HARRISON – The Jan 9 meeting of the Harrison Community Schools Board of Education began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by the Harrison Middle School Robotics students.
As the first HCS Board of Education meeting of the year, it began with the acknowledgment and appreciation of the school board members for their contributions in support of school educators and staff, and the education of the district’s children. Prior to awarding certificates of appreciation to board members, HCS Superintendent Judy Walton spoke the following in appreciation:
“January in the state of Michigan is School Board Appreciation Month, and Harrison Community Schools joins 537 local and 56 intermediate school districts across our state to celebrate our board this month. In another year full of challenges and opportunities for public education, our school board members worked throughout 2022 to provide the best education possible for our students, and celebrating them this month is one of the small ways in which we show our appreciation for all they do.
“School board members represent the views and priorities of our community in the complex system of maintaining and running a district’s public schools. They also reinforce the principle of local control over public education, which is an important and highly valued aspect of education in Michigan. Their main goal is to support student achievement, and they do that in oh so many ways, some of which you already heard about tonight: Taking committee assignments and taking matters up on the behalf of the community.
“Even though we’re making a special effort during January to show appreciation for our school board members, we recognize that their contributions are year-round, and they do things day in and day out for our kids. No matter what challenges may lie ahead for our district in 2023, we know that our school board members will continue to govern to improve student achievement and provide exceptional education for all of our community children.”
Walton then distributed the certificates of appreciation accompanied by a “Thank you very much.”
As the board prepared to hear a Middle School Robotics Team instructional highlight, Walton expressed the district’s gratitude to Jennifer Thrush and Stacy VanAntwerp from the middle school for supporting that new program at the middle school. Thanks also was expressed to art teacher Ian Humphres who designed the team’s logo.
The presentation by the Robo Hornets included partial, casual introductions of the coaching/mentoring staff. Student Eli Wing then picked up Robot 21622 and brought it around to show to the board members. Volunteer Hope Young introduced the individual team members, noting they all dedicated a lot of time this season, practicing twice weekly and building the robot from scratch.
“We would also like to say we are very appreciative to the administration, the faculty of the middle school, especially our community, especially the high school robotics team,” Young said. “Their mentor Kevin Smalley helped our program immensely, and they helped fund our team as well, so we’re very appreciative.”
She said that, being a new team having started the second week of school because it had not been known if there would be a team, there had been no fundraising done. Thus, with the support of the school, administration and the high school robotics team, the Robo Hornets team had been able to do all it needed to do. She specifically thanked S&S Collision for donating funds for the team jerseys and for purchasing lunch the day of the team’s Dec. 10 competition in Big Rapids. That was the first Tech Challenge qualifier, in which the team did not place but did fairly well, and gained learning experience for next year.
Young also expressed gratitude to Kevin Smalley, as some of the eighth-grade robotics enthusiasts will be doing an “internship” with the high school team this season [middle school being fall and high school being winter]. This will afford the students an opportunity to go into next year’s competitions with a good idea of what to expect.
After a first reading of the Thrun Board Policy changes, attention turned to interviews of three community members who sought to fill the school board seat being vacated by Chad Hathcock. Those candidates included Chelsea Roland, Brian Noel and Andrew Morris. The story on those interviews and the selection and appointment of Chelsea Roland to the board was previously printed in the Jan. 12 issue of the Cleaver.
The Board then approved the Consent Agenda, approving regular meeting minutes of Dec. 12, 2022; financial reports for Dec. 1-31, 2022; and the hiring of Nathan Chaskey in the Maintenance, Building and Grounds Department.
In her report to the board, superintendent Judy Walton offered a couple points of pride, the first being from the Department of Public Health-provided district immunization statistics derived from information supplied by families for students in kindergarten and seventh grade, and when a new student comes into the district. Those showed compliance [showing that paperwork has been provided or waiver submitted] and completion [number of fully vaccinated students]. She said the district scores were in the high 80s or in the 90s in every single school around compliance and completion.
“Our overall district numbers, we have 96% compliance which means 96% of all that were required gave us either the up-to-date immunization record or the waiver,” she said. “And our completion rate which only looks at fully immunized is at 90%, so that we know that across the district it’s an indication of the level of protection in the event of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. So, those numbers look really good for us this year: a point of pride there.”
She noted the Dress Code Survey, which came out Jan. 6 and would close Jan. 13, had received 508 total responses by that afternoon: 296 from students [out of 750 students in grades 5-12], 67 staff, 35 community members, and 108 parents/guardians. Walton added that there is a group of about 50 stakeholders who have volunteered to be part of discussions going forward, adding that it is really nice to see that community involvement.
Stating another point of pride, Walton recognized middle school students Eli Wing and Julian Brazier who had received the Americanism Award from the VFW for their contributions to the Patriot’s Pen contest. Their essay was titled “My Pledge to Our Veterans” for which each was awarded $50 from VFW Post 1075. Heather Jensen was awarded Teacher of the Year by Post 1075, was also honored by all of VFW District 11, and will go up to the next level.
“Heather was recognized for the extent to which she models and encourages citizenship, innovation, the use of resources and her passion for teaching in and of itself, and finding new ways to encourage our kids,” Walton said. “So, thank you, Heather, very much for all that you do.”
The School District Data presentation was offered by Kelly Lipovsky, with specific focus on the improving attendance in proportion to students meeting subject benchmarks. Lipovsky provided information on current scores plus a comparison with last year’s scores to show student growth in reading and math. She noted that fall testing results are basically indicative of learning in the previous year’s instructional time, fall to fall, and that winter testing will give a better picture of students’ actual growth. The information provided was broken down into subgroups: all students; economically disadvantaged students; special ed students; male and female. Those were further broken out into grade levels – all showing percentages of growth. She said in NWEA, students take a test then take a test again, and growth is measured from those two scores.
Lipovsky said that, ideally, the goal for the district is 100%, but that realistically the goal for the district is for 76% of kids to be at their growth target by Spring 2023. Fall 2022 reading sits at the 45th percentile, and that number is reflective of last year’s bad attendance numbers in 2021 when more than half of students had missed 10 or more days of school. She cited the 19% of the previous fall’s second-graders who had that growth, and that at the beginning of this year as third-graders 59% had made that growth in reading.
Lipovsky said math is exceptionally improved compared to reading with an average math increase of 25% this year compared to last fall.
“As a school improvement team and as building administrators, we’re looking at this data and we’re pretty happy with it,” she said.
Lipovsky said scores show growth in all areas in reading, except for second grade which she said is typical as that is the first time when students have to read the tests themselves. She said there was also a decrease in middle school reading which was being looked at.
Walton reiterated the improved, consistent attendance is reflected in the scores, referring to the results being seen in the third grade at Larson. She noted the third-graders came into kindergarten in COVID times, and for new learners have had the least amount of stable school.
“So, to see that in our third grade at Larson is incredibly commendable,” she said.
Lipovsky added that the rise in math in all grades is encouraging because math can suffer, while students may still be getting some reading at home, and added that she is anxious to see the winter scores. She said the board will be able to see those winter test scores. Walton explained that the tests are nationally normed and are used to report benchmarks, but that the whole purpose is for that teacher of those kids in that classroom to know what they’re ready for next.
Lipovsky informed that the high school is now using NWEA testing as well, which will help provide consistent information across the board. Walton also noted that the state assessment testing is a reporting mechanism for the state, but the scores are lagging indicators which do nothing to help teachers in the moment.
Under the Non-Consent Agenda, the board took two further actions, approving the hiring of Chad Hathcock as HCS Business Manager, and appointing Chelsea Roland to fill the board vacancy created by Hathcock’s resignation.
Walton offered her enthusiastic recommendation of Hathcock for the business manager position. She reported there had been six candidates apply for the position, four had qualified by meeting the minimum requirements, and two had made it to the interview stage. Walton listed Hathcock’s qualifications, adding that he had received resounding endorsements from the references provided.
Board member Jim Neff raised his concern regarding Hathcock having still been on the board at the time the compensation for the business manager position was set, possibly leaving the impression of a conflict of interest. It was suggested that a board policy needed to be established to prevent any future action which could leave that impression. To that end, the board passed a motion that going forward, a board member cannot apply for a paid position with the school district unless a year has elapsed between resignation and application.
The Board then voted to hire Hathcock as HCS business manager, with a lone dissenting vote cast by Neff.
It was at that point on the agenda the board voted to appoint Chelsea Roland to the board.
Under Public Comment, an attending teacher spoke to the newly implemented position of instructional coaches, one at the elementary level and one at the secondary level. She voiced her appreciation for instructional coach Dionne Coughlin who assisted her in shifting from a high school teaching position down to the middle school. She said she wanted to let the board know those people are doing a fabulous job in their roles. Board candidate Andrew Morris then voiced his appreciation for the board giving him the opportunity to interview, and offered congratulations to Chelsea Roland. He, in turn, was thanked for his participation.
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