By Jacquelyn Garner
Independent Special Writer
A New Tech High School, that has been under study since July, came a step closer to implementation at the Dec. 14 meeting of the Van Buren Public Schools Board of Education.
The New Tech High School, a separate school within Belleville High School, could begin next fall at a cost of some $400,000, for a four-and-a-half-year contract.
The board approved having School Supt. Thomas Riutta enter into negotiations with the New Tech Network about the process of being a part of the network and to determine the exact cost.
Paul Buck from the New Tech Foundation conducted an onsite readiness visit at Van Buren on Nov. 17, in order to prepare a recommendation for his leadership team.
Once the district hears back about the status of its application, Riutta will be able to begin discussions and negotiations.
BHS principal Michael Van Tassel said the district became aware of the New Tech model, developed to “fix” the local public high schools, when six Michigan sites began implementation in 2010 – Ypsilanti, River Rouge, Westwood, Pinckney, Holland, and NICE.
The Van Buren exploration began when Van Tassel, Peggy Voigt, Scott Wilsey, and Jason Butka attended the annual New Tech Conference in July. Then, there were additional visits to New Tech schools on Sept. 16, Oct. 6, and Nov. 3, with a total of 22 district representatives and parents. The expenses for the visits were paid with a grant from New Tech.
Van Tassel recommended entering into negotiations in order to begin in the fall of 2011. Since appropriate space is a concern, Van Tassel recommended beginning with freshman only and adding a grade level each subsequent year.
“I realize that the first year of implementation will be a challenge in the old building, but I believe it is wise to begin with the small group in order to be ready to move into our new facility,” Van Tassel said.
The fees to New Tech provide professional development and support to BHS in the form of intensive professional development, a coach to guide them through the process, and a wealth of technology and curricular support, Van Tassel wrote in a memo to the superintendent.
In other business at the Dec. 14 meeting, the board:
• Approved creation of a technology department that would standardize the computer systems in the district and to work with the new high school that will be technology-driven. Long-term employee Harvey Chesney will be the service coordinator, a two-year contract that pays $51,067 for 2010-11 and $62,500 for 2011-12. His current salary is $39,635, so the total increase is $22,865. The technology specialist chosen is James Marcum, III (currently administrative assistant to the curriculum supervisor at a salary of $33,614) who will be paid $40,557 the first year and $47,500 the second year. The second technology specialist is Michelle Kovach (currently working in a technology capacity as a temporary employee at a pay of $12.87 per hour). She will be paid $39,500 for 2010-11. The total increase to the district for the technology team was estimated at $76,251. A paraprofessional rose to address the board, again asking that job openings be posted instead of just being filled;
• Approved formation of a study team to look at consolidating specific grades in the two middle schools (5-6 in one school and 7-8 in the other). The initial meeting will be the second week in January, with final recommendations to the board of education on March 14. The project is called the Grade Span Configuration Study for Fifth through Eighth Grades;
• Approved setting up a group to study the elementary school attendance areas in order to re-establish the elementary schools as “neighborhood schools” and decrease the amount of time the children are spending in transit. Alternatives will be explored to evenly distribute the student population in the six elementary schools. The final recommendation is due at the March 14 board meeting;
• Approved Change Order #5 on the BHS construction, changing the footing, skylight steel, gas pipe material, and provide pool manhole cover, not to exceed $14,953.71;
• Change Order #6 at an additional cost of $113,296.14 for miscellaneous additional items;
• Approved BHS Field Order #50 for an amount not to exceed $22,721.60. This involved Davenport Brothers dewatering for nine days ($278.44 per day), 110 yards of flowable fill ($165 per yard), and installation of new foundations as requested in the area of construction to correct the undermining of the foundations at the electrical vault;
• Tabled the proposed Board Policy Bylaws until the first graph is completed;
• Heard a report from Peggy Voigt, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Director, on student achievement in the first marking period, including the pilot program for ninth graders where the students generally got higher scores than those in the non-pilot program;
• Approved hiring of Shawn Ferguson as custodian at Tyler; and Jennifer Cecil in marketing at BHS, assigned to the school store;
• Heard Van Tassel give a State of the School 100-Day address, explaining changes at BHS; and
• Recognized Van Buren Civic Fund donations and Outstanding Scientists Students of the Month.
Concerned parent Sandy Jackson, along with three others, spoke on the problems that go along with having 28 Kindergarten students and one substitute teacher in an Edgemont Elementary classroom without a paraprofessional to help. She said the classroom was out of control.
She quoted BHS Principal Van Tassel, who just had said to the board, “If you can’t read, you’re done,” noting the early years in school are crucial.
Jackson wanted the board to make a motion to bring back paraprofessionals to the classrooms before 2011 begins.
Outgoing board president David Peer replied, “We’ll look into it” and Trustee Martha Toth said the board cannot make that motion.
Curriculum Director Voigt said she went to Edgemont Elementary School last week trying to help.
Lisa James, a consultant with a nephew in the classroom in question, visited several times and found it to be an “unsafe environment.” She asked the board for a paraprofessional to help.
Peer, who was presiding over his last meeting after being unseated by voters, said they would get back to her and have a report at the January meeting.
Also contributing to this report was Rosemary K. Otzman.