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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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From the superintendent’s desk


Superintendent Laura VanDuyn, Ed.D.

Superintendent Laura VanDuyn, Ed.D.

Happy 2017 – it is going to be a terrific year!  We welcome everyone back to school as we continue our focus on teaching and learning at CSPS.

As we kick off a brand new year, it is an ideal time to learn about the vision, mission, core values and brand promise that was adopted by our Board of Education in December.  The Board of Education embarked on the strategic planning process to update the direction of the District.   The most important part of that process was to gather stakeholder feedback.

To that end, approximately 125 teachers, support staff, administrators, parents, students and community members participated in focus groups to provide input on the future and direction they (and those they represented) would like to see for CSPS.  Additionally, the entire staff of CSPS was asked to provide their input on selecting the core values, which define the way will go about our work.  The engagement and input was impressive and the outcome is just the same.  The following was formally adopted by our dedicated Board of Education and will shape our work as we move forward:

Vision (where we are trying to go):  Cedar Springs Public Schools will prepare all students to be independent thinkers and life-long learners who are confident and engaged in their community and world.

Mission (why we are doing what we’re doing):  Cedar Springs Public Schools is a welcoming, inclusive educational environment where students are challenged to reach their potential, and are prepared for life beyond school.

Core Values (how we are going to go about our work- we’ll do so with):  Integrity, Respect, Compassion, Accountability, Collaboration

Brand Promise (our “trademark”):  Purpose, Potential, Pride

We are excited to keep these tenets of our strategic plan at the forefront of our work with students, staff, families and our community.  On behalf of the Board of Education and our outstanding CSPS collegial team, I thank each and every one of the many people who gave of their time to commit to this important process.  Thank you for your part in continuing to move forward our great Cedar Springs Public Schools.

Warmly, 

Laura VanDuyn, Ed.D., CSPS Superintendent of Schools

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Power outages cause problems at school


 

Falling snow weighed down tree limbs Monday evening, causing them to break and fall on power lines, which led to power outages for several thousand people in Kent County on Sunday evening, December 4, and more problems on Monday morning, December 5, which resulted in students being sent home early from school.

According to Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Laura VanDuyn, Operations director Ken Simon monitored the outage in the area Sunday evening/early Monday morning, and worked with the administration to ensure it was appropriate to hold school.

“There was not a problem at 5:00 a.m. this morning and therefore, school began as usual,” explained VanDuyn. “However, later in the morning, well after school began, power outages began to occur in several buildings. During those outages phones and computers were inoperable at those sites. The boilers at both Cedar View and Red Hawk became an issue as smoke was coming from them.”

Both schools were evacuated and the fire department was called was to investigate the cause of the problem. The students were eventually told to return to class at the direction of the fire department.

“Due to the fact that power issues continued and eventually affected every building, the safest manner in which to proceed was to send students home, as many related issues can arise in the absence of power ﴾i.e., loss of heat and ability to communicate﴿. Consumers Energy was working on the outage and shared an estimate of 4 p.m. for power restoration. We do apologize for the inconvenience.”

“I thank each and every one of you who worked through this today,” wrote VanDuyn in a letter to parents and staff, “including parents who had to return home to receive their children early or who had to pick up their children at an earlier time.”

She also thanked the transportation department for their quick response to come back in the middle of the day to transport students, and thanked the Cedar Springs Fire Department on their quick response for assistance. “We are always so well supported and it is greatly appreciated,” she said.

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From the Superintendent’s desk


Laura VanDuyn

Laura VanDuyn

Dear CSPS Families:

It’s hard to believe that November is here. We are so engaged in what we do as educators and students that the time flies…and YES, we are having fun! Our first 2 months of school have brought many fantastic opportunities for our students and staff. I’d like to update you on progress we continue to make as a progressive district serving our kids with passion and collaboration.

  • Strategic Planning: We are moving right along and look forward to completion of the process soon. This important process is one that a school district takes on every 3-5 years. It enables the Board of Education to establish the vision (where we are going as a district), mission (why we are here doing what we are doing) and core values (how we go about doing our work). This process involved approximately 125 people in feedback groups. Those groups were established by leaders from our teachers, parents, students, community members, support staff and administrators. The Board of Education is now using all the feedback from the constituent groups and will eventually vote on approving the strategic plan that will have 4 goals: academic, environment, 21st century learning, finance. This process has been inclusive and engaging!
  • Our new math curriculum implementation is going very well and rave reviews are coming in from our teachers, students and parents. Our principals are working with our teachers on tight alignment of the new K-5 curriculum with the 6-12 curriculum. This is exciting work for all of us. We are so proud of the process we put in place over the last 2 years to have our teachers work in collaborative groups to select the curriculum.
  • We are excited to know that our work on Responsive Classroom® (RC) is now being talked about in other districts. I’ve received phone calls and emails to talk about the great benefits of RC and the possibility of other districts looking at training for their schools. We are excited to be the first district to bring this to our region! Please read the article about our outstanding teachers and principals implementing RC in the School News Network: http://www.schoolnewsnetwork.org
  • We are proud that our band students and directors are leading the way after coming in 3rd in two recent state band competitions. Our band will perform at Ford Field on Saturday. Thank you all for helping Cedar Springs lead the way…you make us proud!
  • Hat’s off to our business department staff under the leadership of Rosemary Zink, CPA, MBA and CFO! There has been a lot of work in the business department over the last year. We are elated to know that we are moving forward with transparency in reporting, collaboration and inclusion in budgeting and in systems development. Last November 1st we had to employ the services of a consultant to provide an overview of our business services after concerns were raised by a community member throughout the summer and into the fall of 2015. The great news is we were able to get a comprehensive look at our business practices in order to plan forward. Additionally, we were able to keep our business department going until we were able to hire Ms. Zink. Our business department employees are so dedicated to making sure we all have what we need to do our jobs. We are excited about what is ahead and purposely put a financial goal in the strategic plan to keep a sharp focus on all the advancements that are being made in the business department.
  • Anne Kostus and our terrific team of teachers and counselors at the high school continue to rally around Early Middle College. We are one of few districts offering this opportunity to our high school students. We are proud of being on the leading edge of this statewide initiative. This is so important for giving our students an advantage in college readiness. Hat’s off to all who are making this happen for our amazing students!
  • The OK2Say program has now been implemented at Red Hawk and with our current 7th and 8th graders at the middle school. We were honored last April when our Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and his team thought enough of Cedar Springs Public Schools to spend his day with us kicking off the OK2Say program. That dedication to our district, being a leader in the OK2Say initiative, is humbling. We attribute that to Jo Spry, our Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, as she brought the program to Michigan. We love being on the cutting edge of such important work to keep our schools safe.
  • It’s clear by looking around our campus that our maintenance and grounds crew are working hard. In fact, we have data to prove that. Mr. Ken Simon, our new Director of Operations, is tracking data on work orders and setting goals for his department. Thus far his hard-working team has reduced work orders in progress to 8%…and the goal was 10%! We thank Mr. Simon and his team for supporting all we do as a district as their work is foundational to providing a wonderful learning atmosphere for our students.
  • We are proud of the staff we’ve had with us for many years and are proud of the new staff joining us for the first time this year. Last school year we created and continue to develop an excellent Human Resources Department. Leading that is Ms. Carrie Duddles who is doing a stellar job for all staff and for the district. To that end, there are processes that have been put in place that structure hiring and provide streamlining with the technology, payroll and other departments. There is misinformation that 50 or more employees resigned from the district since January, 2016. It can be confusing as there are times when people on the resignation list are those who resign from one position, such as interventionist, who actually earned another position, such as a teacher. Therefore, their names will appear as resignations when in fact, they are still employees of the District. Furthermore, retirements such as the 11 we had last spring along with 2 leaves of absence that were granted appear in the same category as resignations/layoffs. To add to that is the fact that there are some employees who earn what is called a “schedule B” assignment/salary for coaching athletics, etc. Those positions are counted on the resignation list when someone decides they won’t be able to coach anymore. Those may be teachers or support staff employed by CSPS who are only resigning their coaching positions, not their full-time positions … or they may be people who do not work in the district but only coach a sport, etc. As you can see, there is a lot that can make a list appear to be something it is not. The lists contain all support, teaching and administrator positions. Simple lists can be misleading without understanding what all is encompassed in them, but we know as we calculate the numbers of actual resignations that we are well within a general range of what can be expected for any district. It’s always important to gather the facts and we encourage all to seek facts prior to establishing concerns. Thankfully, we are putting these important processes in place to track our hiring, seniority, benefits, payroll, etc. These structures are incredibly important to keeping the District on track in budgeting…we are proud of the work we are doing in this area!
  • It is our honor to have with us, Dr. Barbara Johnson, a National Blue Ribbon School principal, principal of a Top 10 school in the state and a Reading Now Network school. Dr. Johnson is working with our new “Leader in Training” at Beach Elementary School. We are so very fortunate to have Mrs. Miranda Latimer (one of our excellent CSPS teachers who earned a leadership position in the district) as our administrator at Beach Elementary. She is getting the benefit of learning from our outstanding principal team as well as from Dr. Barb Johnson. It is to our benefit to have someone who has been a principal recognized in the state and nation for her terrific contributions in education. Please know that the affordability in this comes from a “Leader in Training” salary that is significantly less than a principal in order to afford the mentor, as agreed upon by the Leader in Training upon accepting the position. Dr. Barb Johnson is being talked about all over Michigan…we are THRILLED to be a district benefiting from her services.
  • NEOLA policy work continues as we are nearing the end of the work to add the Administrative Guidelines to the policies that were adopted this summer. This Board of Education and administration have worked long and hard to do a complete policy overhaul to ensure we are on board with the most state-of-the-art policy that is constantly updated and inclusive of any changed or new legislation. It’s so nice to be a district on the forefront of important reform such as policy as it guides what we do as a district.
  • Our School Resource Officer program is serving our students, staff and families so well. We have seen the countless benefits of the program in such a short time and look forward to continuing to develop the program. We are fortunate to bring this program to CSPS and know that it’s making a difference in our school operations and in our student and staff well being. Thank you, Deputy McCutcheon, for all you are doing to make this innovative program a success!

As we enter into the season for recognizing all we have to be thankful for, know that our staff and Board of Education are thankful that you share your most cherished blessings with us. Thank you for partnering with us to be make a positive impact in your child’s life. We, at CSPS, take very seriously what we do as educators to support your child in developing a successful present and future life. To that end, we hold high expectations and a commitment to accountability for ourselves and for our students. We are thankful that we do this together as we know our purpose is the same…seeing your child reach his/her potential.

It is an honor and privilege to serve as your superintendent. Please contact me at any time, should I be able to support you and your child in educational success.

Warmly,

Laura VanDuyn, Ed.D.

CSPS Superintendent of Schools

Posted in Cedar Springs Public SchoolsComments Off on From the Superintendent’s desk

From the Superintendent’s desk


 

Laura VanDuyn

Laura VanDuyn

Dear Cedar Springs Public Schools Families:

It is my hope you are enjoying our transition to the early days of fall. I was born and raised in the great state of Michigan and I’ve always LOVED this time of year. We especially love this time of year at my father’s house in the U.P. as the crisp weather means great bonfires, preparing for deer season and generally loving being outside in the peaceful surroundings. This is a wonderful time of year for children, especially after getting into the routine of the school year and enjoying the traditional Cedar Springs Red Flannel Festival…not to mention the thrill of Halloween!

As we head into this refreshing season at the start of our year together, it’s important to share the ways in which we communicate with all of our constituent groups. It is greatly important to me and to our Board of Education that we keep you apprised of happenings in the district.  Following are just some of the many ways we communicate with our staff, students, parents and community:

• Our new website

• Board of Education meetings (recorded and uploaded to YouTube)

• Newsletters

• Phone calls

• Emails

• The Red Hawk Review (electronic and sent via email to every CSPS family and any community members who request it as well as it being posted on our new website)

• The Cedar Springs Post articles and school pages

• Parent-Teacher conferences

• Open Houses

• Weekly folders

• Meetings with the superintendent at our local cafes (10/7 is the next opportunity)

• Facebook

• Teacher Web pages

• Twitter

• Progress Reports and Report cards

• Office announcements

• Face-to-Face meetings with the superintendent

• Annual State-of-the-School-District address

• Michigan Association of School Board workshops (November, 2015 and April, 2016)

• Strategic Planning Process

• School improvement process

I am grateful to all who ask the questions about what is happening in our district. I continue to extend an opportunity to meet with anyone wishing to meet so that any and all questions about our district, our Board of Education, etc. can be answered. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to share some of the great work that has been shared at Board meetings, as we know not everyone can attend…which is one reason we publish them on YouTube.  It’s been refreshing to have so many staff, students, parents and community members meet with me to ascertain how we are progressing as a district.

csps-conversation-with-the-superintendentAs you know, especially from the many ways we communicate with our staff, families and community, I want every citizen, staff member and parent of Cedar Springs to ask questions and to be well educated about all that is happening in this great district.  We are proud of the forward motion we’ve made and will continue that trajectory.  I would love an opportunity to get to know you, to learn how I might support your wishes or to answer any questions you may have.  I encourage you to schedule a meeting, call or drop by for a visit as I enjoy getting to know our students, families and community members. I can assure you, you’ll be enlightened to hear about the terrific progress we are making to serve our students well!

It is an honor to serve as your CSPS superintendent.  I take great pleasure in knowing that at CSPS, students come first and that this great district is moving along in an excellent way, with a lot of support, to serve students and families.  On behalf of the CSPS Board of Education, administration, teachers and support staff, thank you for partnering with us to provide the very best education for our students.

Warmly,

Laura VanDuyn, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

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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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From the Superintendent


 

Laura VanDuyn

Laura VanDuyn

Dear Cedar Springs Public Schools Families:

Welcome back to school for the 2016-17 school year!  It is my hope you enjoyed the last few months doing the things you love to do during our beautiful Michigan summers.  I can assure you that you have been missed.  Our students and families fill our schools with excitement each school year and you are precisely why we choose to be educators…we love our kids and families!

As you have been away this summer we have been working on preparations for your return.  Our teachers, administrators and support staff have been preparing classrooms and schools for you.  They have been actively engaged in preparing for the academic and extracurricular year to begin.  They are anxious to have you back for another great year of learning adventures.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve as your CSPS superintendent.  I take great pleasure in knowing that at CSPS, students come first.  On behalf of the CSPS Board of Education, administration, teachers and support staff, thank you for partnering with us to provide the very best education for our students.  Please know I enjoy meeting and getting to know our students and families so call or drop by for a visit at any time.

Warmly,

Laura VanDuyn, Ed.D.
Superintendent

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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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Thrive program to start in Cedar Springs


 

North Kent Community Services is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Cedar Springs Public Schools. Beginning in February, NKCS will offer its successful Thrive Empowerment Program on the Cedar Springs campus, thanks to a generous offer of classroom space from Superintendent Dr. Laura Van Duyn.

“This is an excellent opportunity to help women with children living in Cedar Springs achieve their livable wage and educational goals,” said NKCS Program Director Chérie Elahl.

NKCS launched the Thrive Empowerment program in September 2014. Since then, several women have obtained or are working toward obtaining their high school diplomas, some are furthering their post-secondary education, and others have found better paying jobs.

“One of our participants described Thrive as a family of women,” said Cherie. “Thrive is an opportunity for the group members to work on their goals without the distraction of everyday life and with the support of other women who are in very similar situations. It’s powerful and beautiful to see what happens when our participants start to believe in themselves.”

The program sessions include financial literacy, connections to resources in Kent County, and time to work on goals in a group environment. One of the favorite classes involves mindfulness for parenting; the participants learn how to parent without anger and have a calmer home environment. Thrive is open to all women with children who live in northern Kent County. There are no income guidelines. “Having participants from different walks of life really enriches the group dynamics as well as the Thrive experience,” explains Chérie.

To learn more about the Thrive Empowerment Program, contact Chérie Elahl at cherie.elahl@nkcs.org or at 616-866-3478 ext. 105. The new cohort will begin in February 2016. Make a New Year’s resolution to reach your goals in this life-changing program. Class sizes are limited so call soon!

 

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