Category Archives: Schools

Clayton DeVries Selected to Join the All-State Jazz Band

2017-02-26 06.15.23
Clayton DeVries at the piano, one of the many instruments he can play.

By Sue Moore

“My hope is to connect the world to jazz.” That’s Clayton DeVries, a senior at Vicksburg High School who has amassed many honors playing saxophone. But his musical goal is to bring jazz to places where there isn’t much music to speak of, such as small towns across America. Jazz is his passion.

“Jazz is the greatest musical art form there is. It lets you speak through it by expressing yourself and how you want to play. I really want to perform in these many out-of-the way places, although I’m not so good at teaching what I know,” DeVries said.

In addition to his musical talent, he has been in Boy Scout Troop 254 in Schoolcraft. He is closing in on his Eagle Scout award with the construction of four park benches he has built for the Portage Senior Center. He turned 18 on March 6, the day he will have them installed and the project completed to attain that coveted rank.

He’s auditioning at several colleges hoping to major in jazz; on March 8, he’ll audition at the New School in New York City. Previously, he passed a pre-screening, then sent a video and was chosen to come to the big city to show them what he can do. He has been accepted at Western Michigan University and is considering Michigan State University, University of Illinois and University of North Texas.

The biggest honor so far: He was one of 17 players chosen for the Michigan All-State Jazz band. He had tried out for it as a sophomore and junior but didn’t get accepted. He took a lot of lessons and did plenty of practicing this time, taking second place on tenor sax and honorable mention on alto sax.

Ben Rosier, Vicksburg’s band instructor said that “after transferring from Schoolcraft schools, Clayton has made an impact on our program, especially in the jazz departmenti His passion for the jazz genre has propelled him into the upper echelon of students in the state. Clayton will be featured as a soloist on our Top Dawgs jazz ensemble album along with many of his classmates.”

Studying at Interlochen last summer was the “greatest experience ever,” DeVries said. “I’ve had terrific professors and made some life-long friends there.” He won a first place chair on tenor saxophone in the Interlochen jazz ensemble.

Last fall, DeVries was chosen to play alto sax at the St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, going there on Tuesdays for practice and playing lots of older big-band music that he really likes. He played in the Hastings all-star band last year and now helps with the Vicksburg Middle School music program during second hour of the day at VHS.

The fact he can play a large assortment of instruments is a bonus. He is mostly self-taught on most of them. He owns three saxophones – soprano, alto and tenor – as well as flute, piccolo, clarinet and piano. He plays all of them. “I came to VHS for the curriculum. My mom coaxed me to go to one rehearsal for concert band when I was a freshman. I had started playing in fifth grade but didn’t really want to try out for band. It took one rehearsal and I decided to stick with it.”

Now he practices four to five hours a day and has taken lessons that he said help him know what the jazz voice means and how best to implement it.

Schoolcraft School Board Highlights Improvements

2017-02-13 10.25.28
Schoolcraft school administrators gave their annual report to the school board in February. They are from left to right: Ric Seager, high school principal; Dave Powers, middle school principal; Matt Webster, elementary principal.

By Sue Moore

State Superintendent of Education Brian Whiston will be in Schoolcraft on March 9 from 8:30-10:30 a.m. to visit its three school buildings. His goal is to visit every school district in the state during his tenure. He has several other appearances scheduled over two days in southwest Michigan. Rusty Stitt, Schoolcraft superintendent and president of the Michigan Association of School Administrators for Region 7, is pleased to host Whiston and begin a dialog on how the state can help small schools in the future.

At the February school board meeting, Finance Director Rita Broekema pointed to renewal of a three-year 1.5-mill county-wide school enhancement millage on the May 2 ballot, asking the board if they want to take a position on it. “Schoolcraft is a winner district in the amount of money received. In the past, it has been used solely for capital projects. The voters in Schoolcraft have voted twice to defeat the millage and once to pass it in the three times it has been on the ballot. “It is a significant piece of revenue for the district,” Stitt said. The board decided the best thing to do is to talk factually about it to anyone who asks but not to spend any money to promote it.”

The millage was approved last in 2014. If renewed, it would cost the owner of a home with a taxable valuation of $50,000 $75 per year. The tax provides more than $300 per student to the county’s nine school districts.

Middle School Principal Dave Powers hosted the board meeting and presented a video prepared by the students with the many learning opportunities at the school highlighted. He went through the work being accomplished on the school improvement progress report including the following:

• He said they are looking for 40 percent growth or better from where each student started the school year.

• The consolidation and addition of the 5th grade to the Middle School has been a seamless activity and positive cultural reality, he said.

Matt Webster reported on strategic goal results for the Elementary School for the first semester.

• “Having every student under one roof is serving us well. Kindergarten is being supported and delivering instruction in many new ways, meeting the students more so than in the past,” according to Webster.

• Every child eligible for intervention in math is getting help and CARE volunteers have logged over 200 additional hours for reading instruction for students and teachers.

In the High School, Principal Ric Seagers reported that an active parent advisory council is recommending changes to class rank and athletic conduct. He also cited great student growth in reading capabilities.

Jeanine Mattson, special education consultant from KRESA, presented data on Schoolcraft students in special needs classes. The school system has 95 students with Individual Education Plans with a compliance rate of 99 percent. “We want the kids to get everything they need at whatever level they can attain,” she said. The graduation rate for all students in this program in the county is 78 percent and Schoolcraft is up to 87 percent. “It reflects well on the community,” she said.

Middle School and PAC Give Annual Reports to Board

By Travis Smola

High school Principal Keevin O’Neill had some exciting news to report to the Vicksburg school board regarding the National Merit Scholarship group.

Every year 1.5 million students take the PSAT test and around 16,000 are named semifinalists for approximately $35 million in scholarship money. “About every year we have at least one, sometimes two qualify,” O’Neill said.

But this year, Vicksburg schools had two students named to the finalists group for the first time. They are seniors Benjamin Gangloff and Savannah McDowell. Approximately 8,000 students will receive scholarship money from the finalist group. “It’s just a great honor,” O’Neill said.

He said the students will be introduced to the board at a later date.

Middle school Principal Matt VanDussen gave a report to the trustees on operations at the school.

He thanked the board for updates to the building including the new bathrooms. “We’ve had a lot of positive comments about the look of those bathrooms from people coming in,” VanDussen said. He also said implementing technology like Chromebook laptop computers means more technology time for students and less competing among teachers for lab time.

VanDussen stressed the importance of creating a positive culture climate within the school, something that’s been noticed by the board members.

Vice-President Carol Lohman and Trustee David Schriemer both noted how activities traditionally viewed as “geeky” like band, choir or robotics club, are actually cool activities for Vicksburg students to participate in.

“Those positive types of things, particularly at the middle school when everyone feels like the awkward one, I don’t think you can undervalue that,” Schriemer said.

Lohman noted parents and the community also play a big role in creating this culture. “They really take part in the things we do and encourage their kids,” Lohman said.

The positive culture of the community was echoed in Tim Fuller’s report on the Performing Arts Center (PAC) where things are always busy. The Center hosted 25 theatre performances and 22 concerts in 2016, as well as various award presentations, meetings, talent shows and more.

“We truly have something for everyone on our stage,” Fuller said. “Come down and check us out, that’s the best way to get an idea of what’s going on at the PAC.”

The high school productions have been very popular and Fuller credits the teachers at the elementary and middle school levels for helping to foster an interest in performing arts early before students get to the high school level.

The trustees are extremely appreciative of the job Fuller is doing. “Especially in the community productions, you are unbelievably diplomatic with people,” Christina Forsyth said.

President Virgil Knowles agreed. He also noted how well-attended most performances are. “It makes me feel good to see the community there,” Knowles said. “I tell my family we have to get there an hour earlier or we won’t have place to sit.”

Sunset Lake Students Take Leadership Role in Conferences

McKenzie Pryor 1
McKenzie Pryor leads her conference with Tiffany Sadowski and her mother.

By Steve Fryling

Parents are likely to remember going to parent-teacher conferences, talking about the performance of the student and talking about ways to improve, with the parent and the student (if the student attended) being largely passive.

Things have changed with conferences at Sunset Elementary with the use of student-led conferences. In this style of conferencing, the student is given the role of conducting the conference. The student, who works from a set of steps set up in advance, leads the parent and teacher through the strengths and weaknesses of their performance and talks about how they plan to improve. According to Amie McCaw, Sunset Lake elementary principal, these conferences are an exercise in student leadership. “We want students to build the skills needed to be our future leaders. These skills include self-confidence, personal insight and the ability to effectively communicate. What better way to do this than by assigning the student the task of looking at their own performance, developing insights about it and then communicating that to teachers and parents?”

Students interviewed at Sunset Lake elementary felt that the conference style was helpful. McKenzie Pryor, a fourth-grade student of Tiffany Sadowski, says the conference forced her to prepare and listen to the teacher’s guidance in order to have a good conference. According to Sadowski, “They (the students) are able to show proof (via passed back papers, data charts they keep, tests etc.) of exactly how much or how little they have improved in all areas. They even rate and discuss their own behaviors often times being much more critical of themselves than I would be!” McKenzie’s mother has participated in both types of conferences and says that both types have their advantages. But she likes the student-led style because it gets her daughter to speak and ensures that information flows both ways, as well as helping her daughter cement in her mind what she needs to do to improve.

Even the youngest students try their hand at leadership. Koy Kovalska, a first grader with Aubrie Burns right before he went in to lead his conference, said he was nervous, but seemed ready to go. Koy’s mother, Kelly was excited to hear what he had to say, “This should be interesting,” she remarked beforehand. As the conference began, he started to describe how he was doing in the classroom, with some prompting and guidance from the teacher.

Burns goes on to say, “I think there are way more advantages. The kids were so proud of their accomplishments and it was amazing to see them excited to show their work. It was so cool to watch them explain all that we are doing in school. Plus, the conversations between the parents, students, and myself were so rich. It was a great experience. The only disadvantage is that some students were a bit shy, so it was a little nerve-wracking to get them going. However, every student was able to begin chatting, I just had to get them started.”

While many students and parents saw advantages to this method, others still see more room for growth. “Sometimes we as parents just need more time alone with the teacher,” says Jody Tuinier, parent of two Sunset students. “There are things I need to hear from a more technical point of view than my kids might provide. Also, sometimes I just need to talk to the teacher without my kids in the room so I can get a better perspective of what’s going on and how I can help at home.”

Vicksburg Students Interview with Local Manufacturers

vhs interview
Student Cole Richter interviews with Jim Williams, a representative from Eimo.

By Steve Fryling

Human resource managers tell us one of our great needs locally and nationally is for young people who are motivated and trained to go into work in various professions and skilled trades.

Vicksburg High School, in conjunction with the Education For Employment (EFE) program and 10 employers from the area, are helping to find and train and those young people in Vicksburg. In January, the program held a “Manufacturing Interview Day” for students involved in the EFE manufacturing program.

According to Jason Luke, the program coordinator, the interview day is just as important to employers as it is for students. “These employers really need to develop talent that they can hire and develop early. They are scouting for motivated students so that they can have a shot at hiring them right out of school for their companies. In some cases, contacts for follow up interviews are being made at these interviews.” Luke also adds that students benefit just as much. It gives them valuable experience in interviewing and helping the students discern what they want to do in their high school education and beyond.

Jim Williams, an interviewer from Eimo, was enthusiastic about his experience. “I really didn’t know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised at how much time the students put into to this. Every student that I interviewed did extremely well. They were well dressed and had resumes that any employer would be happy to look at. I had one student midway through the day that after her interview, I actually felt like I was interviewed by her, she was so excited, confident and determined about what she was going to be doing after high school. I’ve interviewed many people in my life and I must say that many all these students interviewed better than most adults that I’ve interviewed. I’m very excited to see tomorrow’s work force getting ready for their career.”

The benefits are apparent to Andrew Miller, a freshman at VHS and one of the students interviewed. “It was a great experience, although I was new to it. Being able to participate in interviews now gives me a great head start on knowing where I want to be and what I want to do. Not many students my age get this early experience,” Miller said. Currently, he is leaning toward enlisting in the military and then enrolling at a college or university.

Becky Lussier-Tardy was a hiring representative from Schupan and Sons in Kalamazoo. She conducted interviews with students throughout the day. She complimented the students: “They were very well prepared and professionally dressed. They had a professional and friendly demeanor.” She was also impressed with the course work that they have already undergone and how well they articulate themselves. Lussier-Tardy says she intends on pursuing several of these students further by making recommendations to provide job offers as soon as they are out of school.

Keith Russell, from the Stryker Corporation, said “I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the event. The students were well-prepared to interview with different companies and asked good questions in the interviews. It’s encouraging to see so many students excited about careers in skilled trades today.”
About 110 students in grades 9-12 participated, along with area employers. All of the employers had either co-op, summer, part-time, or full-time employment opportunities available for these young people. Following the 10-minute interview, each student was provided with verbal feedback regarding what they did right and where they need to make improvements.

Area employers who conducted interviews included Denso, Eimo, Flowserve, Forrest, Humphrey, Levannes, Liberty Mold, Schupan and Sons, Sertic Consulting, and Stryker.

Middle School Science Night at Vicksburg

Parents and students in the Vicksburg Middle School experience a special treat each year at Science Night where local vendors of scientific products come and display their goods in the school hallways. The event is sponsored by the science department with Lisa Harbour as the coordinator this year. It is set for Wednesday, March 8 from 5:30 to 7:30. The public is encouraged to attend and take an active role in the demonstrations.

Pfizer and Bridge Organics will be offering chemistry experiments, the Kalamazoo bomb squad will demonstrate, VHS Engineering group with robots and the VMS robotics team have a booth, Perrigo will be making kool aid pills, Humphrey Products will demonstrate pneumatics while launching balsa gliders, Kalamazoo Astronomical Society sharing their knowledge of the universe and talking about the August 2017 solar eclipse with viewing glasses for sale.

Modern Woodmen through Aaron McGuire is donating $300 to pay for Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary’s appearance which is loved by young and old alike Harbour says.

Schoolcraft School Board Elects Officers, Discusses Safety

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft school board swore in two new members, Jennifer Gottschalk and Jill VanDyken-Hunt, before its first board meeting of 2017.

The board also elected officers. By unanimous decisions, Darby Fetzer was selected to continue as president of the board. Others are Ryan Ledlow, vice president, and Kathy Mastenbrook, treasurer; Gottschalk was chosen secretary.

High School Principal Ric Seager gave a presentation to the board about Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores. Mean scores for Schoolcraft were right on par with that for the state.

Approximately 49 percent met both benchmarks while 76 percent of students met reading and writing benchmarks and 49 percent met the math ones. Seager noted that of students who should have taken the test, 82 of 85 actually took it, well above the state’s 50 percent participation rate. Seager said he is discussing the implications of the data with teachers and will be working to make improvements where possible to improve future scores.

Middle School Principal Dave Powers said his teachers will have a big part in helping prepare students for these tests. “If we’re not getting it done at the middle school, there’s not much the high school can do to correct that trajectory,” Powers said in reference to charts showing the trend of scores.

Superintendent Rusty Stitt also did a presentation on the results of a safety survey that gathered 272 responses from staff, students and parents about the conditions at Schoolcraft schools. “The number one question we want to ask our stakeholders: ‘Is it safe here?’” Stitt said.

The good news is, the majority either agreed or strongly agreed the schools were safe. Stitt said he did wonder about some of the neutral responses. The survey also looked for opinions on a variety of additional safety options.

An overwhelming majority, 96 percent of respondents were supportive of the buzz-in system the school recently added. Most would also like to see all traffic into the school routed through the main entrance where there is always someone present in the main office.

Most would also like to see some sort of surveillance camera system put in place, whether it was just the halls or grounds. Stitt noted the cameras could have additional benefits such as determining who broke a rule or for educational purposes. Ideas like metal detectors had less support.

One major area of concern within the schools is bullying. Results showed many respondents are not aware the school has hotlines students could call for support. “Not having a big number of people noticing is a missing need,” Stitt said. Mastenbrook asked about cyber bullying. Seager said it’s a big factor. The majority of the issues they have involve Twitter and Snapchat.

Powers said bullying has changed from what he and many other adults knew growing up. In the past, bullying was targeted and a way to exert power. Today it takes on a broader definition of behaviors meant simply to upset people.

The responses are enough that Stitt wants trustees to look deeper at some things like cameras in the future. “It’s something we need to start having a conversation about,” Stitt said.