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Tag Archive | "Mary Graf"

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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A DISTRICT DIVIDED


 

N-Sunshine-logoResidents, teachers want answers from school board; others supportive of changes

By Judy Reed

“Why have four administrators left since Dr. Laura VanDuyn was hired as Superintendent two years ago? Why has the culture at Cedar Springs Public Schools changed?” Those are the questions that many residents and school employees are asking the Cedar Springs Board of Education, while many other residents and school employees say they are supportive of the changes.

The Board of Education heard both kinds of comments from a cross-section of residents and employees at Monday night’s standing-room only board meeting. Overflowing attendance has become the norm recently, as people on both sides of the issue yearn to have their voice heard.

The administrators in question have all resigned: assistant superintendent of teaching and instruction Steve Seward in fall of 2014; Cedar Trails principal Jennifer Harper, early 2015; associate superintendent of finance David Cairy, fall 2015; and most recently, athletic director Autumn Mattson, in February, 2016. Her assistant AD Tyler Wolfe resigned in December.

Of those that resigned, Harper was given a salary per her separation agreement, and was not allowed to talk about why she left. That led some people to speculate she was forced out. The Post talked to Dr. VanDuyn about it at the time, and told us it was an ongoing personnel matter. “We can’t reveal the nature because it is a personnel matter. But I think it’s important to say that it’s not a matter that has to do with criminal conduct or the safety of students.”

Van Duyn said Harper was put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. “We have clearly followed our district’s legal counsel in the matter,” she said.

At Monday evening’s meeting, teacher Sarah Holtrop spoke in support of the superintendent. “I’ve served under five different superintendents and five different principals,” she said. “I don’t feel it’s fair to blame Dr. VanDuyn for the resignations of four administrators. They could have chosen to accept her as superintendent. Personally I have found Dr. VanDuyn to be compassionate and caring.”

Teacher Lisa Schmidt also offered support, noting that change is difficult, and that Dr. VanDuyn is well-liked by many staff members in the district.

Resident Sam Gebhardt also offered his support to the superintendent and the board. “I graduated from here, raised my family here. I like the direction we are going right now. You hear a lot of negative comments, but a lot of people like it, too,” he said.

Former teacher and coach Ted Sabinas, who taught for 34 years and coached for 37, asked the board to look into why so many teachers and administrators are fearful for their jobs if they speak up or question how the district is being run.

Longtime teacher Mary Graf—a 39-year veteran—gave an impassioned speech to the board about her concerns with the changing culture in the district. She said she had heard remarks that the problems they are facing are because people are resistant to change, but she strongly disagreed. Graf noted that she had seen a lot of change over the years and hadn’t always agreed with it, but one thing remained constant, until now. “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?” she asked. (Read her entire letter on here).

Teacher Josh Cooper spoke on behalf of the teachers at the High School, and showed support for their administrators, Principals Ron Behrenwald and Anne Kostus, and said they were deeply saddened at the loss of former Dean of Students and Athletic Director Autumn Mattson. He also talked about all the good things happening at the high school.

Resident Lee Mora asked the board when they were going to address Mattson’s appeal to the board for an exit interview. She had asked initially for an exit interview with the board of education, and since that is routinely done with human resources, was told by HR she could have an exit interview with them, but not with the board. She declined and appealed to the board. As of Wednesday, Mattson said she had not received a response from the board.

Mora asked the board why they wouldn’t want to gather all information possible from an administrator who had served there 14 years. Board president Patricia Eary told Mora that their legal counsel had said exit interviews were not to be done by the board, because they have only one employee—the superintendent.  (Read Mora’s letter on here).

Board trustee Michelle Bayink asked if they could possibly discuss some of these issues at the next board workshop, but Eary said she thought the agenda for that workshop was already set. Resident Sue Wolfe told the board she hoped they would discuss some of these concerns.

The Post contacted Board president Patricia Eary this week, and asked her whether the board was planning to address these concerns, whether at the next workshop, or through some other means, such as round table discussion with the board, superintendent, representatives of buildings, and the community. We also asked whether they would be responding to Mattson’s appeal; whether they wanted to know why these people left; and what did they think was the best way to restore unity in the district?

“The board employs one person and that is the superintendent,” said Eary. “The only exit interview the board would conduct would be with our one employee. In regard to the exit interviews for all staff members except for the superintendent, there is no right granted to anyone to have an exit interview in this state. Our school district does offer exit interviews and they are conducted by the Human Resource Department. The offer was made to Mrs. Mattson to have an exit interview with the HR Department.”

Eary offered a general response for the other questions.

“The 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, whether the position be superintendent, teacher, administrator, support staff or coach.

“The Board is listening to the community and is responsive to their concerns and will continue to be in communication with the community in the days and weeks ahead.

“We believe our leadership team shares our commitment to our students and staff. Together we are confident the children and families are going to receive a great education at our district.

“The Board of Education would like to express our deep appreciation for the outstanding and dedicated staff. The teachers, administrators and support staff work very hard to provide a high quality education for our students. They do so during a time when education and expectations to meet high standards is continually changing. We are proud of our staff members.

“Finally, we would like to thank the many volunteers, parents and community members who continue to partner with us to serve the many students of Cedar Springs. We appreciate all who shared with us their concerns, suggestions and affirmations over the last several months.”

See several letters to the editor about this issue here.

Tell us—how do you feel about this? How do you think unity should be restored? Send your letters to the editor to us at news@cedarspringspost.com, and follow the guidelines (including word limit) on our Voices and Views page.

NEXT WEEK: Long range financial outlook—could district be headed into the red?

 

 

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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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Cedar Trails teacher wins “Cool Teacher” award


Mary Graf, right, received the WGVU “Cool Teacher” Award.

Mary Graf, right, received the WGVU “Cool Teacher” Award.

N-Cool-teacher-Graf2Mary Graf, a first grade teacher at Cedar Trails Elementary in Cedar Springs, was named the latest teacher to receive the WGVU “Cool Teacher” Award. WGVU honored Graf and her class with a pizza party on Thursday, April 23, which also happened to be Graf’s birthday. Graf has been teaching first graders for 37 of her 38 teaching years, all having been in Cedar Springs.

Cedar Trails Elementary Principal Mike Duffy, cited Graf as a “Master Teacher always growing, learning, and looking for ways to improve educational techniques for her students.”

Sienna Wolfe nominated her teacher, Mrs. Graf, for the award because “she is kind, caring, and makes learning fun! She even allows us to dance in the classroom as one way of expressing ideas.” Several other students from the class also submitted letters of support in naming her a “Cool Teacher.”

WGVU honored Graf and her class with a pizza party on Thursday, April 23.

WGVU honored Graf and her class with a pizza party on Thursday, April 23.

Bradley Gordon, WGVU Marketing and Special Events Coordinator noted, “We receive several hundred applications each month from our 2.1 million viewers, within 28 counties. A committee comprised of educators and other professionals from GVSU judge the nominees based on the students evidence of learning. Just 30 teachers, from grades kindergarten thru eighth, are selected each school year. Graf met all the criteria and had strong support from her students.”

Gordon and WGVU photographer Zack Limiewski video-recorded the celebration and various activities of Graf interacting with classroom students. A twice-a-day airing of this recording will begin around mid-May on WGVU TV 35 and TV 52 as well as on the website WGVU.org.

Graf and Wolfe were presented with four vouchers each from Amtrak for a trip from Grand Rapids to Chicago. On May 7, WGVU will host an Education Celebration with a dinner and award presentations to be held at the Eberhard Center honoring the 2014-15 winning “Cool Teachers.”

When Graf was asked what she enjoyed about teaching, she responded, “I love the enthusiasm that first graders have for learning. Every new lesson is a new adventure for them! First grade is such an amazing grade to teach because they are just discovering the incredible world of reading and writing. I feel so lucky to be part of this journey with them. To see the pleasure and joy on their faces after they read a great book or write a new story is so rewarding. I feel so blessed to have the best job in the world! I am humbled and honored to receive this award.”

The “Cool Teacher Award” promotes the positive and good things that teachers are doing with our youth. This program is an example of WGVU’s mission to provide educational, informational, and entertaining programs and events to the West Michigan Community as a service of Grand Valley State University.

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