Common Bond provides activities for students

By Amy Green, Special Education Teacher, Schoolcraft High School

Common Bond is an extracurricular club in the Schoolcraft school district that provides fun events for students of all abilities. Through the different activities, students are given opportunities to increase relationships with peers, gain a better understanding and tolerance of others’ differences and form friendships. Common Bond is Schoolcraft Schools’ X-Treme Friendship Club!

Two events took place this fall. The X-Treme Kick Off for 7th-8th graders was a tailgate party filled with all kinds of games, a caricature artist, mixer games about how we’re all alike, and how we can spread kindness within the 7th and 8th grade community. Schoolcraft’s therapy dog, Winnie, and handler Matt Webster attended as well.

The 9-12th grade X-Treme Kick Off party didn’t let a rainy day stop more than 130 students from coming out to hear guest speakers talk about acceptance, friendship and staying connected at school.

This was the kick off for our Kindness Campaign! Thanks to speakers Jakson Olivarez, Trey Schneider, Paxton Green and teacher Nate Ferency for sharing their testimonies with students and staff. Students then ran through the giant obstacle course, enjoyed the food truck, Rolling Soul, and played lots of tailgate games. Winnie also drew lots of attention at the party.

Schoolcraft elementary school construction begins

School staff celebrated the groundbreaking of the new elementary school in August

By Jordon Buell

Schoolcraft Schools Supt. Rick Frens in an early-November meeting updated the school board on construction planning, noting that construction permits for the new Pre-K-6th grade building have been issued and work has begun.

The construction is financed through a $39.9-million bond issue approved by voters in 2020. The work includes demolition of the elementary-middle school building, and replacement with a new elementary building and a 7-8th grade addition to the high school.

The board at its December meeting is expected to discuss federal pandemic relief funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program.

Every month, Schoolcraft’s staff nominates colleagues for Golden Circle awards in 10 categories. For the month of October, awards were handed out to these staff members:

• Cheerleader Award – Chris Kato

• Gardener Award – Kristie Zimmerman, Matt Webster, Amy Desmond, Andee Sampley, Karin Lynch

• Compassion Award – Andy Buchanan, Christy Winkle, Katie Slavin, LuAnn Mumford, Jennifer Johnson, Courtney Bainbridge

• Servant Leader Award – Debbie Lawrence, Aaron Beery, Kim Klocke

• Captain of the Ship Award – Angie Bentz, Aubrey Norman, Brenda Lynn

• Negotiator Award – Chantelle McMillan, Josh Willoughby

• Just Be Nice Award – Amy Green, Jaime Hilaski, “Mr. Jack” Roach

• Counselor Award – Todd Algor, Gina Puhalski

• Human Highlighter Award – Jo Noseda

• Inclusivity Award – Amy Green, Dewey Bolz

James Weiss, the district’s technology coordinator, was also commended for securing a technology grant for new Chromebooks for the students. Jeff Clark, the district’s athletic director, presented the Schoolcraft Food Pantry with a check for over $3,000 and 500 pounds of food. Fans brought food or cash during Homecoming week, when admission charges were waived.

Frens described three bids for the rebranding of the district’s logo. He proposed that three board members review them and return with a recommendation. This topic was originally brought up during October’s board meeting when the superintendent reported on how the Golden Eagle brand could be improved with updated signage and standardizing.

Board members have said the goal has never been to change Schoolcraft’s iconic purple and gold colors or the Golden Eagles mascot, but to provide a logo and font that all could agree upon and be proud of.

Schoolcraft schools survey community on COVID

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft School District community is divided on issues related to COVID-19, with more than half of parents responding to a survey saying they should decide if their children should wear masks while attending school.

Superintendent Rick Frens described results of the survey to the Board of Education.

The district received 720 responses. Frens included a long list of the written responses to each board member and encouraged all of them to read in their spare time.

“Read the comments. They are all over,” Frens said. “There’s just a lot of good feedback in there.”

Among parents, more than half the respondents felt parents should be the ones to decide if their children should be masked at school or not. The rest were split almost evenly between supporting the current mask mandate for students and staff in young-five through sixth grade and those who think it should go through 12th grade.

While not all parents are in favor of masks, 60.5 percent of respondents supported the increased use of rapid testing in the district to reduce the number of school days missed. The district also asked parents how safe they felt their child was at school on a scale from 1-10. Only 14 parents responded with a one on the scale. Most parents, 278 responses making up 38.7 percent of the total, gave the district a 10. A majority also said they would feel safe sending their child back to school if a mandate was lifted.

Among staff, the 78 responses varied a bit from the parents. The responses showed 44.7 percent of staff agreed parents should be able to choose whether to mask their children. Only 23.7 percent were in favor of a Pre-K through 12 mandate on masking.

Twenty staff members gave the district a 10 on how safe they felt at school; 11 respondents gave a five, and 17 gave an eight. Only one respondent gave a one.

The survey also asked staff their thoughts on possible vaccine mandates or weekly rapid testing. Approximately 85 percent of responders said they would continue working for the district if either was put into place. Frens said two respondents indicated they would not continue to work for the district if there was an order mandating vaccination. Another two staff members said they were not sure.

For now, Frens said the district is not doing anything until administrators see what happens with an order mandating the vaccine. He believes it is an issue that may get caught up in the courts for a while, so they are staying the course.

In other news, the board approved a request for proposals to update the district’s logos and signage and standardize the appearance. The district is putting the request out to local companies.

The board also approved a larger request for four schools to join the SAC Conference. Athletic Director Jeff Clark said the move is widely supported for Allegan, South Haven, Bridgeman and Black River to join the SAC by districts and coaches. The move could save the district a little on travel since they will be able to find more games closer to home in their league.

Vicksburg Middle School jazz band to continue

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Middle School’s music program once again will feature an eighth-grade jazz band.

The district’s board of education at an Oct. 11 meeting granted a request from department chair Ben Rosier seeking funding to buy needed materials for the class.

Rosier said the curriculum proposal is unique; the district has had an eighth-grade jazz band in each of the 15 years he has been with the district. The band feeds into two high school jazz bands.

Jay Bennett has replaced a band teacher who retired in the past year. That led to schedule changes. “We changed the schedule around, so there’s not a band director in the middle school in the afternoon. The eighth-grade jazz band that usually met at the end of the day is no longer because we are now team-teaching marching band,” Rosier said. “We want to add that eighth-grade jazz band offering back into our curriculum, which means we need to include it into our eighth-grade band, normal, everyday class.”

That required a new textbook.The proposal includes the purchase of new workbooks at a total cost of just under $800, Rosier said.

“Each student in eighth-grade band would have a book to work out of, learning improvisatory ideas through music that they already know, but also adding to that in the jazz band world,” Rosier said. “Jazz is kind of like a whole new language in and of itself.”

Rosier said every eighth-grade band member will have to take jazz band, which was previously an elective.

Members of the eighth-grade jazz band program will assemble in March to prepare two pieces for a spring concert as well as marching in the Memorial Day parade.

Rosier said the high school’s top jazz group has established a solid reputation, as it has had an all-state player each of the past 10 years.

Board president Skip Knowles said the cost is a small price to pay for helping kids develop and thrive in a critical area of the fine arts.

“I just can’t say enough about our band program, and the things Ben and the staff have done,” he said. “Anything we can do with the younger kids to promote a love and an interest in jazz coming into the high school is a wonderful thing.”

Methodist church makes gift to Vicksburg schools

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg United Methodist Church was recognized by Vicksburg Community Schools Board of Education for a significant financial gift to the district.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill made the acknowledgment at the onset of the Sept. 13 board meeting. The announcement was met with a round of applause from audience and board members.

“I want to send a big thank you to the Vicksburg United Methodist Church, (as) the congregation, their foundation, donated $16,000 to our VCS elementary schools for teacher classroom supplies,” he said. “Thank you, VUMC, for this incredible gift that is so appreciated.”

VUMC Pastor Greg Culver said the church had the good fortune of being in a sound financial state. He said the $16,000 came from interest in the church’s endowment.

“Even during the pandemic, the stock market has done very well and our investments, which are through the United Methodist Foundation, have given a good return,” he said. “It’s been a hard year for teachers and we thought that with the stress teachers are under – we all know they pay out of their own pocket for school supplies – we just thought it would be a good boost for their morale.”

Culver said the church has had a longstanding relationship through the “Kids Hope” program with Tobey Elementary, so the opportunity to help all three of the district’s elementary school teachers was a logical next step.

He called the gift “a way to partner with the community and a way to maximize the opportunity” to positively impact students and their families.

“The companies that we’re invested in, that we got such strong results from, are ethical companies; that’s something to feel good about.”

He said there were no strings attached to the donation, which were earmarked to teachers at the Tobey, Indian Lake and Sunset Lake elementaries.

In a separate matter during the district’s September meeting, O’Neill said the district has upped the stakes in its effort to secure substitute teachers. He said daily, full-day and half-day rates have been raised from $75 to $85, and $45 to $55, respectively.

Long-term subs are paid $100 a day and $50 per half day, also a $10 increase.

There’s also an incentive for retired teachers. O’Neill said those rates are $85 full day and $55 half day. Retired teachers, however, are not eligible for long-term pay.

A newly created program pays substitutes a $100 bonus for 10 subbing jobs within the district in a month, $225 for 15 different jobs within a month and $400 for 20 or more different sub jobs in a month. Long-term subs do not qualify for the bonus pay, O’Neill said.