04-06-2017 Michigan education: Classes, conferences, mascots & graduation requirements; Hartfor

STANDING ROOM ONLY… at the recent Red Arrow Elementary Art Show in Hartford. Art Teacher Julie Rae Fisher Jacobusse coordinated the event through a third-party vendor who took on the task of framing and matting the students’ works, which in turn was avail-able for sale at the event. Any unsold art is then meticulously removed from the frames and returned to the students. Funds raised from the event will reload and expand Red Arrow’s art supplies stock. Woodside Upper Elementary hosted their Art Show on March 29. The huge turnout and exceptional sales success of the inaugural elementary shows has caught the attention of the middle & high school art department now considering the same format when they host a similar event later this spring.

Michigan education: Classes, conferences, mascots & graduation requirements…how issues impact local schools

By Jon Bisnett

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has released updated enrollment figures for the 2017-18 school year, with a couple area schools facing a Class ranking change for next fall. While at the same time, the head of the Michigan Department of Education seeks power to force the hand of schools bearing Native American mascots as Tri-City schools offer preferred graduation rates and face athletic conference realignment.


Michigan high schools with enrollments of 881 and above will now be considered Class A; while Class B schools will fall between 406 and 880. Class C runs 204-405, and those smaller schools with an enrollment at 203 or less are Class D.

Berrien County will see Lakeshore move back to Class A, after serving the past two years in Class B.   The Lancers did make the Class B state finals in boys’ basketball during that time.  Niles drops to Class B finding itself now the smallest school in the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference.

St. Joseph stands alone as the largest high school in Berrien County with an enrollment of 1,043, while non-public Watervliet Grace Christian sits at only 23 students as the smallest.

The largest school in Van Buren County is Mattawan at 1,171, with Covert firmly planted as the smallest coming in at just 140.  Edwardsburg is the largest in Cass County carrying 835 students, less than 5% away from the new Class A bubble.

None of the Tri-City schools are directly impacted by the revised MHSAA Classes, but now with Hartford moving to the more balanced demographics of the newly formed Southwest 10 Conference along with recent SAC schools Bangor, Bloomingdale, Decatur, Eau Claire and Marcellus; Watervliet and Coloma find themselves on the outside looking in as they now stand as the two southern most schools of a fractured SAC that has now essentially become close to a relabeled version of the old KVA League putting the bulk of their conference schedule versus Kalamazoo area schools. As Coloma and Watervliet readjust their fall football schedules, it is some conciliation that the Comets & Panthers cross-town rivalry remains intact after only a short absence.

It is worth noting that basketball and volleyball both use the Class system to determine their playoff qualifiers. Class rating comes into play as just a portion of the more complex formula used to place the football playoff seeds.

Mascot debate reaches Lansing

Michigan State Superintendent Brian Whiston is waiting for word from the attorney general’s office on whether he can cut funding for school districts with offensive nicknames if they don’t change them. In particular, he wants to force Paw Paw and Saranac to drop the “Redskins” monikers, which boards from both districts have recently voted to retain. Whiston told reporters this week if the attorney general says he doesn’t have the authority under current law, he will start lobbying the legislature for that power. He adds his office is working with Michigan’s Native American tribes on the issue. Whiston, speaking after the State Board of Education meeting in March, said he asked Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in February to issue a formal legal opinion on the matter. “We’re waiting for that answer,” said Whiston. “If it comes back saying ‘no we don’t have that authority,’ it could go to the legislature to determine if they want to give us that authority.”

If Whiston is granted the authority to issue them, the potential fines could ill-affect as much as 5 to 10 percent of a school district’s state aid payment.

Controversy over Native American mascots is nothing new in Michigan. The issue flared most recently in Paw Paw where the school board voted 4-3 to keep the district’s Redskins mascot and logo following a very ugly and public battle of the protagonists. Several heated board meetings preceded the vote, with pro “Redskins” supporters campaigning with yard signs and even going so far as to purchase a billboard on I-94 with the simple message “We Are The Redskins.”

“It’s deeply hurtful,” claims Julie Dye, a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians who advocated against the use of the Redskins name in Paw Paw.  She has urged the state school board to fine districts, which have decided against dropping mascots deemed offensive by the Native American community.

Information recently obtained by the Tri-City Record would indicate that even the Paw Paw Board of Education would prefer the state force their hand to remove the mascot, rather than face a no-win ongoing local battle and may have in fact influenced State Superintendent Whiston’s decision to seek the attorney general’s ruling in the matter of fines.

In a surprising turn of events, the TCR just recently received a copy of a letter sent to Superintendent Whiston from the law firm of Surovell, Issacs, Petersen & Levy representing the Native Americans Guardians Association. NAGA is a pro-Native American mascot advocacy group who contends that Whiston by singling out Native Americans as images and symbols that may not be used by Michigan high schools, is in fact discriminating against those Native Americans who support the use and further promise to file a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit should he proceed with punitive measures without also including other historic and or ethnic mascots such as “Patriots,” “Crusaders,” “Fighting Irish,” and “Vikings.”

Local impact

Locally, the Harford Public Schools bearing the name “Indians” along with neighbors to the north Saugatuck, the Fennville “Blackhawks” and the Dowagiac “Chieftains” have not been directly targeted per say as of late and are simply monitoring the situation. However in late 2016 the TCR did receive a copy of an official memo from the Pokagon Band, formally condemning the use of the name “Redskins” further stating that although not an immediate priority, it would be the tribe’s long-term preference to see the removal of all Native American mascots from all Michigan high schools. It is significant that in prior instances of mascot debates over the past few years, the Pokagon Band had maintained a more non-committal approach.

In any case, should the state school board intervene to force mascot removal by ransoming state aid funds, it is safe to say the wave would wash over all schools, including the Hartford “Indians” despite their lengthy track record of mutual respect and cooperation with the local tribe.

In December, the Belding Area School District became the most recent Michigan school board voting to abandon its “Redskins” mascot, becoming the Belding “Black Knights” amid criticism that the name is a racial slur.

Graduation rates

Michigan’s four-year graduation rate dropped slightly to 79.65 percent in 2015-16, a less than one percent decline from the prior year, while just 5 years ago the rate was only 76.24 according to state data.

Watervliet Senior High School led Berrien County with an impressive 98.9 percent graduation rate making it fourth in the entire state. Its 2015-16 cohort had 91 students. (The cohort is how many students started out in the graduating class. The graduation rate is the percent of that cohort that graduated within four-years.)

Rounding out the Tri-City districts was Coloma at 91.45 and Hartford at 90.28, both well above the state average.

Graduation Requirements Revamp

Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a four bill package updating the state’s high school graduation standards.

66th District State Representative Beth Griffin, a former educator from Mattawan, supports the measures saying, “If we’re focused on job skills training and closing that job skills gap, this is common sense legislation that makes great strides toward that end.” Griffin authored one of the bills which provide a boost for technical education across the state by giving students options to have technical courses count toward graduation, requiring students to complete at least three courses in any combination of 21st Century Skills, computer science, or technical education to graduate.

The State of Michigan Board of Education has come out in favor of retaining the current standards calling for 4 years of math, science, English and a foreign language enacted in 2011, while as a whole legislators lean towards vo-tech expansion calling attention to as many as 600,000 skilled trade jobs that go unfilled in the wake of massive baby boomer retirement trends as of late.

Other components of the legislation allow students to take a performing arts or CTE course instead of a foreign language, and allow for Statistics to be an alternative to Algebra II. The legislation moves now to the Michigan Senate.

Hartford elementary schools hold framed art shows

 Early in March Red Arrow Elementary school in Hartford held an art show displaying the work of the students in preschool through second grade. Each grade level learned about an artist and art style.

The preschool students made artwork depicting hand print ducks and carnivals while the kindergarten and K/1 mixed classes studied and reproduced Monet Water Lilies. First-graders made their art pieces from studying Paul Cezanne’s Fruit Bowls. VanGogh’s Starry Night was the subject of the students in second grade. The teachers were included and their pieces were of light houses.

“I really enjoyed the art show and seeing all of the students’ art in frames for one night.  It is a reflection of the students’ learning and hard work while meeting the Michigan Art Standards of displaying their artwork.  Also, the framed art show is a great event to bring together people in our community. It was great to see the families that supported the students by coming and taking pictures and buying their art in the frames if they chose to. I smiled from ear to ear the whole night and it warms my heart to see students who have not had art in six years participating in a framed art show.  I am glad Hartford Schools was able to bring art back to the elementary students,” expressed Julie Jacobusse, BS, MA Art Educator for Hartford Schools.

A framed art show at Woodside Elementary was held separately at the end of March. Families and community members attended to view all of the students’ artwork on display in frames.

Students and families were encouraged to dress up, sign in for the drawing to see what class had the most students that attended the art show to win an ice cream party, take pictures of the students and their artwork, and purchase the artwork for $25 if they choose. The cash-proceeds go towards buying art supplies for the school art program.  If families did not buy their student’s artwork they received it back with no frame.

As with the lower elementary grades, each grade level at Woodside learned about an artist as follows: 3rd – Grant Wood, farm landscape; 4th – Georgia O’ Keefe, flowers; 5th – Paul Gaugin, tropical landscape; and the teachers created pieces featuring light houses.

If there are any questions regarding the art shows held at Red Arrow or Woodside please contact Mrs. Jacobusse by email at jacobussej@hpsmi.org or by phone at 706-476-0485.


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