08-31-2017 Panthers pack their bags – head back to school; Lansing legislators ease the grip of zero

Panthers pack their bags – head back to school

OPEN HOUSE… Approx-imately 50 persons attended the open house last Friday noon to mark 4 years of operation of the Orchard Hill Generation Station on Hennessey Road in Water-vliet Township. The visitors, including legislators, local officials and business leaders, got a tour of the operating plant which converts landfill methane gas to electricity, an explanation of the benefits of producing electric power for nearly 2,000 homes while cleanly consuming methane gas, and lunch. Since the plant began operation, it has produced 105 million Mega Watts of renewable energy.


By

Kristy Noack

Yellow school buses begin lumbering along their routes Tuesday, September 5 as the littlest to the biggest Panthers head back to school in Watervliet.

Class lists have been posted, calendars updated, and it’s time for the school bell to ring! Panthers aplenty begin their 2017-18 school year on Tuesday, September 5 with a half day at all buildings.

With Phase 2 construction complete at the middle and high schools, as well as ancillary scope work finishing up, the buildings are in top, ship-shape condition.

At South Elementary, principal Carole Fetke and her staff are ready to welcome students in the Young 5 program as well as kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

South Elementary is located at 433 Lucinda Lane, and you can reach staff by phoning (269) 463-0860. The office opens at 7:40 a.m.; with breakfast beginning at 7:55 a.m. Classes begin promptly at 8:10 a.m.

South School dismisses students at 3:20 p.m.

There will be one new teacher at South this year. Jennifer Wagner, a preschool teacher, joins the staff.

Over at North Elementary, 287 Baldwin Avenue, principal Joe Allen is readying the troops, including his new hires.

Alaina Bongiorno is the newest fifth-grade teacher at North. Ashlee Tilly will take her place in the fourth-grade classroom at the elementary as well.

North Elementary hosts grades three through five.  The school is seeking helpers for its Reading Counts program, which will be held Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Opportunities to volunteer your talents abound! Just give the office a call at (269) 463-0820. Volunteers must pass a background check.

North Elementary office opens at 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is at 7:45 a.m., and classes begin at 8:00 a.m. The dismissal bell rings at 3:10 p.m.

Dave Armstrong, principal at Watervliet Middle School, and his staff are set to welcome back students in sixth through eighth grades. Students will notice some welcome changes as the halls and classrooms have seen technology updates as well as new flooring and classroom changes.

Superintendent Kevin Schooley and Armstrong may have been a little concerned last week after the power was out for five days at the middle school. A contractor was conducting soil boring sampling when the power line was hit requiring new underground lines to be installed. The lines are functioning at 100% and the school, located at 450 E. Red Arrow Highway is ready for students.

The Middle School office opens at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast following at 7:40 a.m. Classes begin at 7:55 a.m., and school lets out at 2:55 p.m.

To reach the Middle School office, call (269) 463-0780.

Five new teachers will call middle school classrooms home this year. The science department has two new faces; Jessica Grossman and Amy Oetjens have joined the school.

Social Studies will now be taught by Jason Oetjens. Samantha Zalewski is the new art teacher. Kourtney Sattler will share her expertise as she is the new math teacher.

Brad Coon, principal at Watervliet High School, is happy to announce that the school will be participating in 1:1 technology. Each student will be provided with a new Chromebook to help aid in studying.

New to the High School is Spanish teacher Alicia Sarco-Villagomez, who joins the foreign language department.

The High School opens each day at 7:30 a.m. The breakfast period is held at 7:40 a.m., with classes beginning at 7:55 a.m. School dismisses at 2:55 p.m. each day.  Contact staff at (269) 463-0730.

Students driving to school will need to stop by Coon’s office to register their vehicle and pick up a window sticker.

Superintendent Schooley announced changes have been made to some bus routes this year. Please visit the school’s website watervlietps.org for the latest information.

The Watervliet athletic department has news, too! Middle School sports are now available for students in sixth and seventh grades who would like to participate in cross country, football, volleyball and cheerleading.

To keep abreast of all things sports related, visit www.wpspanthers.com. You can review rosters, read event recaps, check out gate prices, and search schedules.  You can also visit the athletic department in person to grab new Panther gear. This year’s sports theme is “Leave a Legacy.”

The first school board meeting of the new school year will be held Monday, September 11 at 6:00 p.m. in the high and middle school media center. School board meetings are the second Monday each month.

Welcome back to school, Panthers!

Lansing legislators ease the grip of zero tolerance school discipline

By Jon Bisnett

We have all heard the urban legend of the 2nd grade girl who brought a pan of brownies and a butter knife to school for her birthday and then was expelled by rule of “zero tolerance” weapon policy.

As crazy as that sounds, it’s actually been more fact than fiction until recent changes coming out of Lansing that apply some common-sense thinking to discipline procedures for schools throughout the state.

A kinder, gentler expulsion/ suspension process

The new bipartisan legislation takes effect for the 2017-18 academic year allowing school administrators the flexibility to now consider age, disciplinary history, the severity of the misconduct and if the behavior legitimately threatened another student or staff member’s safety. Additional consideration is provided in the case of students with disabilities; if a lesser punishment is appropriate and whether “restorative” meetings between the offender and a victim might help.

To be totally clear; policies requiring at least a one-year expulsion for taking a gun to school will remain firmly intact, otherwise school districts could lose critical federal funding. While signing these laws into effect Michigan Governor Rick Snyder commented that students will no longer be automatically expelled or suspended due to a simple misconduct. Schools can now consider a student’s age, disciplinary history, a student’s disability and whether safety was really at risk without being forced to take extreme punitive action that often has proven to be inequitable with the offense.

Legislators also voted overwhelmingly to redefine and limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools to emergencies only, finding those methods disproportionately used on students with extreme disabilities. “Use of positive behavioral interventions, instead of archaic practices, will help all students…” commented Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who has an autistic daughter.

Overkill

This new “wiggle room” sure would have come in handy for one unlucky kid we came across in a story that surfaced while researching this article. A 7th-grade student in the Coldwater district was surprised to find a knife buried deep in the used backpack his foster mother purchased at the Goodwill Store. Unfortunately, he was at school at the time. The student immediately turned it over to his teacher and that’s when his troubles really began. Under zero tolerance the act required an automatic one year suspension, (later reduced to 30 days,) and then spilled on to the football field as the student was not allowed to ride the team bus. One can easily call it overkill, but where does all this originate?

The birth of zero tolerance

We need to remember that fateful day of April 20, 1999 when the world would forever change as we all stared at CNN in total disbelief at the events of a Colorado High School called Columbine. Thirteen students lost their lives at the hands of the also deceased teenage perpetrators. The event shook the nation to its core, with cries from parents across the country to “keep their children safe.” Legislators all over the country were quick to act, creating zero-tolerance statutes in multiple states as a nation mourned the unthinkable tragedy.

Now some 20 years later, law enforcement has totally revised their approach in responding to such an event. The schools remain more vigilant than ever to student/staff safety concerns, but at the same time recognized the need for greater flexibility in the area of student discipline. The resulting bipartisan bills, now Michigan Public Acts 360-366 of 2016, are effectively the result of lengthy conversations among the educational community, probate judges and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We are now finally giving back the local school districts the flexibility to consider multiple factors when making such serious decisions on disciplinary actions for students,” Snyder said.

Tri-Cities reaction

In 2015-16 statewide, 1,319 students were expelled. Locally, Hartford High School suspended one student for 179 days, Watervliet High School suspended one for 75 days and one middle school student for 150 days, while no data was available for Coloma Schools according to state reports at press time.

With the new legislation in place it is still left up to the individual school districts to adopt the more flexible policy. Hartford Superintendent Andy Hubbard says he is pleased to see the change and that the School Board has already adopted the additional considerations as published in Section 5610.01 of the District Policy Manual, available online. Watervliet Superintendent Kevin Schooley appreciates whenever local control is available to review these situations on a true case by case basis. The Watervliet Board of Education also officially adopted the new standards as policy shortly after they became law. Coloma Superintendent Pete Bush says, Coloma will be implementing special training in regard to new Seclusion and Restraint rules. Bush indicated that all staff will get a general briefing on the factors to be considered in cases of disciplinary action, adding that “First and foremost we are in the business of educating students. We will discipline as is appropriate and hopefully leverage a punitive decision into a learning experience as well.”

Coloma Downtown Development Authority contemplates hiring coordinator

By Christina Gelder

Rocky Bertuca attended the Monday, August 28 meeting of the Coloma City Commission to keep the commissioners up to date on the activities of the DDA (Downtown Development Authority). Bertuca reported that the group is looking at hiring a part-time coordinator. This would be someone to help them make a plan for the future, set up projects, find additional funding and help capture it.

It was clarified that this person would not be a city employee but a contract worker paid for with the DDA’s budget. The details will depend on what the DDA decides, right now this is still in the talking stages. It is something that Bertuca says they have been “kicking around” for a few years.

Commissioner Julia Smith said it sounded to her like the DDA was looking for a master plan maker and that is something the city could really benefit from. She questioned if just having a plan would serve them better.

As they wrapped up their questioning of Bertuca, Commissioner Marsha Hammond asked that they be kept up to date on the situation and if they could attend a meeting with the potential project coordinator, if it came to that.

Property splits

Seth Enders of Center Street attended the meeting to request approval to buy a piece of property from his neighbor. His neighbor, Mr. Geisler is willing to split a lot that he owns and Enders would like to buy a portion. The city needed to approve this before it could be completed. After looking at the surveys the commission approved this change in the lot layout.

In other news Commissioner Jason Hicks reported that the ordinance committee met and he was hoping to have updates on burning and parking ordinances at the next meeting. Commissioner Smith wanted to remind residents hosting garage sales that signs are not allowed on the city’s tree lawns. An ordinance variance was given for the Music in the Park banner to stay up for longer than two weeks. City Hall will be closed on Labor Day, approval was given for all city employees to take a vacation day. Approval was also given for Quality Asphalt invoices totaling $17,025 to be paid.

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