Saying goodbye to Schoolcraft Elementary

One last hug for Schoolcraft Elementary.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

On the morning of Thursday, June 8, 2023, Schoolcraft Elementary students surrounded the lower elementary building to say thank you and give one last literal “hug” to a building that has served Schoolcraft Community Schools well for over 50 years. Built in 1969, the building has seen thousands of students and staff learn, teach, grow and play.

This fall, the doors to a new elementary building will open. This will be a tremendous asset to the community for decades to come, but before students and staff moved on, they honored the past and said “thank you” before the doors closed for the last time.

Sara Howard, dean of students, came up with an idea, and, according to Matt Webster, Schoolcraft Elementary Principal and the district’s assistant superintendent, she was met with a resounding “yes!” by all involved.

Howard explains that the past few years have included countless hours of collaboration to build the new elementary school. Howard says, “Matt Webster has done an incredible job of guiding us through the vision of the new while keeping us connected to our past.”

And it was because of those connections to the past that Howard and Webster hoped to provide a path for students and staff to express their gratitude for the upper and lower elementary buildings. “It is important at the end of every school year to have moments of closure,” says Howard. “And this one needed closure of a special kind. We decided that something as simple as a hug gave us a way to close out decades of service of the buildings.”

Students and staff stepped outside together one last time to “embrace the significance of the lower and upper elementary buildings – spaces we were letting go of.” The thank-you hug also honored former students, staff and community and was a welcome to the change that is coming.

“It was a beautiful moment for our staff and students. You could feel the energy and appreciation in the air,” says Howard.

Schoolcraft board OKs budget, eyes cell phone rules

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

The Schoolcraft school board in a July meeting approved a 2023-2024 budget which includes a $458 increase in per-pupil funding.

Finance Director Kendra Drewyor told the board the budget makes progress on a weighted-student funding formula with increases in the foundation allowance. The increase brings the total to $9,608 per pupil, a 5% increase in the grant.

The state is also providing significant one-time investments in many areas, including at-risk and special-education students and English learners. The at-risk funding formula changed to include an “opportunity index” which provides greater funding for at-risk students depending on the concentration of poverty.

At-risk funding ranges from 11.5% to 15.3%, and minimum additional funding per at-risk student is $1,115. For budget purposes, at-risk allocations are based on prior year counts. The special education foundation grant will be funded at 100% plus reimbursed costs.

Drewyor says the final agreement for transportation is “the first meaningful investment in covering transportation costs.” The state will provide $125 million for the School Transportation Fund. There are also increases to various funds at the state level for programs, including the Great Start readiness program, enrollment stabilization and universal school meals.

In an effort to attract and retain educators, the state is instituting an Educator Compensation Program, exploring a program for student loan forgiveness for school employees. The state is also increasing support for the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System. In addition, mental health and school safety grants are available.

During the superintendent’s report, Rick Frens said he has examined the research and is looking into a new cell phone policy for the school buildings. He indicated that he will be forming a committee of stakeholders to guide the new policy which he expects will remove student cell phone use from the buildings.

Jenny Sportel, Schoolcraft Elementary 4th grade teacher who was in the audience at the meeting, asked who would be on the committee, stating that the decision is important and needs to be drafted “carefully and thoughtfully.”

Frens agreed and encouraged Sportel to be a part of the decision-making group.

Vicksburg school improvements on pace

Roof work is underway at Vicksburg High School.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools Board of Education members at a June 10 were given a construction update from Maintenance Director Dewey Waterman on work taking place over the summer at the middle school and high school.

Waterman said work started moments after the 2022-23 academic year concluded June 9.

“The kids had a half day of school; literally, the kids are getting on the bus and Two Men and a Truck are pulling in … I’m not even exaggerating, it was that fast,” he said. “They grabbed boxes, threw bar codes on them, beeped them, so that when they come to put them back in the classrooms … it’s going to be (a very efficient process).”

Within the first week of summer break, high school classroom materials and furniture were moved to hallways, and ceilings tiles were taken down. Waterman explained much of the work at the high school is mechanical and infrastructure.

By the end of the second week, work areas were gutted, he said. He joked that technology wires, at this point, were “strung like spaghetti.” Within three weeks, work on the high school roof started and by the fourth week, new lighting was being installed.

At Vicksburg Middle School, Waterman said 10 pallets of protection were laid to cover floor surfaces. Within the first week, the school library and a number of classrooms were gutted in advance of improvements, he said.

Also within the first week, a 61-year-old boiler was removed and replaced with four modular boilers. Waterman said the modern boiler system will greatly improve energy efficiency at the school.

Waterman showed a series of still photos, including an exterior shot of where a new transformer will be placed.

“We’re going from a single phase to a three-phase transformer because of all the load with the extra air conditioning,” he said. “Where two five-inch conduits came up to where the transformer feeds the school, we have nine now. So, there’s more load going into this building with this air conditioning (addition).”

Waterman said he is pleased with the pace at which the work is unfolding. He said work is being done over the course of two summers, with the balance to be completed in 2024.

Waterman said in the end, the two schools will have updated infrastructure, including LED lighting, full air conditioning and more-efficient heating systems.

In a separate matter, board president Skip Knowles acknowledged the passing of former superintendent Larry Cole. Cole served as Vicksburg’s superintendent twice: 1975-1979 and 1984-1994. He was Schoolcraft superintendent 1969-1975.

Knowles said Cole was largely responsible for creation of the high school’s performing arts center.