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Teacher concerned about changes in school district

 

Dear Members of the School Board,

I would like to voice my concerns regarding the changing culture in our school district. I’ve heard the many remarks that all of these things that are happening and problems we are facing are because people are resistant to change. I strongly disagree. I have taught here for 39 years, worked under seven superintendents, and I have seen a lot of change. I haven’t always agreed with the decisions that were made. Conflicts sometimes occurred. We had a divisive teacher strike. We suffered a disastrous budget deficit when all bussing was eliminated. There was a year when all specials were cut. But through all of these challenges and difficult times, honesty and respect remained between the teachers, the school board, and the superintendent.

Never did I experience the finger pointing, dishonesty, and disrespect that is currently permeating our school district. How does this type of culture help our students?

We have lost some of the most outstanding educators I have ever met. These include Steve Seward, Jennifer Harper, Dave Cairy, and Autumn Matson. These leaders inspired me to grow and change in my teaching. I am so lucky to be in a profession that I love and to have had the support of so many brilliant educators. Frequently we had teachers from other districts visit our schools to observe our many innovative programs that were initiated by Steve Seward.

Sadly, these leaders are gone. What is even more troubling is the blaming and slandering of these exemplary people. For so many years, these people gave their heart and soul to help our students, and this is how they are treated?

We will continue to lose the best educators in our district to other schools where their work is valued and respected. I miss these people deeply. I miss their enthusiasm. I miss their words of wisdom and encouragement. In teaching, you need this. This makes you better. When you positively impact teachers, you impact students. If you think these vacancies won’t affect our students, you are wrong. They already have.

This is not positive change. Sometimes change can be destructive. We have worked so hard for so many years to be an exemplary school district. Our students deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,

Mary Graf, teacher

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Change is a Part of Life

 

My name is Karen Mueller and I have taught at Cedar Springs Public Schools since 1987. This year I will be retiring. My husband has terminal cancer and is feeling well enough to travel, so off we’ll go!  I will miss my precious students very much, but change is a part of life.

Through the years, I’ve seen many changes at our school.  Every change was made for the good of our students. I’m not saying I’ve agreed with every change, but I know the people who made the changes have always worked for what was best for our kids.  Change is a part of life.

Currently I’m excited about my smaller class sizes and having a counselor in the building. During my time at CSPS I have taught over two thousand children, and loved every single one of them.  I have worked under six superintendents and eight principals.  I did not agree with every decision they made, but I am part of a team, so I enthusiastically did my best in every new program that we offered. Change is a part of life.

We will always see change in education. There should be change in education. I hope we can all work together, like we expect our children to. Every teacher and administrator, past and present, truly cares about our kids. We need to do what we expect of our youngest children, “We need kind hands, kind hearts, and listening ears.” I’ve enjoyed working with our current administration at CSPS and I understand change is a part of life. Give change a chance to continue improvement for our district and for our kids.

Karen Mueller, Cedar Springs

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Is Board of Education leading or following?

Post Scripts: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 


 

There are many responsibilities that we, as community members, entrust to our Board of Education. These policies are a collaboration of the Michigan Association of school boards, the Board of Education, and district staff. As we find ways to support each other and our schools in a positive and productive manner, I’d like to highlight a few areas that are in need of community attention.

Communication:  The board is responsible for providing adequate and direct means for keeping the community informed and for keeping informed about the wishes of the public.  They must also maintain effective communication with staff and students.

How does our board comply with this responsibility?

In a letter read from the board president during the October 12, 2015 board meeting, she stated to administrators and staff “if you do not think you can work for the current administration, you are free to seek employment elsewhere.” An example of the “my way or the highway” culture prevalent in our district.

When asked to elaborate on decisions/opinions during BOE meetings, the typical response is “the superintendent will get back to you on that.” When provided the opportunity to have exit interviews with the administrators that have left the school district, the BOE response was “No, thank you.” Are they afraid of the truths that information might reveal? The decisions to not respond and not seek truths are irresponsible and inconsistent with BOE policy.

Financial resources: The board is responsible for exercising control over district finances to assure proper use of and accounting for all funds. Further the employment of consultants requires board approval.

According to the latest budget amendment approved by the Board of Education on February 22, 2016 it was reported projected net change in fund balance of $808,988.  Of this, over $180,000 was spent on legal services, consultants, and financial advisors. Over 25 percent of the increase in expenses, approved by our BOE was spent on external consultants. How does this compare to the last ten years? It seems readily apparent that our current leaders need a significant amount of guidance.

School Superintendent: The superintendent is responsible for the management of schools under board policies and is the only employee of the district accountable to the BOE. The BOE is to provide sufficient and adequate guidance for implementing policy.

From all outward appearances, I suspect our BOE has misinterpreted the policy and believe they are the ones receiving guidance and direction. A leader with a strong personality does not relieve you of your obligations. A leader who is not held accountable by established checks and balances is called a dictator. For the sake of our district, you cannot be puppets responding to the pull of a string.

Steve C Harper, Algoma Township

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School board needs to listen to community

Dear Cedar Springs Public Schools Board Members,

There are some deeply disconcerting issues that I and many parents are very concerned about. These are issues that I’m sure you are aware of, but the lack of leadership and reluctance to stand up to do the right thing necessitates the need for me to bring them to your attention publicly.

Over the past 18 months, we have lost four highly acclaimed and accredited administrators. These administrators were well thought of in the community and had given many years of selfless dedication to our children. Their departures were premature and the direct result of intimidation and a hostile work environment. When will this critical drain of vital resources end?

Morale among administrators, teachers, and support staff is at an all-time low. The current culture of “My way or the highway” and lack of institutional support does nothing to foster an innovative, healthy learning experience for our children.

Budget deficits are threatening our children’s quality of education. Blaming the deficit on past administrations, a trick many of our politicians often use, doesn’t explain how the district goes from financially healthy for many years to a sudden deficit. Maybe it has something to do with all the money being spent on lawyers, legal fees, consultants, financial experts, etc. that we never seemed to have needed before.

When will the impassioned pleas of the community make an impact? No credence is given to the phone calls and emails you most assuredly have received. It is difficult to watch you sit indifferent and stone-faced at BOE meetings while the future of our children and district is at stake.

Make no mistake, Board of education members. This school district is at a crucial point. It will take years to rebuild the trust of our leaders, restore a healthy learning culture, and ensure our future financial stability. You can no longer sit passively on the sidelines and watch.

There’s an old saying, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” The time has passed for you to indulge in the luxury of following.

Sincerely,

Steve C. Harper, Algoma Township

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Sorry to see best lips tradition end

 

This comment was posted on our website on February 5, regarding our story on canceling the Best Lips contest. In the story, we mentioned a set of “imposter” lips that were once sent to us, supposedly belonging to then school finance director Frank Verhoven, and how we called the FBI to investigate. — Editor

I remember the FBI coming to my office to check my DNA. They wanted to make sure the lips really were not mine. They ruled my lips were not as pretty as those published. Too funny. Sorry to see this tradition ending.

Frank Verhoven

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City manager was run out town

 

Thursday night’s council meeting was our City Manager, Thad Taylor’s, last. Mr. Taylor came here three years ago as a very experienced, well-qualified manager who has since received high praise from many citizens, professionals, businesses and developers. He did all he could to move our city forward and was successful in bringing several new businesses to town.

Regrettably, Thad Taylor has been run out of Cedar Springs! He was blindsided by a group of people who made his job unendurable. These people now sit on our Council advancing their own personal agendas over the interests of the community as a whole. They are catering to special interest groups, spending thousands of dollars that should be spent on our crumbling sidewalks and roads under the guise of “the good of the community.” I found Councilor Powell’s sudden concern for finances, in searching for a new manager, seemingly hypocritical given the fact that she freely encourages council to write blank checks for unbudgeted items benefiting groups she supports and is affiliated with.

Ignoring Thad’s MML recommendation Council Conley urged Council to get opinions from stakeholders on what qualities they wanted in a manager. After some debate, the decision was made to allow the public to have a say. Aren’t we, the taxpayers, the biggest stakeholders after all? On November 19, at 7:00 p.m. there will be a special meeting for the public to express their opinions on what qualities a city manager should possess. I’m hoping integrity and transparency are among those at the top of the list. I also hope this council strives to acquire the same characteristics because, to date, I have sensed a great deal of ignorance of the law along with a failure to listen to those who do understand the gravity of making decisions contrary to it, that being the manager and city attorney.

I support libraries and community buildings but the council’s first responsibility is the health, safety and welfare of its citizens; running the fund balance down is not in our best interest. When Council passes a resolution giving special advantages to groups determined to get their ideas advanced regardless of the consequences and when, as a member of the Planning Commission, I am asked to make a decision “in the spirit of the law,” basically ignoring the law, there is something seriously wrong with the governing unit of this city. If citizens attended meetings or watched council meetings on youtube.com they would better understand the critical nature of business that is going on behind the scenes.

I wish Thad Taylor God’s speed and a professional group of people to work with in Manistee, something he so desperately deserves.  He will be missed.

Kathryn Bremmer, Cedar Springs

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Here’s what’s going on in Sand Lake

 

As a trustee for the Village of Sand Lake, I support our Police Chief and officers. Although I cannot express each trustee’s feelings here, I can say that, as a council, we support our police. Their job is difficult, and with so much public scrutiny of law enforcement nationally, it seems like every action a police officer takes is questioned. We believe we have good police officers who enforce the law.

The Village’s Zoning Administrator has told the Police Chief that he needs to leave, which is an overreach of his authority. The Village President and Council have the authority over the Police Department. The Zoning Administrator has made an issue of the Police Chief’s “theology,” making a mistaken assumption about which religious denomination the Chief belonged to, and that eventually led to a question about whether the Chief was “a sinner.” These are civil rights issues.

To be told to ignore the law and walk away, as our Zoning Administrator directed our Police Chief, betrays the public’s trust that police are here to protect people by enforcing the law. The police are sworn to uphold the law, and so is the Village Council and other Village officials, including the Zoning Administrator. By ignoring laws and putting “blinders on,” as the Zoning Administrator says, the police and Village officials would be no better than the people who break the laws.

The Zoning Administrator’s attack on the Police Chief, his officers, and the Village Council, in his letter to the Post (11/12/15—What is going on in Sand Lake?) is unjustified. As a Council, we cannot terminate the Chief’s employment, ask him to resign or retire because he is guilty of enforcing laws, nor can we make an issue of his “theology,” which was never a consideration for his employment or a condition of his job.

The Zoning Administrator said in the Post Scripts that rumors and personal conflicts are the strength of the community. I think that cooperation and collaboration make a stronger community. When police, residents, and businesses cooperate and collaborate, everyone wins. When laws are not enforced, we all lose.

David R. Dewey, Sand Lake Village trustee

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What is going on in Sand Lake?

 

“What is going on with the Village?” A question that I’ve fielded more frequently of late.  The divide between residents of the Village of Sand Lake and the administration has risen to the surface recently with the ordeal surrounding the proposed CMC Tavern.  I’ve heard many stories and versions of the same story; one thing for sure, many residents are fed up, and the administration seems reluctant to listen to their concerns.

At the center of the controversy, which has been brewing for years, is the Chief of Police.  The Chief serves at the pleasure of the Village Council; hence, they are brought into the fray when they condone Police actions that are at least controversial, and at worst divisive.  The fact is this: many residents have the perception that the police are less than professional and have no confidence in their performance.  The opposing perception is; the Chief is right and just in all his actions, and that holders of the opposing perception are rumor-mongers, liars and less than honest citizens (have an ax to grind).

So far, a statement of current conditions. Evaluating past history, understanding both sides of the controversy, and searching for the root cause of this mendacity, one finds the central figure to be the Chief of Police. Be it fact or perception, he is the catalyst for this current divisive state of the community.

It is my opinion that an early retirement is in order, which will allow the Chief to depart with dignity.  The Village can then begin the healing process and strive to become the small town it can be. We have had our controversies in the past, there will always be rumors and personal conflicts; that, in fact, is the strength of any real community. However, when those controversies and personal conflicts prove damaging to the domestic tranquility of the community as a whole, action must be taken to clean and heal the wound.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Dan Hula

Resident, Village of Sand Lake

 


The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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What is a leader?

 

A leader is:

Accountable – they take responsibility.

Honest – honorable in principles, intentions and actions.

Focused – know where they are going.

Passion – live, breathe, eat, and sleep their mission.

Respect – treat people the same, no playing favorites.

Confident – believes in one’s self and what they are doing.

Clarity – saying yes to the right things and no to the others.

Integrity – have strong moral principles.

Inspire – encourage those to be the best they can be.

Compassionate – show concern for others.

Collaborative – takes input and feedback from those around.

Communicative – share their vision to those around.

Fearless – not afraid to take a risk or make a mistake.

Genuine – clear on what your values are and have courage to hold true to them.

Thank you, Superintendent VanDuyn, for being our leader. Thank you for your vision of what Cedar Springs can become and for your dedicated service to moving us forward. I have been employed here for over 13 years and have never felt more a part of this team. To you, no job is too big or too small. We all matter; we all play an important part  in this school system. Decisions you make are not always easy but you do what is in the best interest of the students and this school. I thank you for your courage to stand for what is right.

Becca Fisk, Ensley Center


 

Post Script Notice: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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Concerned parent speaks out

 

I am concerned about what is happening in our school district and concerned that only one side of the story is being voiced. There is a group of school staff who seem to be unhappy with some of the changes happening in the district.  This is the voice that was heard at the school board meeting last week (10/26) and in last week’s Post (10/29). There is another voice in this situation, but I feel these voices are probably afraid to speak. I almost didn’t. Why? Because this small group of staff touch my children’s lives every day. If I speak up, how is it going to trickle down to my children? Will they be treated different by this group of staff?

Ultimately, where our district goes from here is what’s important for my children.  Our children are what are important.

The new superintendent was hired to improve the district, make it a better place for our children. That’s what she’s doing. Our district was in need of change and restructure.

It’s important for the parents of Cedar Springs to realize all the positive things that have been accomplished in the last year. To name a few: lower classroom sizes, new district website, new math curriculum (6-12), new health care clinic, new buses, academic interventionists and full time GATOR reading interventionists, upgraded/new technology added. And then, look ahead to what’s planned for the coming year; more new buses, research/selection of new math curriculum (K-5), growth of Campus Kids , fencing around Beach Elementary, responsive classroom training, an interactive Rotary Club for high school students, new board policies and operation procedures, and increased safety/security at our school entrances. These are just a few of the things that have and will be done last year and this. I would encourage community members to visit www.csredhawks.org for a full list.

My hope is that parents and community members will look at the facts and see that Superintendent VanDuyn is working very hard to ensure the best for our students, and is working to move our district forward to bigger and better things.

Jennifer Skelonc, Nelson Township


Post Scripts Notice: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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