Local schools learning to cooperate instead of compete

Being the education writer at the Manistee News Advocate gives me a front row seat to what is transpiring in education for eight county school districts and West Shore Community College.

It also gives me a perspective of common problems that are not subject to a particular district, but across the board throughout the county. They are concerns in the schools that touch just about everyone who calls Manistee County home.

What I have witnessed over the past several years is trends that are common to the entire state of Michigan. Declining enrollment, shrinking funding and constant unfunded mandates appear to be the biggest problems.

Something that has been amazing is the number of times a solution can come from the most unlikely source. Over a year ago the Manistee Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Crosby brought all of the superintendents and board presidents from school districts together to see what could be done to improve relations. The group later adopted the name Manistee County on Education.

Crosby retired at the end of June, but new ISD superintendent Jeff Jennette has picked up the baton and run with it. Jennette has been in that position for a short time, but he has already shown me he has a deep concern for the area and its success. He is the perfect replacement for Crosby in my book.

Once everyone had a seat around the table, something special began to happen. Superintendents and board presidents began to open up and the realization came through loud and clear that working together instead of competing could benefit everyone.

What the group also realized was that the problem went beyond just the struggles of the schools. The community as a whole has a stake in it as well and they opened up the meeting to include business, industry, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the college.

Suddenly the discussion expanded from sharing teachers and programs to a new level to the need for vocational education classes. It was a move that made total sense to me.

What the local industry leaders also brought to the table was the news that they were having difficulty finding skilled workers. The connection to working together with the schools on a possible vocational program was a win-win for all parties.

For years I have written in this very column that our children are the biggest export Manistee has on a yearly basis. We educate them and they grow up here, but then when it comes time to enter the workforce they often move elsewhere to live.

Hence, they get married and raise their families in other other communities and their children attend schools in those areas. The schools lose out on pupils, the factories lose on workers and the business community as a whole loses from not having a growing and thriving community.

The Manistee County on Education group is smart enough to know that the progression level starts by crawling, followed by baby steps, walking and then running. They are looking to start small and did so this month when all the school districts approved a resolution for a vision statement. The vision was simple and to the point — “Together, we will improve education progressively in Manistee County.”

A small step, but an important one that will hopefully start them working their way up the ladder. It is the wise move on everyone’s part.

Over my many years of working in this business there have been countless good things that have happened in this community because someone had the courage to sit at a table and talk. Let’s hope that discussion continues well beyond when I …. see you next Wednesday.

 

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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