Category Archives: Schools

Disney’s Frozen, Jr. Comes to the Vicksburg Stage

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Stella Reitenour, who played Junie B Jones last year, will be Anna. She is shown with Margaret Williams as Elsa on the right.

By Sue Moore

“Frozen, Jr. is about family, friendships and sisterly love,” said Melissa Sparks, long-time director of plays on the Vicksburg stage. The animated film version became one of Disney’s all-time hits in 2013. The stage musical has been released for local performances, and Sparks believes Vicksburg’s performances will be the first in the area.

It is a huge production, with 50 cast members and 30 in the crew, a challenge for Sparks’ organizational skills though she has successfully met similar challenges before. It will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 25 and 26 and 2 p.m. Sunday, October 27. The musical portion will be directed by Dusty Morris, the high school choir director. There are 20 songs for the chorus to learn, all for voices from 4th grade to 8th grade.

Stella Reitenour an 8th grader who was Junie B Jones last year, was chosen to play Anna, a princess, with Margaret Williams as her sister Elsa, who becomes queen. Jacob McGehee will be Kristoff and newcomer in his first production is Jack McCaw as Hans, the dashing prince.

Frozen, Jr. is based on the 2018 Broadway musical, and brings Elsa, Anna, and the magical land of Arendelle to life onstage. A story of true love and acceptance between sisters, Frozen Jr. expands upon the emotional relationship and journey between Princesses Anna and Elsa. When faced with danger, the two discover their hidden potential and the powerful bond of sisterhood. With a cast of beloved characters and loaded with magic, adventure, and plenty of humor, Frozen Jr. is sure to thaw even the coldest heart, according to the press release.

Staging the show is a big technical challenge, Sparks said. “We have to make an ice palace that appears on stage with Elsa’s wave of her hand. There are lots of other magical items along with the cost of royalties. all of which are a beast to pay for.” Rehearsals are from 5-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and the set crews work on Saturday to paint and construct. “It’s a game of chess,” Sparks said.

Tickets for the event are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students 18 and under. Order before October 19 and families of between 4-6 members (same household) are $30. Reservations can be made now by visiting or by calling the Vicksburg Performing Arts center ticket office at 321-1193 beginning October 21.

New Member of the Vicksburg School Board

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Members of the Vicksburg school board in front from left to right: Tina Forsyth, Skip Knowles, Carol Lohman. In back: David Schriemer, Wil Emmert, Rudy Callen, Dan Grabowski.

By Sue Moore

Class sizes look pretty good, Superintendent Keevin O’Neill reported to the Vicksburg School Board at its early September meeting. “To my knowledge, Sunset Lake Elementary only had one family that chose to transfer out of the district at the opening of school. The enrollment in the building is nearly the same as last year with a few families moving around to either Tobey or Indian Lake elementary buildings,” he said.

New Trustee Dan Grabowski attended for the first time. He was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Deborah Harsha, who resigned earlier. He listened intently to an opening year report from Curriculum Director Gail VanDaff on the school district’s Improvement Plan for 2019-2020.

Afterwards, he mused that the first thing he will need to ask for is a list of acronyms as he studies reports for future meetings. Grabowski retired from Pfizer May 1 after 32 years as a chemical engineer. He was a senior manager over five production plants. In Vicksburg, he has been involved with the Athletic Boosters, as has his wife Cheryl. She was active in the PTO at Indian Lake when their son Adam attended. A 2017 VHS grad, he is now a junior at Michigan State University.

“I’ve always wanted to participate in my community and now I have time to devote to being on the school board,” Grabowski said. “I will be playing some catch up while discussing operations and issues with Superintendent O’Neill. I like to be known as a team builder and good collaborator. It will be important to first understand the inner workings of the board and its strategy and priorities. This is a well-functioning board so my focus will be to integrate into an already strong team.” Grabowski said he would expect to place his name on the ballot in 2021 for a full six-year term.

The District Improvement Plan that VanDaff has presented the last four years is the GPS for the school district, she told the board. “We measure students’ progress through the stated goals of the plan,” she said. They include goals for academic learning, strategies to accomplish the goals, then evaluation of the plan, development of alternative measures of assessment and finally methods for effective use of technology.

Mental Health Pilot Program Coming to VHS

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The newly redesigned courtyard of the Vicksburg High School on the west side invites students and visitors to enter the school campus.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School is one of 35 in the nation to be accepted in the teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) pilot program, Principal Adam Brush announced at the beginning of the school year.

It teaches students the skills to recognize when their friends are experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge and respond to it. Emphasis is on how to get the help of a trusted adult, Brush pointed out.

“With this training, our high school students will be empowered to assist their friends when a mental health challenge or crisis, such as suicidal thoughts, is apparent,” Brush said.

This course is not being introduced because of any specific problems at Vicksburg High School, Brush said. It recognizes that mental health challenges are very common in adolescents. tMHFA, similar to CPR, is an important step towards ensuring students know what to do and how to get help for a friend. Students trust their friends and often turn to each other when stressed or upset. tMHFA teaches that youth don’t have to take on these challenges alone. The course discusses issues such as school violence, bullying and suicide, parents were told in a message to tenth graders who have been chosen to receive the training.

“The course specifically teaches the important step of involving a responsible and trusted adult,” Brush said. “As such, we have also trained many of our high school staff in Mental Health First Aid for Adults Working with Young People. We were only able to select one class and we thought since 10th graders would be here the longest it would benefit the school the most to have them trained. We will, however, offer training for anyone interested outside of school.

“We know that many teens are suffering from trauma and anxiety. We thought that this was a good start. We have been training staff in Mental Health First Aid since last school year. Lady Gaga and The Born This Way Foundation help to sponsor the grant. It is a great opportunity,” Brush said.

The National Council for Behavioral Health and Born This Way Foundation are piloting the course in 35 high schools across the country. After the pilot program is complete, the training course will be available to the public.

Brush was contacted by Danielle Sackrider, a high school parent who works at Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse, to determine if there would be any interest in applying for the grant. She was inspired to go ahead and write the grant with a co-worker and Brush’s help. Other schools selected are scattered throughout the United States in big and small communities.

Sackrider has a son in the 10th grade in Vicksburg. “This class will focus on the benefits of knowing what to do if a crisis should arise. It’s OK not to be OK,” Sackrider said. “We hope to encourage the conversation as it is not unusual to have these thoughts of suicide, anxiety, depression.”

“We are excited to support a path toward greater awareness about mental health and increased capacity to respond to students who struggle with this issue. We will begin training 10th-grade students in November and plan on having an informational parent meeting during conferences on October 10,” Brush said.

Schoolcraft Board Making Final Preps Before Bond Vote

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A conceptual site plan shows the potential location of elementary and middle school building to the north of the high school, should the 39.9 bond issue pass.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft school board devoted a good amount of discussion at its September meeting to final preparations for the Nov. 5 vote on a proposed $39 million bond issue that would mean a three-mill tax increase for school district residents.

A key part of the meeting was a rendering designed to show residents locations of the proposed new pre-K through sixth grade building and seventh through eighth grade addition to the high school to be built with the bond proceeds. It also shows potential parking areas and pick-up and drop-off locations for students.

Board President Jennifer Gottschalk stressed that the rendering was not a final design. It was made to give voters an idea of what they were thinking.

“This is by no means a done deal,” Gottschalk said. “This is very conceptual.”

Trustee Wade Rutkoskie echoed Gottschalk’s thoughts while adding that once a bond is passed, they will enter a design phase to get a more definitive idea on things like square footages and the actual placement of the new buildings. Gottschalk also noted the rendering leaves space on land owned by the district for expansion many years down the line if necessary.

She also urged other trustees to get out in the community and talk to as many people as possible. Gottschalk thanked them for what they had already done and praised a few members of the community who have been out trying to spread the word on the issue.

Vice President Jason Walther asked trustees if there was anything they were forgetting about while noting that he liked the rendering they were presenting to the public. Trustee Rachel Phelps expressed some concern about the proximity of the bus loading zone to the buildings and potential problems with children being picked up by their parents on that side of the building.

Superintendent Rusty Stitt said they have considered that matter, but they have an idea on the timing of releases and bus movements at the end of the school day. The timing would be such that students would already be cleared out of those areas before the buses left. “We don’t see them merging at all because students will be gone,” Stitt said.

Compared to now, where elementary and middle school students are dangerously loading and unloading directly onto Clay Street, Stitt called the proposed new loading zones a “dream come true.”

The board also set up three more open house tours where the public can inspect current facilities – 4-6 p.m., September 29 and October 6 and 20. Gottschalk recommended trustees educate everyone they know about their website:, and important dates for absentee ballots, especially for residents who may be heading south for the winter.

Back to School Celebrated at the Backpack Bonanza

The Backpack Bonanza provided Vicksburg school children with supplies and sneakers. This little girl proudly displays her newest gear.

By Paula Schriemer

The 12th annual Backpack Bonanza was held on Saturday, August 3, at the Vicksburg Community Pavilion. It was a lovely summer day for the event, sponsored by Generous Hands, Inc. (GHI) and South County Community Services (SCCS). Participating families arrived throughout the morning and were provided with new backpacks for the school year, as well as age-appropriate school supplies such as folders, pencils, pens, erasers, notebooks, scissors and crayons.

“The community was so generous this year that with the many donations that were dropped off and a generous gift card from Meijer, we didn’t have to purchase any school supplies or backpacks,” said GHI Executive Director Sheri Louis. Louis and SCCS Assistant Director Drew Johnson coordinated the event.

There were smiles all around as elementary-aged kids were fitted with new pairs of athletic shoes by the staff of First Day Shoe Fund, a nonprofit organization from Kalamazoo. “This is the third year that we’ve partnered with First Day Shoe Fund for the Backpack Bonanza. They are an outstanding organization to work with,” Louis said. Middle and high school students each received a new reusable water bottle to start the new school year. The 161 people attending the event enjoyed a breakfast of yogurt, muffins, juice and snacks and were provided with additional information on the upcoming programming for both organizations during the next school year.

Vicksburg School Superintendent Keevin O’Neill also attended this year’s Backpack Bonanza. “What an incredible event! It made me so happy to see the kids fill their backpacks with school supplies and get fitted for new shoes. Our families were so thankful. What a great way to kick off the new school year! Vicksburg Community Schools cannot thank Generous Hands and South County Community Services enough for what they do for our students and families,” O’Neill said.

Both organizations expressed gratitude for the 31 community volunteers who turned out to provide supplies for over 100 children. Another 80 students will be picking up their school supplies over the next few weeks at the GHI/SCCS offices on Spruce Street.

It will be a busy fall for GHI and SCCS. Both organizations participated in the Community Tailgate on Friday, August 30. Generous Hands is looking forward to its annual fundraiser, the Fall Extravaganza, on Saturday, November 9 at Indian Run Golf Course. Tickets are available at 269-370-7965. Finally, SCCS will partner with GHI to host their annual Holiday parties on December 6 and 7. They also have the Fabulous Flapjack Fundraiser on October 9 to help raise money for United Way.

Schoolcraft’s Facilities $39.9 Million Bond Proposal

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Jennifer Gottschalk, Schoolcraft school board president, holds up a campaign sign for the November bond proposal.

By Linda Lane

Schoolcraft school district voters on a Nov. 5 ballot will determine the fate of a $39.9 million bond proposal that includes a three-mill hike in homeowners’ current tax rates.

Included in the $39.9 million price tag are: a new pre-kindergarten-6th grade elementary school at a cost of $28.3 million; a new wing for grades 7 and 8 added to the High School, sharing common areas such as the library and cafeteria, for $8 million; improved security, additional accessibility for disabled students, more energy-efficient facilities and modernized learning spaces; and a renovation of athletic facilities, including a 6-lane running track at the Roy Davis Stadium, eight new tennis courts and other athletic improvements totaling $3.6 million.

For a homeowner with a $100,000 home in the district, the increase in property taxes of $3 per $1,000 taxable valuation will amount to approximately $150 per year.

Schoolcraft teachers, administrators, and community members received training to become “Informational Campaign Ambassadors” with a goal to help voters become informed on the bond proposal details. The training session was conducted by Rick Chambers, a communication consultant hired by the district. The session outlined “Top 10 Questions” on the bond proposal and basic details on why, what and how the bond proposal was developed.

The Schoolcraft Board of Education has had a Long-Term Facilities Planning Committee studying possible options for the district’s aging facilities for nearly two years. The committee boiled eight possible options for facility improvements down to two. After conducting a facility assessment last fall, the committee found a complete renovation of existing elementary and middle schools would cost $32 million—just $7.9 million less than the bond proposal. The committee decided the cost-effective approach was to replace them.

Proponents of the bond proposal say the new facilities are needed because:

The Elementary School is 50 years old and the Middle School is 64 years old. Both have heating systems which are outdated, inefficient and failing.

New buildings will provide facilities designed for “modern learning,” safer and more secure environments, energy efficiency, and long-term sustainability; improvements to athletic facilities are sorely needed, including tennis courts, restrooms, equipment storage, new six-lane track, bleacher safety railings, lighting and greater disabled accessibility; new facilities will greatly influence businesses decisions to invest in the district, providing a greater tax base and improved property values.

Opponents to the bond proposal cite the following concerns over what has been proposed: over half of parents surveyed by the district objected to mixing 7th and 8th grade students with high school students; the unknown impact and cost of the possible Village of Schoolcraft’s sewer project currently under discussion; properties of the out-of-district “school of choice” families, which comprise a small portion of the district’s enrollment, will not contribute to the tax levy, although those students do bring added state per-pupil money; the scope of the proposal and projects requested are too massive; athletics are already too much of a priority for the district; taxes are already too high.

Two surveys have been conducted by the district, one a survey of 372 Schoolcraft parents (Schoolcraft has 1,065 students) and a community survey of 200 of the district’s 3,200 voters conducted by Epic MRA from Lansing. Both surveys show strong support for Schoolcraft’s bond proposal. Information is available on the Schoolcraft Community School’s website under the main menu’s “facilities-study.”

“If voters approve the Bond Proposal, we will work with the community to develop a design that meets the district’s needs. It will likely take 12 months to finalize the design by working with school parents and community leaders. The facilities wouldn’t be built and ready for students until the fall of 2022,” said school board President Jennifer Gottschalk.

School Board Approves Changes to the Athletic Handbook

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Jeff Clark, Schoolcraft athletic director, reported the changes being recommended to the Athletic Handbook for the 2019/20 school year to the school board.

By Sue Moore

Holding Schoolcraft’s athletes to a higher standard was emphasized by Athletic Director Jeff Clark in proposing several changes to the athletic student handbook. Most of the changes were minimal, he told the school board at its August meeting.

Anyone out for a sport must have a passing grade in 80 percent of their classes, which Clark said hasn’t changed. Under the previous system, student athletes with low grades during the semester were given two weeks to study hard and get their grades up so they could compete. Now they only get one week per marking period to get their grades in order, he explained.

Another change that gives more flexibility permits students in several sports to use the gym at the same time. The intent is to urge student athletes to take part in more than one sport while in their middle and high school years, Clark said.

Head coaches drafted a new coaches’ conduct section that will be included in the handbook, Clark noted. Superintendent Rusty Stitt applauded the coaches for taking the lead in the revisions and Clark for facilitating what the board then approved.

Ticket prices for students were changed to $1 per event (with student ID) in order to encourage more kids to attend sporting contests when there might be several in one week. The prices for adults did not change, per the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s requirements; Schoolcraft is a member. A season pass will be offered to students for $25 and $60 for adults. Senior citizens, active military and veterans will get in free.

School budgeting came under discussion led by board President Jennifer Gottschalk when the board was presented with estimated closing general fund figures for the 2018-19 school year. The new information showed the year ending in the black rather than the red as had previously been projected. “It’s like putting a puzzle together without all the pieces,” Stitt said later. “We are still closing out the year and we don’t even know what the state per-pupil formula will be for the 2019-20 year so we recommended adopting a negative budget back in June. Now we have a better handle on our actual expenses for the past school year, so at least we know that we can meet our promises, especially to the teachers when it comes to figuring out the revenue sharing in November.”

“The discussion really was not so much about budget recommendations for 2018-19 – other than in the perfect world, the budget and actual would match at the end of the year,” explained Finance Director Rita Broekema after the meeting. “My world is not perfect and the Board would have liked [the numbers] to be closer than it was for 2018-19.  So would I, so we agree on that point.  The 2018-19 budget discussion was reminding everyone that we have a teacher contract that determines how we allocate any surplus revenue over expenditures.  It is binding and can only be altered through negotiations.”