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Tag Archive | "Dr. Laura VanDuyn"

Staff and others share reasons for wanting Superintendent to resign


By Judy Reed

Over 500 people filled the meeting room and foyer of Solon Township Hall Thursday evening to hear the personal stories of both current and former staff and board members of Cedar Springs Public Schools and how they have been affected by the policies of Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn.

Several of the speakers were in tears as they told their stories in public for the first time, despite fears of retaliation.

VanDuyn was hired to be Superintendent four years ago, but a movement within the community to get her to resign or for the board to give her a vote of no confidence has been steadily growing. An online petition has garnered just under 1,900 signatures, and paper petitions with signatures will be presented at the next Board of Education meeting on March 26.

Mary Graf, an elementary teacher for 41 years, said she has worked for seven superintendents and several principals over the years. She said there would always be change, but also there has always been mutual respect and collaboration with the administration. She remarked that now there is no collaboration, and that teachers now feel repercussions if they don’t completely agree with something or question anything. She said that happened to her last spring during a PLC on reading. There was a lot of tension in the room, and she said she tried to clarify how the teachers were feeling. The next week she received a letter from her administrator saying she had been unprofessional. Graf said her administrator had not even been in the meeting. When she met with him about it, he told her he was forced to write the letter.

Jan Wallace

Former board member Jan Wallace spoke about consultants, noting that the district had spent $300,000 over 15 months. “Do you wonder why our district has to consult outside experts so often?” she asked. Wallace added that $115,000 of that was spent on the Orange Frog program, “which teaches the staff to learn to be happier.” She felt they could have used that money on the deteriorating roads on campus. 

Wallace explained that when she was on the board, they looked at privatizing busing, and met with the staff to talk about it. “This board didn’t do that. They had a consultant come in to help,” she said.

Former board member Ted Sabinas talked about being locked out of the meeting on privatization of transportation; the fact that once he was on the board, staff and administrators told him they were not allowed to talk to him; and that all three elementary principals, two assistant principals, and the athletic director had all left in the last three years. He also noted that the Superintendent received a 3 percent raise while the staff did not receive a raise.

Joan Boverhof

Long time teacher Joan Boverhof spoke about the relationship between the teachers and administration eroding. She said that the board, administration and teachers union used to work together as a team but that was not happening now.

Teacher Brett Burns, who also president of the teachers union, said the union has been trying to repair the relationship with the board but they aren’t listening. He likened it to a child coming to him and saying he was being bullied and him ignoring it, and then the same thing happening again, and him not doing anything about it. “I am begging,” he said. “We are hurting. When are you, the community, and the board going to acknowledge that we are human?”

Secretary Mary Gardner was in tears as she shared an ordeal she faced about being forced to administer shots. She steadfastly refused, as she has a fear of needles. It was something nurses used to do. She finally got a lawyer involved.

Teacher Erin Cairy spoke about taking leave just before school started. She said the administration never reached out to her. Although she emailed a letter to be sent to the students who were supposed to be in her class and their parents, it was never sent. She also emailed asking how she could help the new teacher, but that went unanswered. She said she returned this year, and many questions she’s asked about programs, such as iready, have been taken as being negative.

At one point during the meeting, moderator Todd Norman asked the group how many were hearing these stories for the first time. Almost half the room raised their hand.

Teacher Libby Metiva said that the board of ed has said things that have wounded, but they have also been manipulated. “How can we help them? All of you are influencers. I’m asking all of you to help empower and influence the board members to take back Cedar Springs.”

Superintendent VanDuyn gave the Post a statement about the petition. 

“As superintendent, it is my promise to the community to make the best decisions I can to ensure our students have an exceptional educational experience while keeping our district financially stable. Our students should have a top notch school system to develop and grow. I am saddened by this petition as I am fully committed to making CSPS the best place it can be. My daily motivation and priority continues to be serving the students and families of CSPS.”  

To watch the entire video of the community meeting, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68xfuX_Ulsw&feature=youtu.be

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School board bits


By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education heard several presentations Monday evening, February 26, and heard from several people during the public comment time. We will cover a few of them here and continue next week.

Reading Now Network

The board heard from Dr. Barb Johnson and several teachers about the success of the Reading Now Network program and the implementation of the I-ready program. According to Johnson, several years ago reading scores in Michigan were falling. So two to three years ago, Kent County Superintendents looked at 14 schools that were doing well in reading. They narrowed the list down to five, then looked for the threads that were common in all the districts that helped them do well. They then joined with other districts and got a $12.5 million grant from the Michigan Department of Education in November. 

All the children now have chrome books and are working on the I-ready program. Most are required to read 45 minutes daily on it during the school day. And there are fun games to help assess how they are doing. Since using the I-ready program, reading scores in most all elementary grades have improved greatly from last fall to this January. You can see the entire presentation on the board meeting video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ADR-JOiEwo&feature=youtu.be.

Public Comments

The board heard comments from several people Monday evening. The heard first from Tami Elliston, who said she’s had children in CSPS for 12 years. She said she has waited for three long years for the board members to act on multiple complaints from community members, current and former staff members, students, and other board members regarding Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn. Elliston spoke about a recent issue of between the school and The Post regarding distribution on the school campus and the school page no longer appearing in the Post. (It’s now in the Advance.) She also mentioned that the Post binds all the papers into a book each year, and presents it to the Cedar Springs Historical Society, and now those school pages will no longer be a part of Cedar Springs history.

Elliston asked why the Hilltop admin building was given a secure entrance before buildings that house students. She also brought up the manner in which an investigation against a teacher was recently conducted. She asked the board to remove the Superintendent before she causes anymore damage to the community.

Teacher Virginia Valentine expressed concern about the lack of a Dean of Students, and there only being one principal for 1,000 students when one of the two are gone.

Katy Austin, of Solon Township asked the board to hold a no confidence vote on the superintendent. She reminded them who they work for, and who they serve—the public. She said that when Dr. VanDuyn was hired, she (Katy) was excited, but the change has went 180 degrees in the other direction. She noted that educators are leaving, and the ones that stay are afraid to speak up for fear of repercussions. “I’m here to give a voice to the voiceless. There is something wrong and it is your job to make it right. It isn’t a witch hunt or a good old boys club being bitter that their guy didn’t get the job. It is me pleading with you to do something! Even if only 10 percent of what I said is true it’s enough to finally take action,” she said.

Band Director Adam Borst shared about the band trip to Disney World.

Sue Wolfe asked about what they were changing in the board operating procedures, and asked a question about the data on the citizen survey.

You can see the entire board meeting video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ADR-JOiEwo& feature=youtu.be.

Next week: Citizen Survey

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School saves taxpayers $368,000


 

That’s over $3.5 million the last three years

The Cedar Springs Public School district took advantage of a low interest rate and refinanced a portion of their outstanding 2008 refunding bonds, saving taxpayers over $368,000 over the next six years. 

The 2018 refunding bonds were sold in the amount of $6,415,000, at a true interest rate of 2.015 percent with a final maturity in 2024.

In preparing to sell the 2018 Refunding Bonds, the School District, working with their financial advisor, PFM Financial Advisors LLC, requested that S&P Global Ratings, acting through Standard and Poor’s Financial Services LLC (“S&P”) evaluate the School District’s credit quality. S&P assigned the School District the outstanding underlying rating of “A+.” The rating agency cited the School District’s stable enrollment trend, strong reserves and moderate debt in their rationale for rating of the School District at this level.

“I’m so thrilled that for the third year in a row we were able to refund bonds and save the taxpayers of Cedar Springs an additional $368,000 over the next six years!” said Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent. “When added to the savings of $680,000 in 2017 and $2.5 million from the 2016 refunding, that’s over $3.5 million dollars in total savings for the taxpayers of Cedar Springs.”

The School District’s financing was conducted by the Michigan investment banking office of the brokerage firm, Stifel, the financial advising firm, PFM Financial Advisors LLC and the law firm serving as bond counsel, Thrun Law Firm, P.C.

Jeffrey Zylstra, Managing Director with Stifel stated, “Cedar Springs Public Schools’ Bonds were well received by the bond market. We were able to take advantage of current interest rates that met the goals of the District and resulted in a nice savings that will be passed on to the District’s Taxpayers.”

According to Mike Gresen, with Thrun Law Firm, P.C., the school district currently has six outstanding bonds, and after May, there will only be five left to pay off. He told the Board of Education Monday evening that with interest rates going back up, he didn’t see any other opportunities in the future to refund any of the remaining bonds. “You have reduced what you can for your taxpayers,” he said.

The 2008 refunding bonds were sold for the purpose of refinancing the outstanding 1998 refunding bonds, which they sold for building projects. At the time, they went from a rate of 4.98 percent to 3.74 percent, with a prediction to save taxpayers $2.5 million over 16 years (until 2024). 

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Cedar Springs hires four new principals for elementaries


From L to R: Carol Franz (Cedar View); Tricia Shenefield (Beach); Beth Whaley (Cedar Trails); and Miranda Latimer (Red Hawk). Courtesy photo.

Kids returned to school on Tuesday, September 5, and those in kindergarten through fifth grade were welcomed by new principals at each of the four elementary schools.

“Each of the principals come to us with great education and experience and will fit well with our dynamic team of students, families, staff and administration,” said Dr. Laura Vanduyn, Superintendent.

The school supplied the following information on each principal:

Our new Cedar Trails principal is Ms. Beth Whaley. Ms. Whaley comes to us as an experienced principal, most recently at an early childhood and Kindergarten center. Prior to that she served as Early Childhood Director and Specialist at the ISD and district level. She was a GSRP leader and Parents as Teachers assistant and teacher. Ms. Whaley comes to us with awards from both Michigan State and University of Michigan (Summa cum Laude at both as well as Magna cum Laude at MSU in her undergraduate work). Beth holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Michigan School Administrator Certificate.

Our new Beach principal is Ms. Tricia Shenefield. Ms. Shenefield comes to us as an experienced principal for many years in Grand Rapids Public Schools. Prior to that Ms. Shenefield was an assistant principal and a teacher. Ms. Shenefield shared in two interviews that she loves data. She has co-authored curriculum, served as a math teacher leader and implemented PLCs. Tricia and her staff are an accomplished team that had the highest ELA M-STEP proficiency among 13 K-5 schools in GRPS. Ms. Shenefield holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Michigan School Administrator Certificate.

Our new Cedar View principal is Ms. Carol Franz. Ms. Franz comes to us with several years experience as a 5th-8th grade school principal. Prior to that Ms. Franz was a Program Coordinator for 21st Century Programs, MTSS District Coach, Discipline Coordinator and teacher. Ms. Franz has been instrumental in implementing several initiatives such as PBIS, MiBLISI, and Response to Intervention. Ms. Franz has presented at the state level and has received many awards, such as the Make a Difference Award (student nominated) for several consecutive years. Ms. Franz holds a Bachelor’s degree (MSU highest honors), a Master’s degree in teaching, an Education Specialist degree in school administration, and Michigan School Administrator Certificate.

Our new Red Hawk principal is Ms. Miranda Latimer. Miranda is not new to CSPS as she is well known for being an outstanding teacher of our wonderful CSPS 4th and 5th graders for 15 years. However, she is new to Red Hawk and wilI certainly know many 6th graders as she had some of them in class! Ms. Latimer was the “Leader in Training” last year at Beach Elementary School. She was instrumental in working alongside a mentor, Dr. Barb Johnson, (a National Blue Ribbon School principal and a Michigan Top 10 Schools principal) with staff and students to implement the Reading Now Network (RNN). The RNN is a highly sought, research-based Michigan initiative that is effective in improving reading and literacy at the elementary level. Ms. Latimer proved her skills and talents as a leader in training and will now be a building principal. She will apply her many years of experience with the upper elementary level students to our focused and unique 6th-grade site. Ms. Latimer holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in Administration and Leadership, and Michigan School Administrator Certificate.

“Please join me in a warm Cedar Springs welcome to our principals,” said VanDuyn. “I know you’ll enjoy meeting them and working with them this year. I welcome you, in advance, to this school year; it’s going to be another great year!”

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Board rates Superintendent highly effective 


 

Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn

Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn

Dr. VanDuyn’s contract renewed through 2020

Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn has been rated “highly effective” by the Board of Education for the third year in a row, and they have extended her contract through 2020.

According to a release from current Board of Education President Matthew Shoffner, they met with the Superintendent in closed session on December 12 for her annual evaluation. They used the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) superintendent evaluation tool/rubric, and rated her in areas of performance that include: Governance & Board Relations; Community Relations; Staff Relations; Business & Finance; Instructional Leadership; Student Growth. Board members were trained by the MASB in best practices of evaluating the superintendent.

“Dr. VanDuyn received the highest possible rating of ‘Highly Effective,’ said then-Board President Patricia Eary. “She’s taken on many difficult situations, but has done so with grace, courage, servant leadership and professionalism. She’s a champion for all students and a firm believer in and supporter of our staff. Highly effective does not mean there is not room for growth. We can all improve; therefore, the Board sets goals for the superintendent each year. One such goal moving forward is a focus on the culture and climate of the District.”

Dr. Laura VanDuyn began as Superintendent of Cedar Springs Public Schools in July of 2014. She replaced retiring Superintendent Ron McDermed.

“Since that time there has been notable progress throughout the District,” it says in the Board statement. “At the State of the Schools presentation on January 23, 2017 it was evident once again that the superintendent, administration, teachers and support staff are working hard to provide for the best education for our Cedar Springs students. Accomplishments from all areas of the District were presented. Dr. VanDuyn continually thanked the fine staff, students, parents and community for their collaborative efforts to produce such impressive results.

“Some highlights of the great work this year include:  high-quality professional learning for staff in math instruction, Responsive Classroom, Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching; completion of strategic planning; a high school ‘silver’ rating by US News for two consecutive years as well as being selected by the College Board to be on the AP Honor Roll for the first time this year; high-quality special education professional learning and improved compliance ratings; implementation of new K-5 math curriculum; implementation of a counseling/mental health/crisis plan; the award of two State grants—one for early intervention and one for our first-ever robotics program; the well-deserved ‘lime green’ rating with the state of Michigan—that is a remarkable 2-level improvement in state assessment scores in just 2 years; many advancements in operations and business for effective and efficient practices.”

Newly appointed Board President, Matthew Shoffner, would like to see continued forward progress in the District and said, “Dr. VanDuyn came to CSPS with immense background and knowledge in educational leadership, along with a variety of experiences, which have begun to strengthen and temper us. I am committed to working alongside Dr. VanDuyn to continue to improve our great district. As we move ahead Dr. VanDuyn will gather survey data from all stakeholders to inform her and the Board of Education of the direction we all want to see for our CSPS. We look forward to using that data to continue our growth.”

Per standard practice, the Board also reviewed the Superintendent’s contract at the same time as they did the evaluation. A special board meeting was called for December 15, 2016 for the Board to discuss and vote in open session on the contract. The Board moved to make revisions to the contract that included firming up or adding language to meet the legal requirements, such as the definition/components of Michigan Revised School Code 1249b. One of the components under 1249b says that if the Superintendent has been rated highly effective for three years in a row, the evaluation shall be biennial, as long as the performance remains highly effective.

Additionally, the superintendent was granted three additional vacation days (to make it 28) and two additional sick leave days (to make it 12). “The superintendent contract was extended another year through 2020 as a result of her performance and commitment to our CSPS,” it said in the release.

According to the contract, Dr. VanDuyn’s salary is $152,796 for the 2016-17 year, $155,852 for 2017-18; $158,969.04 for 2018-19; and $162,168.42 for 2019-20. If the Superintendent’s contract is automatically extended for a year through 2020-21 as a result of being highly effective, her salary would be $165,411.78 for that year.

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Exciting School District News: 


Board of Education take Oath of Office at the January 9, 2017 Board meeting.

Board of Education take Oath of Office at the January 9, 2017 Board meeting.

2017 Refunding Bonds

The Cedar Springs Public Schools Board of Education is committed to providing an excellent education for every child in the district.  The Board of Education is committed to high expectations for excellence in all we do as a district.  We hold ourselves and all others accountable and expect every person to work with integrity in all positions.  To that end, this Board of Education is providing transparency in all they do.  This Board is proud of the impressive forward motion of the school district and a list of many accomplishments by the outstanding staff and students of Cedar Springs.

An example of a recent accomplishment that will serve our district and community well is the 2017 refunding of Bonds.  The Superintendent, Board of Education, Director of Business and Finance, CSPS Accountant, financial advisers to the District, banks and legal counsel are working through a lengthy process to make the bond refunding possible.   A summary of the bond refunding process is illustrated as follows:

December 12, 2016: Board of Education adopted a delegating resolution at a regular board meeting. This authorized the Superintendent to accept and execute a Bond Purchase Agreement with the Underwriter.

January 12, 2017: Due Diligence Conference call with all parties to review POS

January 26, 2017:  Conference call with the rating agency

February 7, 2017: Pricing of bonds (subject to market conditions)

February 8, 2017:  Execution of the bond purchase agreement

February 27 or March 13: Board of Education adopts a “ratification resolution” at a regular board meeting.  This is an additional, but not mandatory step, to add a greater depth of transparency and support to the process.  Signatures from the Superintendent, Board President and Board Secretary are required to adopt the resolution.

March 16, 2017: Bond Closing

This Board of Education and District Leadership Team are excited to be working through this long and involved process to save our taxpayers over 1.1 million dollars over the next several years!

Please see our website www.csredhawks.org where all documents related to the bond refunding will be available for your review.  Please feel free to contact Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent of Schools, at 696-1204, should you have questions about this exciting news.

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Year in Review: School board takes heat


Heidi Reed is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

Heidi Reed is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

Ted Sabinas is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

Ted Sabinas is one of two new faces on the Cedar Springs Board of Education this year.

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education was under fire this year as many school staff members and residents took to the podium at school board meetings and wrote letters to the Post asking why four administrators had left since Supt. VanDuyn took over and expressing displeasure at the way certain matters were being handled by the board and administration. Many other residents and school staff took the opposite view, and said that they were supportive of the changes happening in the district.

Overflowing attendance at board meetings became the norm, as people on both sides of the issue yearned to have their voice heard.

The administrators in question had all resigned. Then two more administrators—elementary principals Andy Secor and Ken See—left last summer.

Later in the summer, the board released the Rehmann Report, a forensic audit that appeared to be targeted mainly at the athletic department. The forensic audit into record keeping in the athletic department at Cedar Springs Public Schools did not show any intentional misuse of funds or fraud, but did show that the district needs to have stricter policies and procedures on procurement cards and ensuring employees have the guidelines on how to use them. The report stated that they did not note any purchases under former Athletic Director Autumn Mattson that were inherently inappropriate.

“The investigation was a reflection of concerns brought to us about athletic accounts,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “When several concerns mounted, the board decided to go ahead with the investigation. We are accountable to the community, staff, and parents. We are stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Things got even more heated as the school board election campaign got underway. Incumbent Jeff Gust decided not to run again. Challengers Ted Sabinas (a former teacher and track coach) and Mistie Bowser campaigned together for two seats, and while challenger Heidi Reed and incumbent Joe Marckini campaigned separately, they were often promoted together by those writing letters to the editor. So it appeared there were two camps—Sabinas and Bowser (who questioned changes), and Reed and Marckini (who supported current administration). (A fifth candidate, Rita Reimbold, dropped out, saying she didn’t want to run against Marckini.) The election results showed, however, that it wasn’t quite so simple. Sabinas won his seat with 3,789 votes, and Reed won the second seat, with 3,602 votes. Bowser came in third with 2,789, and Marckini fourth, with 2,366.

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Cedar Springs Schools focus on suicide prevention


csps-hawk-logoBy Judy Reed

The excitement of the beginning of a new school year for Cedar Springs Public Schools was muted this year as the district is experiencing a disturbing trend—three student suicides in less than a year. One happened in August 2015, one in May 2016, and the most recent in August 2016. Each one has left the families, students, staff, and community reeling—and asking, “Why is this happening?”

According to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 15 to 24, in Kent County.

“We want this to be exposed,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “You don’t realize how many may be contemplating it. It’s really scary.”

In May, Van Duyn began to work on pulling together experts in the field and agencies that could help with prevention and treatment.

They district had already implemented the OK2Say program earlier in the spring, which is a Michigan program created by Cedar Springs Curriculum Director Jo Spry, as well as a peer listening group, to help combat bullying, violence, crime, and suicide. According to VanDuyn, OK2Say has saved lives in the district.

“There have been several calls in the last couple of weeks,” said VanDuyn. “Our new school resource officer has personally escorted three children to the hospital after getting tips through the program.”

But this year, the district is doing even more. The experts in the field that VanDuyn contacted in the spring had their first meeting on September 1 to meet each other and begin to come up with a plan to respond in a crisis situation, as well as how to educate staff and students on suicide prevention. Included in the group was Arbor Services Kent School Services Network, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, Cherry Health, school mental health counselors, psychologists, and more.

“Our goal is to create a model on how to best utilize the services everyone offers to best serve kids,” explained VanDuyn. “We will meet again to define our roles and what each can offer.”

Other things they will do is expand the b.e. n.i.c.e. program to high school (in addition to middle school); teach the Live Laugh Love curriculum in some of the higher grades (from the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan) and also offer the Healthy Kids series, three free events.

They also have an event coming up next week that they hope the public will attend. They will be showing the free movie “Hope Bridge” on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. The movie is about a young man whose father commits suicide. (See ad on page 2.) Christy Buck, Executive Director at the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, will also be on hand to speak at the event.

The school district is also encouraging people to attend the “Walk to fight suicide” at Millenium Park on Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. For more info you can visit afsp.org/walk.

“It would be great if we could get a big showing from Cedar Springs,” said VanDuyn.

She said that she has been overwhelmed by the amount of community support she’s getting from people calling and asking what they can do, and saying that they will help in anyway that they can.

And VanDuyn is determined to do something to help stop kids from considering suicide as a solution to their problems. “All of these kids were unique. They were good kids. The only way to work towards stopping this is to expose it,” she said.

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School board approves deputy on campus


CSPS-hawk-logo

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education showed Monday evening that school security is high on their priority list, when they approved a partnership with the Kent County Sheriff Department to have a School Resource Officer on campus (SRO) 40 hours a week for the upcoming school year.

Building relationships with students to prevent problems and increasing campus security are just two of the things that a SRO would do. Sgt. Jason Kelley noted that there had been 168 calls on school property since the beginning of 2015. “These are reactive—someone called us. We could lower that number and intervene before something happens,” he explained.

Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn reminded everyone that there are 4,000-plus people on campus every day, when you include students, staff, and parent volunteers.

“Security has been on everyone’s mind, especially with recent developments,” said trustee Joe Marckini.

The Kent County Sheriff Department offered to fund 30 percent of the program.

The outstanding cost to the district would be approximately $76,000, after the Sheriff Department’s contribution. The cost would cover wages and benefits for 40 hours per week for the deputy; all standard issued deputy equipment; a Kent County Sheriff car, fully equipped, fueled and maintained; and all police training and supervision.

VanDuyn explained that because of a layoff at the high school of a security officer, the net cost would be about $40,000 to the district for the program.

Marckini wanted to make clear that them hiring the SRO is not why the security officer was being laid off.

“No,” said VanDuyn. “We’ve had bomb threats and intruders on campus this year. This is a very difficult decision. We are looking at our emergency plan. We have worked hard, but we can’t have everything in our budget. We are moving toward a whole new model,” she explained.

The SRO will be based at the high school, but visit other buildings. Cedar Springs Middle School, located on 16 Mile, will keep their security officer.

The school and the Sheriff Department will work together on the process of choosing the deputy. The Sheriff Department will accept letters of interest from deputies, then narrow the field down to those they think might be a good fit for the district. School representatives will then interview the deputies, and forward their decision to the Sheriff Department for final approval.

There are currently six schools actively involved in the program, each with their own officer—Northview, Kenowa Hills, Kent City, Forest Hills, Lowell, and Byron Center. Caledonia also just approved joining the program.

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Attorney general speaks to Cedar Springs students


 

Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette with Cedar Springs students.

Cedar Springs students team with Schuette, Michigan State Police to tackle bullying, violence

By Judy Reed

Students walk the hallways at school every day carrying weights that others know nothing about. Some are victims of physical abuse, either at home or at school; some are being bullied by their peers; some are victims of sexting or date rape; and others feel like failures and are contemplating suicide or violence.

Cedar Springs High School and Middle School students kicked off a program last Thursday, April 14, that gives students a way to report and stop bullying and violence.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette was on hand, along with the Michigan State Police and local law enforcement, to kick off the OK2SAY program, a student safety initiative that enables students to confidentially report criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, and schools. Leaders from numerous community groups were also on hand for the presentation.

Since its inception in 2014, students have submitted more than 3,700 tips across the State of Michigan. Bullying, cyber bullying, self-harm, and suicide are the categories that receive the most tips. Other categories that receive tips include: drug use, weapon possession, and assault.

Based on research from the U.S. Secret Service, in 81 percent of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.

“OK2SAY is about communication, early intervention, and prevention,” said Michigan State Police Inspector Matt Bolger. “When students make the courageous decision to break the code of silence and speak out against harmful behavior, they equip authorities with the information needed to respond to threats and avert tragedy. That’s a good thing for Michigan schools, communities, and families.”

The goal of OK2SAY is to stop harmful behavior before it occurs by encouraging students (or adults) to report threatening behavior to caring adult authorities who can help. They can confidentially submit tips anytime by using the OK2SAY mobile app, online, email, texting, or by calling trained program technicians. Upon receipt of a tip, specially trained OK2SAY technicians address the immediate need and forward the information to the appropriate responding law enforcement agency or organization. Tips go to schools, local law enforcement agencies, community mental health agencies or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Schuette told the students and The Post that it is about changing the culture from “don’t be a snitch” to “it’s ok to communicate to save a life.”

“OK2SAY has made a difference. We are stopping violence in its tracks and making school a safer place for our kids,” said Schuette. “Credit for the program’s success is directly attributable to the thousands of student ‘heroes in the hallway’ who stepped up and took ownership of their roles in keeping their schools and classmates safe.”

“The thing that struck me about the program, is that it has saved lives,” Schuette told the Post. “It’s not perfect. But what we have done is reached out to say, here is an opportunity to help people stop bullying, to stop a weapon being brought to school. It’s tech friendly, confidential. It can be done without fear of intimidation,” he explained.

Students have several ways they can communicate a tip to authorities. They can download and use the mobile app for either iPhone or android; they can call 1-8-555-OK2SAY, 1-855-565-2729; Text: 652729 (OK2SAY); they can email ok2say@mi.gov; or visit the Web: www.ok2say.com fill out an online form.

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.”

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Photo by J. Reed.

The state program, which started in fall 2014, just happened to be inspired by our current Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, before she came to Cedar Springs. Spry, who grew up in Greenville, was a principal at a school in Colorado, during the years after the attack at Columbine. Colorado adopted a program called “Safe to Tell,” and Spry said they adopted it at her high school in the Woodland Park District. “I knew the impact it had. It was a way for students to have that voice. They are not always comfortable coming forward,” she explained.

When Spry came home to Michigan, and settled in Cadillac, she began to work with legislators, the attorney general’s office, and community organizations to adopt a similar program here in Michigan. “I didn’t run across anyone who didn’t want it,” she said.

Schuette honored Spry during the program with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Spry did not know that was going to happen.

“It’s truly a passion of mine to make sure students in all of our schools are safe,” said Spry. “OK2SAY is a wonderful program, and I will be eternally grateful to the legislators, community groups and the attorney general that stepped up to see it through.”

Schuette explained that he does not often get to go to the kickoff of the programs. “We have a team of 35 of us that do this, and I go when I can,” he said. He seemed visibly pleased with the turnout of the crowd and the way that the program was embraced. “I think from the moment I walked in, and saw everyone, it was powerful and uplifting. It’s really a powerful tool. The more we can communicate this and get it out there, the better it will be.”

“School should be a safe and welcoming place for all students,” said Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent. “Cedar Springs Schools are committed to a bully-free environment. We are grateful that the Attorney General choose to visit our school to address our students and encourage them to step up and do the right thing.”

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

OK2SAY is not the only program being implemented to help students. The anti-bullying program in use at the elementary level, “Be Nice” is being moved up to secondary level, and a new peer listening club has been formed. The group was formed after senior Jessica Durrell heard about the program at a youth group she attended. She brought it back to her Rotary Interact Leadership group (another new program at the high school this year) and the peer listening group spun off into it’s own group. It is made up of nine members—six girls and three boys—who can listen to other students as needed during the day. “They will listen to peers who need to vent, talk about stressors, academics, etc.,” explained Dr. VanDuyn. “They are there to listen, not give advice.” Counselor volunteers have trained all the students.

For more information on OK2SAY, visit www.ok2say.com.

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