Saturday, April 6, 2019

Plan to make up days

Q:   I would like to know how the district plans on making up 16 days of missed school? -Parent-

A: I can respond to this question:

Six of the days, per the negotiated agreement between the Stephenson Board of Education and the Stephenson Certified Staff, do not need to be made up.  This is common language in many contracts throughout the state of Michigan.

That leaves 10 days in question.  There are too many options being kicked around in Lansing for me to state today what our plan is at the present time.  I believe we need to let the dust settle in Lansing, see what the final options are and then sit down with the union leaders from our certified staff and see what we can come up with.

A recent proposal that is being discussed in Lansing is to allow the addition of at least a 30-minute segment to the current school day as an acceptable means of counting time.  I have no idea if this will pass both the house and senate but if it does, it is worth conversation with our union leaders.
I would say at the present time we can plan on extending the school year later into June.  How much longer, I cannot say at the present time.

I believe our students deserve the best education our staff can provide.  Our staff has done an extremely positive job staying focused, adjusting plans and delivering services throughout this winter.

Thanks for the question and the opportunity to respond!!


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Establishing a Scholarship

Q:  Advanced Blending Solutions of Wallace, MI would like to set up an annual scholarship for a graduating student attending a vocational school.  How can such a scholarship be established in the Stephenson school district? 
 -Community Member-

A: There are a number of different local scholarship opportunities and formats that positively impact students in the Stephenson School System.  Our community has been very generous in establishing and funding scholarship to help students attend higher educational opportunities after graduation from Stephenson Area Public Schools.

For anyone interested in establishing a scholarship please feel free to contact any or all of the following people at Stephenson Area Public Schools:  Peggy Grille, Principal, or Annette Johnson, Counselor, or Ron Kraft, Superintendent, .  We will be happy to meet with you and/or your group to discuss the format in which you would like to recognize and support our graduates in Stephenson Area Public Schools. 

Each scholarship is different and unique.  The selection criteria and application criteria is up to the donor as well as the selection process.  We have samples and examples of what has been established in previous years by previous donor and we are ready and willing to assist in potential customization if you so desire.

Thanks for the question and thanks for providing positive opportunities for our students.


Elementary Roof

The following questions have been posed.  I am going to answer them together. Question #1, Why would school be cancelled for the roof to be cleaned off?  There was a scheduled day off yesterday.  So why wasn’t it done when the students were not there?  These unnecessary cancelled days are adding up pretty quickly?  I’m concerned about the amount of education my child is being deprived of due to the continued cancellation of school.  Question #2, I understand why school was closed today, but why didn’t the school take proper precaution after the previous snow storm with removing the snow from the school’s roof?  Also, its winter.  Snow is a major aspect of this season.  You should expect that roads will be slippery and to proceed with caution.  I know the main roads are clear, and some side roads are slippery, but if drive slow you will get to your destination.  With how many days the school has had off due to snow/cold days, what is going to happen with making these days up?  Stephenson Area Public Schools doesn’t have central air, and at this rate the students may suffer greatly if they have to go further into the summer with possible high temperatures.

A: I can respond to these questions:

I am concerned with the number of days that student have missed also.  We are an educational institution and students need to be in school but, we need to make sure we do everything within our ability to have students be safe from home to school, at school and then on their return trip home.  With approximately 396 square miles of district we have a significant number of miles of secondary roads.  I believe our city and county snow removal professionals have done a tremendous job with the diverse conditions they have faced this year.  They have embraced these challenges and worked diligently to allow us to get our kids to and from school safely.  We have had minimal buses stuck or off the road this year.  I agree the primary roads can be clear or drivable and the secondary roads may be impassable and at times even slowing down is not enough to proceed safely.  We have a significant number of dead-end roads in our district.  These roads are the last to be plowed and that is understandable.  Driving a bus with rear wheel drive is significantly different than driving a front wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle.  Snow, icy, occasional snow drifts and extreme cold have blessed our state this year.  This is not a local issue but a state issue. 

I do not have a response for the make-up plan at the present time as there are current conversations and proposed legislation in Lansing to address this statewide concern.  There is a proposal to only have to comply with the hour’s requirement and another to forgive portions of days and hours.  Regarding the possible heat in June, we often have a week or two of 80 and sometime 90-degree weather in September or October and we work through those situations and if we need to do this in June we will do our best.  As mentioned in previous responses, changing of the instructional hours of a day or changes to the negotiated calendar without negotiating this in good faith is an unfair labor practice in the State of Michigan and we will not do that.  We have and we will continue to have discussions with our certified staff and work through this together.  Quality instructional time is very important to our staff and vital for our student’s success.  We just received our School Index School Overview as determined by the Michigan Department of Education, our results are extremely positive and are the best in the region for two consecutive years.  You can view the results for Stephenson and other districts in the region and state by going to the MI-School Data link on the SAPS website: . 

The last thing I want to do is to release a makeup day plan and then change the plan.   I believe it is safe to say that we will be extending the school into June.  We must have the school year completed prior to the end of the fiscal year which is June 30 this is currently state law.
Regarding the cancelation of school to clean off the roof, ultimately that is my responsibility and I take full responsibility for that.  We have an employee who has been with our maintenance / custodial staff for 37 years and another employee who have been with us for 22 years and they have never experienced potential excess weight on the roof of this nature.  Flat roofs are designed to have snow blow off them in an attempt to remove excess weight.  Thus far this winter we have not experienced significant wind, thus a natural way for excess snow to be removed has not occurred.  Traditionally we would have a couple of warm ups or thaws in February for a couple days and this would also help.  In retrospect this has not happened either.  We have staff do building checks each weekend and during scheduled breaks.  On Act of God Days our maintenance staff works on clearing sidewalks, parking area and exit doors and exit routes.  They are in and out of the buildings checking heat units in hallways and classrooms. 

The buildings were checked on February 23 and 24.  The majority of the day on February 25 was spent cleaning up and ice on sidewalks and parking lots as we had five employees fall the previous week.  Both buildings were checked and there was no evidence of excess weight on the elementary roof.  At approximately 4:00 pm I received a call from our Maintenance Supervisor asking me to get over to the elementary, he needed my help.  It was at that time that we discovered some potential sag in the bar joist and roof in the north wing.  The Stephenson Elementary has served us well over the years.  It was constructed well and was designed for there to be a percentage of sag in the bar joist system and this designed worked.

After a phone call to our architect it was decided to begin to remove snow starting from the north and south edges and to work our way to the middle of the roof.  It was the middle of the roof where the bar joist sag appeared to be occurring.  We were informed by the architect that he believed that once the excess snow was removed the potential bar joist sag would re-mediate itself.  The architect was about four hours away but agreed to come that evening, (February 25) and give us his opinion.
Our maintenance director and I with the help of a local contractor were able to get a walk behind snow blower on the roof and the snow removal started.  We were joined by our board president shortly thereafter.  The decision to keep the number of people on the roof small for safety reasons was established and for the next four hours a significant amount of snow was removed.  Our architect arrived in town about 8 pm.  He had stopped by his office and had reviewed the architectural drawing and structural plans prior to coming to Stephenson.  

We removed ceiling tiles inside the building and a visual inspection occurred (the bar joist sag had already been reduced).  The architect joined the maintenance supervisor and myself on the roof so he could determine snow depths for technical calculations.  We continued to remove the remaining snow from the north wing roof until that section was clear, this was approximately 10:00 PM.  We were tired and wanted to remove snow on other areas of the roof that were not showing and signs of potential bar joist sag since there was additional snow forecast for the remainder of the week.  During this entire process we have learned that the bar joist was designed for a load of 60 psf of total load.  Snow weighs about 20 psf and there appeared to be about 18 inches of snow in areas of the north wing.  This means approximately 30 psf of snow weight.  This is a ballast roof and weight could be between 12 to 15 psf and the weight of the decking, insulation, ceiling, duct-work, piping, etc., one could figure approximately 15 psf so we were getting close to our limits.

Over the following days we removed snow and communicated with our property and casualty insurance provider to inform them of the situation and seek their perspective, experience and advice.  They were very positive with our response, actions and plan.  I have been a superintendent for over 20 years and with the tenure of two highly regarding employees of 22 and 37 years respectfully, we have never experienced this situation.  We will now include roof checks for snow depths as part of our building checks. 

I talk with students and staff about being lifelong learners.  I am not exempt from this either.  I learn every day.  We use what we have learned over time to influence or impact our decisions.  When I am faced with uncharted experiences, I do my best to get the input of those who have different experiences thus the call to the architect and property/casualty insurance provider.  I /we have learned from this experience and will monitor the roof in the future.
Ultimately this is my responsibility.  I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused any student or family.

Thanks for the question and opportunity to respond.


MSU Exploration

Q:   Is there an updated school calendar?  My children have participated in MSU Exploration days for a number of years and registration is just around the corner.  A deposit is required at the time of registration and classes fill up very fast.  As it stands, the trip would leave the Monday after the last day of school. How do we know when the last day of school will be so we know if we can sign our children up for activities such as this?   -Parent-

A: I am glad that MSU Exploration Days are still occurring.  I had children that attended those educational opportunities as part of their 4-H group.  Those experiences were very positive experiences for them and hopefully will be for your children.  That being said, education is very important to all of us.  Education and experiences occur inside and outside the formal setting.

This is an educational decision you need to make as a family and we will support you.  The key to situations such as this is early communication and that is what you are doing, thank you.  MSU Exploration Days use to occur on the Michigan State University Campus in East Lansing.  

As a district we plan and participate in field trips starting in 5th grade to various businesses and higher educational institutions.  Those visits are part of career exploration and are very important in helping our students decide what they want to do for a career and where they may want to continue their formal education. Mrs. Grille would be the next contact for you to make.  She will work with you and your students and then with the staff of Stephenson Area Public Schools to help both opportunities happen if that is your family's desire. I firmly believe that when reasonable people come together with a common goal of providing experiences and opportunities for kids a positive solution will occur.

I do not have an answer for the last day of school or make up days but I will support your desire to have your children have this opportunity.  Please contact Peggy and we can get the ball rolling with our staff and your family.

Thanks for the question and opportunity to respond!


Hats Hoodies and Home Economics

Q: A popular question I hear in the hallways is why aren’t kids allowed to wear hats and hoodies indoors?  Another question I hear is why don’t we have Home Economics? 

A: I am able to respond to these questions.

Let’s start with the last part first.  Why don’t we have Home Economics?  This course offering was eliminated from our course offering guide prior to my arrival in Stephenson.  My guess is that it revolves mostly around a teacher certification situation.  The Home Economics Certification is a certification that has become less prevalent over the years.  Finding a prospective teacher with the Home Economics Certification gets more difficult daily and then having enough students who wish to take the course in the information age with declining enrollment is also more difficult.

The portion of this question regarding hats and hoods being worn in the building, from my perspective, revolves around student identification.  All students know we have security cameras in our buildings and I believe this is outlined in the student handbook.  The ability to identify a student or adult is part of school safety.  The more a person’s head is covered the more difficult it is to successfully and accurately identify a person.

Thanks for your questions!


Snow Days and Act of God

Snow Days and Act of God

(Please follow link above to full questions and answers on this topic)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Extra Curricular Activities on Snow Days

Q: I was under the assumption that when school was called off for the day, that also included extracurricular activities.  I guess I would just like some clarification. –Parent-

A: I am able to respond to this question:

We take each situation and each day individually and independently.  Safety is always our biggest concern.  I must reiterate that we are not perfect and we make mistakes but, we try diligently to error on the side of caution.  There are times that the conditions in the morning do not allow us to have school but allow us to have activities in the later afternoon or evening.

There are times that the conditions allow for only a window of a few hours in the afternoon for practices to occur (normally due to temperature). 
Our students at Stephenson have a number of options during the winter for extended curricular activities, Robotics, BPA as well as Girls and Boys Basketball, to name a few.  Each of these opportunities present unique differences for time slots for practice based on coach’s/mentors work schedules and the age of the students participating / transportation.

This winter has presented some interesting challenges for practice and competition dates due to the ice, snow, cold and wind.  I communicate with our Athletic Director, Transportation's Supervisor and Building Administrators, gather potential weather forecasts and then make a decision.
We try to put our students in the best situation possible to be successful with the extended curricular activity but their safety must come first.

I have observed districts where the policy is, “if school is cancelled, all activities are cancelled at the school”.  That policy makes things easy for administration but difficult for students, coaches / mentors when trying to help students be successful chasing their dreams.

Thanks for the question,