SL school could close

A special committee is looking into "reimagining" Spring Lake’s two elementary schools.
Krystle Wagner
Jan 16, 2013

 

The Spring Lake Elementary Planning Committee has been discussing a potential reconfiguration of Holmes and Jeffers elementary schools since this fall. After much discussion, the group has centered on one of two possibilities. One of the options is closing Jeffers and having all elementary students attend school at the Holmes campus.

Decision-making process

At Monday’s Jeffers Parents Organization meeting, committee member Michelle Prince presented an update on the committee’s discussions to a group of eager parents who gathered in the school’s library.

Prince said they are considering leaving the schools as they are, or building a new school next to Holmes Elementary to house all students in grades kindergarten through fourth at that campus.

She said they’ve made lists of the pros and cons for both options, and architects would decide the best layout and way for the buildings to combine if they recommend this option.

The focus of the reconfiguration has shifted each time the committee meets, Prince said, and some discussions have been heated.

“It has become a think tank,” she said.

At the beginning of the process, Prince said they looked at leaving the two school buildings as they are, but shifting the grades to create separate schools for upper elementary and lower elementary grades.

Committee members planned this week to visit two school districts similar in size to Spring Lake Public Schools to see how they handled a reconfiguration.

A committee meeting planned for Tuesday night was closed to the public, and the newspaper denied access, by Superintendent Dennis Furton.

Furton wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune that he is trying to have a committee weigh the merits of a particular change “without the outside noise of your coverage.”

“Reporting on the work, when it remains quite formative, would not be their preference,” he wrote. “I'd prefer to let the committee do their work without any distractions or disruptions to process.”

Parent reaction

Parents of Jeffers and Holmes students received a newsletter last week to inform them of the committee’s task to research options for reconfiguring the elementary buildings.

“Through thorough examination and thoughtful discussion, the committee felt this standard reconfiguration was not addressing the true needs of the district,” the newsletter reads. “Instead, we needed to ‘reimagine’ how our buildings will best deliver 21st-century learning to Spring Lake. Subsequently, our conversations have turned to address the best model of delivery that will move us into the future.”

The newsletter explained the committee's focus is to provide the best learning environment for young students, to think into the future of education for elementary students, and a thorough analysis of the district's facilities.

As parents expressed concerns during the parent meeting this week, Jeffers Principal Shelley Peets said she was hesitant to talk about the committee’s discussions until they settle on a recommendation to the school board.

“It’s too soon,” she said. “We need to let the committee do its job.”

Parents questioned why Holmes would be chosen over Jeffers, and expressed concerns about potential traffic congestion there.

Prince said the area near Holmes Elementary School would allow students to remain in town.

Peets said the focus should be on the quality of education and not on shutting down Jeffers or building a new school.

“Are we as good as we could possibly be in Spring Lake?” she said. “That’s our center. That’s our focus.”

One parent asked what was wrong with the current system. She said she didn’t see the point of constructing a new building.

“I’m trying, as a parent, to understand,” she said.

Peets explained that the committee might find that the current system is working, but they need to explore other possibilities.

Stefanie Miller, who has two children attending Jeffers and one in the intermediate school, said her concerns surround the possibility of having children on different schedules. She said she already has problems with overlapping schedules between conferences and holiday parties.

Not all of those attending the parent meeting expressed discontent with the idea of consolidating the two schools. One father said it would allow for twice as many computers, musical instruments and books in one location.

“If we combine, there are greater opportunities to grow,” he said.

Amanda Sepulveda, who has had three children attend Jeffers, said it would be great to consolidate students because they will already attend middle school and high school together.

“I think it’s a good idea for kids to continue at one school,” she said.

What’s next?

One mother expressed concerns that parents weren’t being kept in the loop, and should be more a part of the planning process.

She asked if she and other parents could attend the committee’s meetings to sit quietly and listen to the discussions. She said she’d like to hear the research and science behind the recommendations.

Peets responded that parents would hear more once a recommendation is made to the school board. Until then, Prince said the committee members’ names are in the newsletter so parents can send them their comments.

Teachers and parents may also send Peets comments, questions or concerns to be considered at the committee’s meetings.

Peets' school address is Jeffers Elementary, 14429 Leonard Road, Spring Lake, MI 49456. Her e-mail is speets@springlakeschools.org.

The committee members are: Prince, Peets, Holmes Principal Sandra Smits, Liz Boeve, Steve Overacker, Madonna Kramer, Caroline Highhill, Kelly Ortquist, Noelle York, Heidi Ryan, Dana Miller, Tami Rabideau, Rob Henry, Sarah Fuller and Lisa Grimmer.

Furton stressed three points when he initially brought the reconfiguration issue to the Spring Lake school board in October: it’s important, it’s complex, and judgment should be delayed until all of the information is presented.

Peets said the school board will listen to the recommendation in February, but won’t vote until March.

Furton said the committee will report to him its recommendation prior to the February school board meeting.

“I will either forward their recommendation to the board or not, amend it or not, and present it or have them do so, depending,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Furton declined to discuss the process or the committee’s preliminary recommendations until after a final recommendation has been made to the school board in February.

“There is nothing we are trying to hide,” he wrote. “I don't hear the clamoring from our parents or community. They are waiting — some patiently and some impatiently, but waiting nonetheless.”

Want to share your viewpoint on potential reconfiguration?

The Spring Lake school board will meet at 7:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21, at the Spring Lake Middle/Intermediate School Media Center, 345 Hammond St.

What do you think about this? Let us know! Comment below.

Comments

jessesflower28

The just re did Jeffers and added on. What a waste of money. So who gets to pay for the new building? If I could only say what is on my mind!

imajustsaying

I am neither for nor against this proposal but what is most bothersome is this committee seems unbalanced and not represented by the community only special interests. Michelle Prince is a teacher at Oakridge Lower Elementary (Shelley Peet's former school), Holmes Principal Sandra Smits, Liz Boeve Current Director of Operations for Spring Lake, Madonna Kramer former Board President, Caroline Highhill current Spring Lake Teacher, Kelly Orquist current Spring Lake Teacher, Noelle York current Spring Lake teacher, Heidi Ryan current SL teacher, Dana Miller current SL teacher, Tami Rabideau current SL teacher, Rob Henry spouse of SL High School teacher, Sara Fuller whose husband graduated with Shelly Peets and mother-in -law worked closely with Shelley Peets in Muskegon County, and Lisa Grimmer. So to say there were parents involved in the decision making process is misleading. They are parents who were carefully selected because of their close relationship with the school district. To exclude voices that want/need to be heard is a tragedy. A large portion of Spring Lake's success can be attributed to the fact that parent support has always been very high. To make this decision without including them (closed meetings, really?) is poor leadership from the top down! When Grand Haven did their realignment last year I remember reading about the community forums they held. They included and educated the population along the way. Maybe you could learn a few things about community buy in and trust building from them. Based upon the committee above I think everyone can guess what the inevitable result will be.

christopher

It is particularly concerning that the superintendent does not want the "noise" of news coverage. That sounds like another way of saying "We want this completed as a backroom deal" and we do not want the public involved from the start. Instead, we are going to build a well developed marketing plan to promote "our" agenda and then spring it on the public in a way that is 'too good to refuse.'"

I love Spring Lake Schools and live in the district and I do NOT have kids in Jeffers but this process sounds fishy. The proposal may be good, but why taint it with backroom deals in smoke filled rooms? Lets bring light to the FULL process and open it to the public.

What a shame.

jackerman

Yes, it is a shame... and it's not the first time they've done this either.

jackerman

They will probably go about this the same way they did to get the new HS approved... the vote will go down several times and then they will plan a "special vote" around the 4th of July to get it to pass when everyone is out of town.
Then once they got it to pass without the aquatic center, they went for that addition anyway... and after the promises of a great community pool etc... you still have to pay $300 on top of taxes if you want to join and the pool is RARELY open after 5 PM to paying customers who work 1st shift because they let other organizations use it (instead of the old one at the Middle School). Since they won't use the Middle School one, I even asked if they would make that one available to paying customers but they would not. Yeah, I'm a bit bitter over that! I would NEVER recommend joining there to anyone.
So why am I ranting about the HS and the Aquatic Center? Because it was all sneaky... just like this. I doubt even this report has the full picture that SL wants in the end. If this gets passed, it won't be the end... there will be more to follow and it won't be as pretty as they paint the picture to be.

Highlander

Jackerman-
I'll keep this short and factual- unlike your baseless, misguided bit.

1. The new SLHS was in dire need. in 1999 SLHS/MS had 14 portables.
2. For the last 25 years, SLPSs pool has been in bad shape. The roof caved in minutes after swim practice finished. It's had a plethora of problems leaking. It's now empty. Broken. Expensive to fix and heat. Should children surrounded by rivers, bayous and lakes be taught to swim? While I feel students at SLPS should be able to use the SLAC for free, the extra cost to tax payers was minimal. The bond replaced and expiring bond, IIRC.
3. There was no "sneaking around" by the district when planning either the new HS or the SLAC. There were multiple informational meetings open to the public. As a community member, I was invited to serve on those committees. The HS was intelligently planned and built inexpensively, without "bling"(less than $25 million), costing the community much less than new high schools cost elsewhere. You should thank your school board, administrators, and community member who took part in the process.
4. SL children have been blocked from use of the SLAC facilities at times. Paying community members demand access, sometimes at the expense of those we are charged with educating- contrary to our community's vision. This can be adjusted with rational discussion at a board meeting. Please share your concerns to bring positive change.
5. Lastly, SLPSs elementary facilities are old. If you were to talk to staff at Holmes Elementary, they'd describe a building that has a fragile plumbing system, odors, and a 1950's building being used to help educate children in 2013.

It is appropriate to have a discussion at this point, brainstorming multiple issues. While I do not have a branding iron in this fire, it would be nonproductive and inefficient to come to the community without a wealth of information regarding issues, and ideas to resolve them. SLPS is a community school. My suggestion to you is to walk the walk and get involved. Be a part of the solution. Be a part of SLPS's progress.

 

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