With changes, new students invited into the district

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 5, 2011

HARPER WOODS — Despite a long track record of opposition to opening up the flood gates for Schools of Choice, the Harper Woods school board is allowing a bigger crack in the door for what they’ve set up as a way of allowing the best students they can find into the district.

The approved proposals include programs at Beacon and Tyrone elementary schools, and the high school and an alternative high school for students who are not on track to be able to graduate without the program.

In order to participate in any of the special programs, the district’s resident students also will have to meet some key requirements. Having academic and other requirements that must be met before a student can be admitted helps alleviate some of the major concerns district board members have raised over the years regarding Schools of Choice.

“We’re picking kids that can succeed,” Board Secretary Joan Mannino said.

The board approved the proposals during its June 28 special meeting by a 4-2 vote with Board Vice President Margaret Wagner and Trustee Brian Selburn voting against the Schools of Choice proposal.

While Wagner expressed her opposition to allowing out-of-district students into the district, Selburn didn’t express opposition to all of the proposals, saying he especially liked the proposal for Tyrone Elementary.

However, the board voted on all four options in one motion, and he raised concerns on some of the components.

Wagner said she believed admitting out-of-district students would make things worse.

“I can’t support it at all,” Wagner said.

She asked for each option what would happen if the student admitted on the academic and other criteria failed to succeed in the district and no longer met that criteria? She was told each time that the district has to keep the student as part of the district.

While the district is requiring Schools of Choice children to enroll in the special programs at each level, it’s really not something that can be enforced because once the children are in the district, they are allowed to stay.

They become part of the district like any other student, and if grades fall, or they opt out of the programs, they cannot be kicked out.

Beacon to host Extended Day Learning
The district is looking to add up to 47 students at Beacon, which consists of kindergarten to third-grade.

The new students will be admitted as part of an Extended Day Learning program in which they, along with district students who qualify for the program, can take part in inquiry-based projects to boost learning.

“We’re pretty excited about this Extended Day Learning program,” Beacon Principal Janet Gottsleben said. “This program brings enhanced learning through a Web-based program.”

Resident students who do not qualify for the Extended Day program will not be left out. They will have a chance to take part in additional after-school learning opportunities with other programs available next school year.

“I’ll make every opportunity to get as many kids involved in as many after school programs as I can,” Gottsleben said.

A couple of board members raised issues with setting admission standards on the youngest in the district at Beacon, because they felt it was difficult and unnecessary to measure their skills. They are also so young that they can easily be shaped by the teachers and staff into the type of successful students the district wants, they said.

“I think that’s absurd,” Selburn said about admission standards for the young students.

Mannino, however, said she felt that young students can be assessed in that they need to enter kindergarten with a set of skills. The older Beacon children especially need to be assessed, she said.

Board Secretary Tracy Purnell said they have let students into Beacon in the past, and it was very successful, as the students ended up as high achievers in the district.

“There was nothing wrong with Beacon school of choice the way it was designed,” she said. “Beacon numbers speak for themselves.”

New Board member Rachelle Anderson felt similarly.

“Mrs. Gottsleben has proven that if you give her a child, she’ll bring them up to an exceptional level,” she said.

Tyrone to add 34 students
Tyrone Elementary School’s new math program takes place during the school day and is meant to attract students with high math scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Some students would be part of an advanced math class, and the program would have classes for all level of students to hone their math skills and advance by placing students in a class at their skill level. It will allow advanced students to move at a fast pace, and the students who need additional math help to succeed will receive that help, officials said.

Like Gottsleben, Tyrone Principal Cheryl Vanderlinden said she is “very, very excited” about the new program at Tyrone.

The board seemed excited about the possibilities of this program, as well.

“This one is my favorite because I think it accomplishes what the board set out as a goal,” Board President David Kien said. It offers a way to enhance revenue, “but this really helps all of our students.”

Band boosters and an alternative high school
One way students can move into the Harper Woods School District is as a high school student through a band program. These students will be assessed on grade point average, playing a prepared piece, scales and sight reading.

There were some questions from the board on the eligibility and how the different components will be used to determine who can be admitted.

This program will allow up to 30 students to come into the district.

The other secondary program is a separate school for high school students who need an alternative setting to be successful in school.

It’s something that will allow 10 students from out of the district and a current proposal for 10 in the district to enroll.

“We have students that are currently enrolled in the (high school) building who would be better served in an alternative setting,” Secondary School Principal Thomas Parker said.

Selburn wanted to make sure everyone in Harper Woods who wouldn’t be able to graduate without this option gets what they need.

District officials said that the district is losing children to alternative programs outside of the city.

The board was presented with two programs: one that would run from 4-8 p.m. with the 20 students and another that would have two sessions for 40 students with 20 coming from out of the district.

However, the administration recommended starting with just the 10 out-of-district students, which wouldn’t create a revenue over expenditure increase like the larger session would.

“Let’s start small,” Biederwolf said. “Let’s start successfully.”