Category Archives: Schools

Schoolcraft Senior Tea

schoolcraft seniors
Schoolcraft senior girls stand in front of the Ladies Library Association.

Schoolcraft senior girls were feted at a beautiful and tasty brunch by the Ladies Library Association in May at their historic library building in Schoolcraft. The speaker was Jeanne Hess, head volleyball coach and chair of the physical education department at Kalamazoo College who inspired the students to find joy in being grateful.

“I am grateful for my students, because if there were no students, there would be no teachers,” Hess joked. She was serious about making sense of the puzzle of life. She used the analogy of four corners of a stool as anchors. “Ask yourself what they are: family, learning, service, your calling in this world. It’s OK to change these as you go forward as I was going to be a doctor when I went away to college at the University of Michigan.

“Your life gets richer and bigger after graduation with more things connecting the corners,” she told them. “Take time to reflect on the corners as you need to leave the world a better place than you found it. Then joy and gratitude are inevitable.”

Schoolcraft School Board Moving Forward on Bond

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Facilities Study Committee recommended the school board move forward with putting the proposed $30-40 million bond project for a new elementary and middle school on the November ballot.

This recommendation led to discussion spearheaded by Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook, who also serves as trustee on the Schoolcraft Village Council. Mastenbrook suggested adding an amendment to postpone construction if the long-proposed sewer infrastructure project gets going.

The sewer project has been long debated in Schoolcraft, but recent talks with Portage-based Wightman Associates seem to show the project gaining real momentum. Mastenbrook felt there is a real possibility the sewer project and bond project may be running parallel to one another. “I think environmentally and for public health reasons it would be a better fit for our community (to utilize the sewer for the school project),” Mastenbrook said.

Secretary Ryan Ledlow said he understands why Mastenbrook was sharing this information, but he wanted to know more on the timeline of a sewer project. He was concerned the sewer project was years from completion.

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk agreed. “Something that the group here needs to keep in mind is we can’t hold our project off,” she said. Gottschalk said she was fine with hooking into the sewer if possible, but she also didn’t think the possibility of using it over current septic tanks was worth delaying a building project because of how construction costs increase each year.

Brian Crissman of Christman Construction, on hand at the meeting, suggested the new school building would probably take about 18 months to build and would probably be two years from actual completion. The district could choose to hook up to sewer if it becomes available.

Mastenbrook clarified by saying she was talking about a six-to-twelve-month window where the projects could potentially run in parallel. She also believes the sewer talks are further along than what the school board thinks. “I just don’t want to miss an opportunity to take advantage of that infrastructure from the school side if it aligns or if it’s six months’ difference,” Mastenbrook said. “I’m not talking about five or 10 years down the road.”

Ledlow said he didn’t want the district’s project to get locked on to whatever the village was planning. Gottschalk agreed and suggested the two issues were separate. She suggested the board simply focus on whether they would approve the issue at hand.
“Once we pass the bond, then let’s worry about that,” Gottschalk said. “Let’s get the thing to treasury and let them do their jobs.”

The board ultimately approved a move to submit a draft of the bond application to the State of Michigan. The next step is double-checking all the paperwork before the board considers voting to put the bond issue on the ballot on a later date.

‘Edible Forest’ Planted by VHS Students at the Mill

horticulture 2
Students in Dr. Heikes horticulture class plant an apple tree as part of the Edible Forest.

By Sue Moore

On the last day of school, 22 VHS seniors in Dr. Noreen Heikes’ horticulture class planted 10 fruit trees at the Mill, completing a year-long project.

Planting five pear and five apple trees completed a year-long study by the 28 students in the class. In the fall, the students visited an 80-acre site on the west side of the former Simpson Mill property to decide where they wanted to plant the edible forest, testing soil for various nutrients. “It was probably a lot more science than the students expected they were going to get by taking this class,” Heikes said.

They figured out the varieties they wanted to plant as part of their legacy to the community. “They will be able to return here with their grandchildren someday and show them the results of their time in class,” Heikes said. “The mill consumed a lot of trees while making paper. This is one small way of paying it back.”

“The mill is undergoing a re-genesis in the next few years. It was the foundation of employment for the village. The fruit trees we have chosen are now part of this regeneration,” she said. A $2,500 grant was written by Heikes to purchase trees and fencing. Funds were provided by the Michigan Association of School Boards and SETSEG, an insurance and employee benefits nonprofit company.

Vicksburg Parents Form Fine Arts Booster Organization

art boosters 2
These doors were decorated to celebrate the new Fine Arts Boosters.

By Sue Moore

Parents working together to support the fine arts in Vicksburg School have formed the nucleus of a boosters’ organization, much like the Sports Boosters and the Band Boosters. Over 50 percent of Vicksburg’s 2,674 students are enrolled in some form of fine arts education, said Bob Willhite, one of the involved parents.

The Vicksburg community is rich in artistic talent, another organizer, Cindi Fleck, pointed out. “A good example is the recent Celebration of the Arts at Vicksburg High School in May. That was evident in the dedication put forth by students, teachers, family and administrators. However, as with many school programs, finances and funding are tight. This is where the Vicksburg Fine Arts Boosters (VFAB), wants to help,” she said.

The Boosters are committed to focusing on all students from kindergarten through 12th grade that are involved in fine arts programs, Fleck said. “We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience and value the fine arts in the school system. The programs included are visual arts, general music, vocal music, photography, videography and theater. VFAB’s mission is to support and encourage participation in these programs and to augment the school’s funding. As with all boosters, our focus will be on fundraising opportunities,” Fleck said.

To get started, the Boosters have partnered with Kalamazoo Candle Company selling candles online and will be having a candle-making class on Friday, June 7. At the end of summer, they will also be helping host Pasture Golf Stampede, a fun day of golfing with cows on a farm near Scotts. Later this year, they are looking to host a costume party, movie night and painting classes.

“Arts education is critical for helping students develop creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities,” said Megan Chernin on Pinterest. “The arts help students think outside the box. It connects ideas, encourages and makes you think.”

As a new booster organization, VFAB is actively seeking parents, alumni, students and community members with a desire to enhance, support, expand the students’ educational opportunities in fine arts. Anyone interested in joining the parents’ group should come to the next meeting on Thursday June 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Vicksburg Administration building board room. Information can be found at the following places: On Facebook, Vicksburg MI FAB; on Instagram, Vicksburg Fine Arts Booster; and email,

VHS Students Win KIA Art Awards

Recently the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts opened the 2019 High School Area Art Show, including the works of eight Vicksburg High School students. This is a juried event, according to their teacher, Tony Lindeman. Zoe Blough, Hunter Gordon, Meegan Heerlyn, MacKenzi Hogue, Zoey Hushower, Bella Oswalt, Amanda Miller and Nic Smith represented Vicksburg with their artwork.

Of the eight, three students were recognized and won awards.

Zoe Blough, MacKenzi Hogue, and Meegan Heerlyn won awards for their outstanding work in the area of photography. Zoe Blough’s photograph, titled, “Chicago Awakes,” took home Jurors’ Honorable Mention. Meegan Heerlyn’s photograph, titled “Long Lake Panograph,” won a scholarship to the Gwen Frostic School of Art at Western Michigan University valued at $12,000. MacKenzie Hogue won a recognition scholarship from the Cleveland Institute of Art valued at $40,000.

Art teachers Krista Ragotzy and Lindeman said they are proud of each and every one of these students. “From everyone at Vicksburg High School, we say job well done and congratulations,” Lindeman said.

Commencement 2019

Time flies, Vicksburg School Superintendent Keevin O’Neill told graduating seniors.

That’s what he told them four years ago, he reminded them, when he was their principal and they were just entering the school.

“Was I right?”

“I also told you to make the most of it, enjoy every minute of it, to push yourself, to get involved, and to surround yourself with great people who will support you in achieving your goals.

“Well, you certainly took my advice and did not disappoint.

“You have pushed yourself academically, achieving a collective grade point average that is nothing short of impressive.  You took advantage of multiple AP course opportunities and took more AP exams than any other class. You have pushed yourself through the multiple fine arts opportunities, achieving excellence in band, choir, visual arts, film and video, photography and theatre, culminating in a historic Celebration of the Arts this past spring.

“You have pushed yourself in athletics and strength and conditioning, achieving multiple conference championships and individual honors.

“As I said earlier, time flies. You need to enjoy it, embrace it, and attack it. And most of all, you need to make the most of it every single day.

He had more advice for the graduates: “A few years ago, I was contacted by a local business looking for students interested in manufacturing careers. I perked up and told him “yes, I have some outstanding computerized manufacturing students here, all A’s.”

“He said, ‘That’s great, but are they reliable? I’m not worried about how much they know, I can teach them what I need, I just want employees I can rely on, that have strong character and drive.’

“After that conversation, I remembered some advice I received from some of my wisest friends. They said, ‘Keevin, you get hired for what you know, and fired for who you are.’

“In today’s world of work, we need people with strong collaboration skills, and the willingness to work as a team. We need people who are willing to look at things in a different way, to be creative in providing solutions to problems and to be flexible. We need people with strong communication skills, including careful listening skills.

“We need people to utilize critical thinking skills. To thoughtfully think about problems, to analyze situations in order to inform positive decision making.

As you begin your next chapter, which will fly by, I implore you to develop these skills as you take on new learning. Be a person of high character, be a mentor, be reliable, be willing to help others, be willing to listen. And last, but not least, don’t walk away from negative people, Run! In short, be a great citizen.”

The Big Read Machine

books 5
The Lakeland Reformed Church’s Creative Beginnings pre-school class hosted the Big Read Machine during one of their special celebration day events in May.

By Sue Moore

There is nothing more satisfying for a child on summer break than to cozy up with a good book on a warm summer day, according to members of the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation board. Thus, this funding organization in support of the school district, has taken it upon themselves to make sure children have that good book always at the ready over the summer break.

The Big Read Bookmobile will be plying the roads in the school district two days a week to deliver reading materials to children at Tobey, Indian Lake and Sunset schools on a regular basis. The existence of the bookmobile was a dream of former Superintendent, Charlie Glaes before he retired and has been seen to fruition by current Superintendent, Keevin O’Neill.

Letters went out to service clubs, individuals and past donors to the school foundation to raise funds to buy books, paint and equip a school bus that was owned by the district. That has resulted in $21,000 in donations to get the wheels rolling literally, Willhite said. This effort has been helped by Frederick Construction’s donation of labor and materials to outfit the interior of the bus to hold the books in place as it tootles down the road.
All of this effort goes toward keeping children from what is commonly known as the “summer slide’, where they forget some parts of what they learned throughout the year and that it takes several weeks, even months when they come back to school in the fall to catch up.

Testing has typically shown a summer slide of a grade level or more if students don’t have access to books for almost three months, O’Neill pointed out. “This project was a big step for the Foundation to undertake as it meant going out to raise the funds, rather than experience donors coming forward in support of the Foundation. It has typically relied upon individual donations for scholarships and small fundraisers such as the Duck Derby for Old Car festival and the Hearty Hustle sponsorship.

When parents see the Big Read Machine pull into schools’ parking lots the hope is children will board the bus, pick out the books they want to check out, go home to read and bring them back on the next stop or even keep them until school begins in the fall. Their school ID will be their check out with a reader that will be aboard the bus to help with this. Home school children will be invited to utilize the bookmobile and be assigned a number in the school system.