Department of ed representative visits Onekama schools

ONEKAMA — One of the goals that Michgan State Superintendent Brian Whiston set when he took over that position in 2015 was to improve the communication

between school districts and the Michigan Department of Education.

Michigan Department of Education representative Diane Golzynski (center left) speaks with Onekama Consolidated Schools kindergarten teacher Jennifer Bromley (center right) about technology in their classroom. Golzynski was in the school on Friday as part of a program to get better communication between the department of education and school districts.

Michigan Department of Education representative Diane Golzynski (center left) speaks with Onekama Consolidated Schools kindergarten teacher Jennifer Bromley (center right) about technology in their classroom. Golzynski was in the school on Friday as part of a program to get better communication between the department of education and school districts.

Whiston felt there was a breakdown in the discourse between the Michigan Department of Education and school districts. To correct that he implemented a policy where he or one of the MDE representatives would visit all of the school districts in the state.

On Friday afternoon, MDE director Diane Golzynski was at the Onekama Consolidated Schools (OCS) building to visit with administrators, staff and board members about any concerns. In Manistee County Whiston, visited the Kaleva Norman Dickson District  recently and his representative Lisa Breen met with Manistee Area Public Schools representatives in the past.

Golzynski told the Onekama contingent why she was visiting their building on Friday.

“My role is Superintendent Whiston wants us to hear from you what works, what doesn’t, what you are proud of and what you wish the department of ed would do for you,” said Golzynski. “So I will go back to my weekly meeting on Monday and tell them all what I learned about Onekama and the amazing things you are doing. I will also give them a laundry list if you give me one about things we need to work on.”

She said it just follows Whiston’s plan of opening the doors of communication in a better way between the districts and MDE.

“You now have my card and if anything comes up that you wish the Department of Education would do you can call me as you have a direct person to talk with about it,” said Golzynski.

During the course of her time at Onekama Consolidated Schools, Golzynski toured the building and spoke with superintendent Kevin Hughes, principal Gina Hagen, board president Sally Koon, Nikki Torrey, Jennifer Bromley and Kelly Lyman along with students Travis Read and Sydnee Hrachovina.

Hughes pointed out the many highlights of the OCS district during the tour. He pointed out things like the one-to-one technology, daycare, community exercise room, course offerings, drama program, the recent additions to the school and so much more about what they have to offer in the district.

Following the tour, the group sat down to discuss where they had concerns. Koon said she realizes that a lot of things such as funding are not under the Department of Education’s control. She said it is becoming more time consuming and difficult to be a board member.

“It seems like there are so many hoops between things like policy, college readiness and testing,” said Koon. “Fortunately they are shifting around back to the importance of vocational education. For us one of the programs we have for voc ed is we have to send the kids to West Shore Community College (for West Shore ESD voc ed programs) and we have to pay $2,000 per student for a class plus transportation costs.”

Koon said it always seems like the state is putting new mandates on districts and it hard to keep up with all of them. It also brings additional stress into the school environment.

“It gets to the point where we could be just get back to just letting people teach?” she said.

Another thing Koon felt would be beneficial to all schools in this area would be getting funding for more counselors back to help troubled teens. Due to budgetary cutbacks, many schools like Onekama had to all but eliminate school counselors, making it difficult to get help to the students who need it.

“It’s about our whole society as it’s now about putting more guns in the school, but getting people to help the students,” said Koon. “There is a lot of issues that don’t get addressed properly and how do we think they can come in and learning anything if we don’t know if they are going to have a bed to sleep in or food to eat.”

Hughes pointed out that Onekama Schools is like all the others in seeing their low income free and reduced lunch count numbers steadily move up. Those are often the special needs students who could benefit from counselors, but state funding doesn’t provide any for districts.

“I can remember back when we were in the 20 percent free and reduced range and now it is up over 50 percent,” said Hughes. “The teachers, board and administrators are doing a book study on poverty and education as there is a lot of secondary trauma that comes into the schools today and after a while it becomes overwhelming.”

Hughes also discussed funding concerns and the challenges small rural districts face. Golzynski said she will take their concerns and thoughts back to the department of education.

 

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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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