Summer improvements at two Vicksburg schools

Mike Frederick, construction manager DJ Bird, and Keevin O’Neill.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools once again took advantage of empty school buildings over the summer to catch up on construction projects.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said the district continues to identify and address a variety of building needs. A heavy focus was placed this summer on work at Indian Lake and Sunset Lake.

The work is being done thanks to a $17.6 million, 20-year millage request district voters approved in May 2020. The Board of Education tapped the expertise of project manager Frederick Construction and architect TowerPinkster to oversee this summer’s work.

Nearly $6 million in work was performed between the two schools.

O’Neill said the district is not disappointed with the improvements.

“I’m very pleased that all our projects were completed on time and I want to once again thank our supportive Vicksburg community for passing the 2020 bond,” O’Neill said. “The comfortable, flexible learning environments we are creating will enhance learning for all. In addition, I would like to thank our construction manager, Frederick Construction, for their efforts to ensure the quality and timeliness of our summer projects.”

Here’s a closer look at what was done this summer, starting with Indian Lake:

  • Electrical improvements, including reworking existing ceiling-mounted technology (wireless access points, cameras, clocks, etc.) in preparation for new ceiling tiles, installation of LED lighting and lighting controls throughout the building, and some work to clean up existing circuitry to free up capacity for future use.
  • Mechanical upgrades: installation of new HVAC components throughout the building to provide heating and cooling in several locations, including all classrooms, offices, common spaces, media center and cafeteria.
  • New flooring in some areas in the building.
  • Interior renovations. Includes acoustical ceilings, new drywall bulkheads and walls related to the new vertical HVAC units, as well as repairs to the exterior-insulation finishing system.
  • Masonry. Modifications to interior and exterior masonry to accommodate louvers for the new vertical units.

Total cost at Indian Lake is about $2.4 million.

Meanwhile, district officials said the scope of work at Sunset Lake is essentially the same as Indian Lake, with the addition of window and exterior-wall renovations. Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss said the work at Sunset Lake was sequenced over last summer and this summer. Total cost for the school is approximately $3.5 million.

The district is expecting about 2,700 students for the 2022-23 academic year.

Schoolcraft offers summer school, camp style

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

For a second year, Schoolcraft Community Schools has partnered with Next Level Performance, offering the district’s summer school at the Dome Sports Center on US 131. From all indications, this is a positive, successful program.

Two years ago, districts across the state of Michigan began experiencing the effects of the isolation of COVID shutdowns on student achievement and emotional health. The State of Michigan encouraged school districts to partner with community organizations in designing summer school to make these programs as effective as possible, and additional funds for summer programming were available.

Schoolcraft Elementary Principal Matt Webster says, “The district leadership wanted to build a program which was wellness driven, focusing on not only academics, but the whole child, including behavioral, social, emotional, and physical well-being.”

As the district leadership discussed options and locations, they contacted the management team at Next Level Performance at the Dome, and Webster said the response was an immediate “Yes!”

Schoolcraft summer school students attend “Summer Camp” from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. From 8:30 to 10, the focus is on academics. During this time, students meet in the Dome’s multi-purpose room for academic lessons and support. The ratio of students to staff in this setting is 5 to 1, and the district’s team includes highly skilled teachers in reading instruction, led by Amy Desmond, one of Schoolcraft Elementary’s 1st grade teachers. Webster and the district’s social worker also check in with students during this time.

Parents transport students and a snack is provided.

At 10 a.m., the Schoolcraft students join the Dome’s summer camp program. These programs not only focus on a particular sport or activity each week, but the focus is also on character and leadership.

Campers receive sports instruction, lots of play time, and interaction with camp staff.

Last year, 20 Schoolcraft students attended each week during the district’s eight-week Summer Camp. This year, the number is 25 per week.

Webster says the goal is for students to maintain their current academic level through the summer, avoiding any academic loss. As for the other goals for the children — the behavioral, social, emotional and physical well-being?

The smiles on the campers’ faces tell it all.

Vicksburg district hires new staff

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools is resolving its staffing needs for the 2022-23 academic year, filling open positions and, in other cases, shuffling staff as circumstances warrant.

During the board’s July 11 meeting, nearly a dozen new staff members were hired. Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said at that time there were just a few more slots to fill.

“We have three teachers that we’re still looking to hire but other than that, we’re moving in a good direction,” he said. “We also have some para-pros that we need to replace. Stay tuned; we’re hoping to have a good end to this month.”

The summary of new hires and reassignments of current employees to a position different from last year:

High school: English teacher, Lindsey Chatel; math, Nicole Bruggema.

Middle school: science, Michelle Wistinghausen; media specialist, Joe Wing; assistant principal, Joe Werkema; social studies, Matt Brussee; English and ESL, Alexa Neumann.

Sunset Lake: first grade, Jill Braman and Brenda Warner; second grade, Tabitha Sears; third grade, Kelly Sanchez; fourth grade, Rebecca Wing; fifth grade, Samantha Witters; media specialist, Kristen Shook; student-support coordinator, Amanda Lewis; building interventionalist, Kris Fulton; administrative assistant, Alicia Sprinkle.

Tobey: Fourth grade, Michelle Malito.

Indian Lake: first grade, Amber Beal.

Administration building: instructional coaches, Laura Chang, Kyle Baker and Megan Lynn; human resources, Lourdes Franco-Puzevic.

Other: SEL/student success coordinator, Laura Gordon.

O’Neill said he expects to have an updated list to share at the board’s Aug. 8 meeting.

He added the incoming kindergarten class as of July 11 will be 184 students. With 175 students graduating in 2022, that’s a net gain of nine students for the 2022-23 school year, based solely on outgoing and incoming students.