’s effort to reach out to its elected officials. She was there to find out what a principal does to keep things running smoothly.
For the monthly Vicksburg School Board meeting it was McCaw’s chance to inform the board on her school’s achievements over the last year, including the test results on MSTEP and the Star achievement. Some of these results are available on the school’s web site dashboard.
“We made some good gains in reading proficiency overall. English Language Arts in the MSTEP tests were good with math proficiency still needing some work to be where we want to be,” McCaw said.
Trustee Rudy Callen asked about how new teaching staff can get acclimated to the Leader in Me and the seven habits it espouses. McCaw mentioned that they concentrate on one habit per month with kids helping to lead the discussion. “We have become facilitators now with our families, sending materials home to build our family connections,” McCaw said.
At the end of the meeting, Jennifer Rodas, the newly elected union representative for the teachers, told the board that she is in her 10th year of teaching Spanish at the high school. She complimented the administration for its handling of the air quality complaints at Sunset Lake school, saying the teachers are very appreciative of having the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health come in to evaluate the air quality. She said the [situation] has changed for the better and thanked the administration for its efforts.
Steve Goss, assistant superintendent for finance reported that the district enrolled 2,695 students thus far. This was within five students of the number predicted in early budget projections for the 2019-2020 school year.
Take a group of otherwise normal teens, mix in seven years at a certain school of magic and one big existential threat, and what do you get? You might not have said comedy, but with the play “Puffs,” performing Nov. 22-24 at Vicksburg High School’s Performing Arts Center, that is exactly what you’ll get.
For seven years, fans know that Harry Potter attended this school of magic, conquered evil and eventually saved the world.
But Puffs isn’t his story. Instead, we follow nerdy Wayne, math-savant Oliver and brooding tough girl Megan and see another side of those seven years. They are played by Levi Shephard, Aidyn Knedgen and Lindsay Fleck.
Wayne, Oliver, and Megan have been sorted in with the Puffs – one of the four groups of students at the school, along with the Snakes, the Braves, and the Smarts – and arrived at the same time as their far more famous classmate. “Puffs” takes the mythology you know from J.K. Rowling and the associated films and turns it on its ear to bring you a clever, charming story about just trying to survive when you’re not destined to save the world.
But don’t worry if you’re among the uninitiated. Director Melissa Sparks says while it might help, you don’t have to be a dedicated Potter-head to appreciate the humor and the message contained in these 90-ish minutes.
“Before watching Puffs, I had never seen all of the Potter films or read the books and I was still laughing. Puffs, while it nods to the Harry Potter worlds, it is essentially a growing-up story. At its heart, these loyal, kind friends find out that even when you think you are unimportant, you are still important to someone.”
The play opened off-Broadway in 2016 and enjoyed a nearly three-year run before closing earlier this year. Sparks says she’s excited to bring the show’s madcap energy and big heart to life on stage with her high schoolers.
Puffs runs Friday and Saturday Nov. 22 and 23, with a 7 p.m. curtain, and Sunday, November 24, with a 2 p.m. matinee at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center.
Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $7 for students (through 12th grade), but with advance orders, customers can get a $2 discount per ticket. Tickets can be ordered online at https://www.vicksburgschools.org/performing-arts-center/.