BACK TO SCHOOL: What’s new at local districts this year

Posted by Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 9:36 am on Tuesday, September 02 2014

Belding Area Schools bus driver Tammy Richmond brings her bus to a stop with overhead right lights on, requiring any nearby traffic to come to a stop, during a mock bus stop Wednesday. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Staff and students have a lot to be excited about as the 2014-2015 school year gets underway Tuesday.

The rewards of voter-approved bond proposals in Belding, Carson City-Crystal and Lakeview are visible for all to see. A new superintendent is testing the waters at Central Montcalm while incoming freshman are making a “graduation pledge” at Greenville. A math instructor is being added to Montabella’s team, while science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes are being offered in the Tri County and Vestaburg districts.

Here’s a look at what’s new at local school districts.


Belding Area Schools

Belding is anticipating approximately 1,934 students this year, according to Superintendent Sara Shriver.

Shriver said the Belding district is beginning to see the results of staff effort to make positive changes. Ellis Elementary School has been named a Reward School for the second consecutive year, while Woodview Elementary School has remained off the Focus School list for two years and continues to show academic growth.

Shriver said staff are working on plans to provide support for the middle school program to show the state Belding can meet the challenges of being a priority school.

All schools in the Belding district will continue implementing and refining districtwide goals of refining and aligning K-12 curriculum, providing staff with early release time for collaboration, providing co-teaching opportunities for students with disabilities, using technology tools to engage students in the learning process, providing a multi-tiered system of support for K-12 in response to needed interventions and building community partnerships to support learning.

New to Belding Area Schools this school year is a partnership with Montcalm Community College for the early college program and possibly some dual enrollment courses later in the year.

“Belding staff will stay on our course for raising achievement for all students in all core areas, as well as closing the achievement gaps for our bottom 30 percent and our students with disabilities,” Shriver said. “Belding Area Schools is very excited to enjoy the completion of our bond projects, celebrate student successes and prepare for meeting our student challenges.”


Carson City-Crystal Area Schools

Carson City-Crystal is anticipating approximately 925 students, which is similar to last year’s numbers, according to Superintendent Kevin Murphy.

The most exciting news in the CC-C district continues to be the results of a voter-approved bond passed last May. The almost $11 million bond extended the district’s debt millage of 4.2 mills for another 15 years and nine months, allowing for security and technology upgrades and transportation and facility improvements.

“We would again like to thank the community for passing the $10.9 million bond that will make major improvements at the Upper Elementary, Middle School and High School, in addition to totally updating our Lower Elementary building,” Murphy said. “We have been planning all summer and will start construction near the end of the first marking period.”

Murphy said positive news for this upcoming school year includes 10 new teachers hired over the summer, all-day every day preschool for 4-year-olds and increased preschool slots for 3-year-olds, an increase in elective classes (including sixth through 12th grade Spanish, fourth through 12th grade art and fifth grade band), the high school shifting to a seven-day period and the continuation of the adult/alternative educational services being offered at the Crystal Community Center.

Regarding sports, the school board recently approved adding a girls soccer program set to start in the spring. Also, students will be allowed into all regular season home games for free, as long as the youngest students are accompanied by an adult and fourth through 12th grade students show their student identification.

“I’m excited about the anticipation exhibited by staff, students and parents because at CC-C we have the ability to embrace change and welcome returning and new families,” Murphy said.


Central Montcalm Public School

Central Montcalm is anticipating approximately 1,680 students this year, according to new Superintendent Charles Muncatchy.

Additional new administrative appointments to Central Montcalm this year include Charles “Marty” James as the new high school principal. James has 23 years of Central Montcalm experience in secondary teaching, coaching and leadership. Wilberta Wittkopp is the new elementary school principal. She is a veteran elementary school teacher and also recently worked as behavioral interventionist counselor at the elementary school.

Muncatchy expressed excitement about introducing Google Chromebooks to all middle school and high school students this year.

“One-to-one technology is our goal and this is an example of that commitment,” he said.

Three preschool programs and a tuition-based preschool class are also being launched this new school year, as part of the Great Start Readiness Program.

“I’m excited to serve as superintendent in a wonderful community of learners and leaders,” Muncatchy said. “I plan to be a visible, engaged superintendent.”


Greenville Public Schools

Greenville is anticipating approximately 3,700 students this year, which is about 40 less than last year, according to Superintendent Pete Haines.

The primary factor in the lower number is a smaller than usual kindergarten class, due in part to a change in birth date eligibility under a new state law. However, Haines said the reduced number of kindergarteners this year has long been anticipated due to lower birth numbers in 2008-2009.

“We’re not surprised and we planned ahead for a one-year adjustment in staffing levels,” Haines said. “The kindergarten group coming in 2015 looks to be back up. However, fall enrollments have been very active and with the sudden closing of one of the area’s charter schools (Threshold Academy), we may not see the reduction we anticipated.”

The Greenville district will be introduced to a new mathematics program this year. Technology has been expanded with hundreds of new Chromebooks and grant-funded technology coaches accompanying additional network access tools for instruction.

Greenville’s preschool is being expanded by a full section, thanks to the Great Start Readiness Program, and increased support will be offered for children with learning differences, thanks to the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District’s $2.6 million special education millage approved by voters last May.

Haines noted this year’s incoming freshman class will start a new trend by implementing a “graduation pledge.” The initiative began with eighth-graders at Greenville Middle School and is now moving into the high school.

Also new to Greenville this year is an American Sign Language course and the largest number of placements ever at the Montcalm Area Career Center in partnership with Montcalm Community College and the MAISD.


Lakeview Community Schools

Lakeview is anticipating approximately 1,188 students this year, according to Superintendent Kyle Hamlin, who noted declining enrollment continues to be an obstacle for the district.

On a positive note, Lakeview will be reopening the former Bright Start Elementary School as the new Lakeview Elementary School thanks to a voter-approved bond in early 2013. The school will house preschool through third grade students and will boast nine new classrooms and a full-sized gymnasium.

The district will launch a K-12 one-to-one technology initiative this year with students from kindergarten through seventh grade using iPads and students from eighth through 12th grade using Chromebooks.

“This will be a massive change in past practice,” Hamlin noted. “We look forward to watching our students and staff grow and learn together through this process.”

Also new this year, each school building will have secured entries. The initial entry will be open to allow families and visitors to be out of the weather, but they will not have direct access to the building until they are allowed in through the office.

“This will be a new process as well and will require patience,” Hamlin said. “Although this may not be convenient for a parent who is in a hurry, this will provide one more level of security for our students.”

Lakeview will be offering a middle college program through the MAISD and Montcalm Community College this year, as well as a new Virtual Learning Center in collaboration with Berrien Springs.


Montabella Community Schools

Montabella is anticipating approximately 815 students this year, which is about 15 students less than the last two years, according to Superintendent Shelly Millis.

New to Montabella this year is a math instructional coach, who will work with teachers on math lessons for fourth through eighth grade.

“The coach will work with teachers on strategies for instruction, model and teach lessons to students and collaborate with classroom teachers on data analysis and instructional adjustments that need to be made,” Millis said. “The decision to add the math coach was made by the school improvement team after achievement scores in math were historically lower than state average. We are optimistic that with the addition of the math coach and the added resources that we will see improvement in the area of math.”

An improvement that the community will surely notice is a new look to the gymnasium floor. The floor was damaged from storms this past spring and was repaired and repainted, giving it “a new look to start the year,” Millis noted.


Tri County Area Schools

Tri County is anticipating approximately 2,135 students this year, which is about 25 students less than last year, according to Superintendent Al Cumings.

One major change at Tri County this year involves going back to double bus runs after three years of single bus runs. The new start and end times for the high school and middle school will be 7:25 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. while the new tart and end times for the elementary schools will be 8:35 a.m. and 3:35 p.m.

Students at Sand Lake Elementary School will be offered a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) class once per week, which is new this year.

“I am very excited to see the students back in school,” Cumings shared. “The students bring such energy and passion to Tri County and I really enjoy seeing them and interacting with them.”


Vestaburg Community Schools

Vestaburg is anticipating approximately 600 students this year, which is holding steady from years past, according to Superintendent Brandon Hubbard.

Several new programs are being introduced and/or expanded at Vestaburg this year. A second 4-year-old preschool program is being added and a pilot program is being worked on for a 3-year-old preschool program. A behavior coach and a new special education supervisor have been added to the district. STEM classes are being added this year, along with new club sports, such as bowling.

A one-to-one technology initiative is also being launched this year, meaning every sixth-grader will be assigned a Chromebook for the remainder of their educational career at Vestaburg.

“We are very excited to continue to build on the great student achievement gains that we saw last year,” Hubbard said. “In addition to the increased achievement rankings, over 80 percent of all of our students showed a full year’s growth and this year we expect that not only to continue, but to increase even more.”

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