Charles Kurilik, left, snaps a selfie with his daughter Ava, 5, before she starts her first day of kindergarten at Roberts.

Charles Kurilik, left, snaps a selfie with his daughter Ava, 5, before she starts her first day of kindergarten at Roberts.

Photo by Brandy Baker

New school year brings new programs to UCS

Teachers bring focus to issue of buying their own classroom supplies

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 7, 2018

 Charles Kurilik, left, snaps a selfie with his daughter Ava, 5, before she starts her first day of kindergarten at Roberts.

Charles Kurilik, left, snaps a selfie with his daughter Ava, 5, before she starts her first day of kindergarten at Roberts.

Photo by Brandy Baker

The first day of classes in the Utica Community Schools district was the day after Labor Day, but teachers and administrators say they have put loads of prep work into starting off the school year right.

According to UCS Superintendent Christine Johns, the first week of school was off to a great start at press time.

“We have had an outstanding opening, and that is due to the hard work of our teachers and our administrators and our support staff,” she said. “What I’m most proud of is that our teachers, particularly, and our administrators gave all of our students a very warm welcome and invited them to another year of learning at Utica Community Schools.”

Elementary students will learn their numerical skills in a new way through the rollout of a lesson series called Math Expressions, which district officials said meets state guidelines. The plan is supposed to encourage discussion and hands-on problem solving, officials said. 

District officials said they will make new moves to introduce high school students to high-tech options for career paths. Officials plan to build the foundation for computer aptitude through a partnership with that will teach prerequisite coding skills to elementary students. There also will be an age-appropriate computer science discoveries course for junior high students.

This fall will see high school students enter a four-year program in the brand-new Stevenson Center for Manufacturing, Automation, Design and Engineering, aka Stevenson MADE. A capstone cybersecurity class will be offered for high school students that could help them acquire CompTIA A+ certification in information technology.

An Advanced Placement computer science class is being offered at the four main high schools, as well as at the Utica Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology, Johns said. She explained the district’s goals for technology education.

“We are building a K-12 pipeline for computer programming so that students can pursue the current jobs that are available, as well as new jobs in that field,” she said.

The district is also seeing changes to how it handles school safety. UCS officials are rolling out a nine-week program at 13 schools with the Sterling Heights Police Department called Skills Mastery and Resistance Training, aka SMART, Moves. That program aims to teach kids how to make good lifestyle decisions, including with friends and media. 

Meanwhile, students in Macomb Township, Shelby Township and Utica schools will participate in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, aka D.A.R.E., school officials said.

Under its security and emergency management plan, UCS continues to work with local police, and school resource officers are now in all four of the main high schools. Other security specialists will help safeguard the junior high and elementary schools too, according to school officials. 

School officials have said that a $155 million bond proposal, should it pass this November, could, among other things, equip the district with more surveillance cameras and door locks at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. School officials say the bond proposal, should it pass, would last for 15 years and would be set up to keep the millage rate at or below its current level of 3.5 mills.

“The Board of Education has placed a safety and security bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot for the consideration of our residents,” Johns said.


Teachers pay to
prep class supplies

Some UCS elementary school teachers say the start of the school year also puts a dent in their wallets. That is because they feel obligated to personally spend for classroom school supplies, such as markers, paper, scissors and glue. And some of those teachers blame a lack of school funding for making the personal expenses necessary.

A recent publicist email quoted a few UCS elementary school teachers about how much they have had to personally spend — often hundreds of dollars — on supplies such as construction paper and glue.

At Monfort Elementary School in Shelby Township, fourth-grade teacher Jonathan Marceau said many teachers have trouble affording the extra burden.

“In my 15 years of teaching, I know I’ve spent well over $5,000 out of pocket on books and supplies,” he said. “It’s almost at the point now where all the schools give us is chairs and desks, and even there, I’ve personally purchased some of my own furniture. Teachers are now forced to say ‘no more.’”

Marceau later told the Sentry that “all the teachers feel the same about this,” because they have sunk personal funds into the classroom, whether it’s for books, indoor recess games or science materials. He said the district’s reply to such complaints is that the schools aren’t funded properly. 

“The main solution is in the Legislature, as far as properly funding our schools,” he said. “Teachers shouldn’t have to be dipping into their own paychecks. ... We’re not even getting into the needs of students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Although Marceau said the lack of funding has been ongoing for at least a decade, he said he is “very cautiously optimistic” that the situation could improve in the next five years.  

“It’s more (an) ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ type of situation,” he said.

In response, UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy praised teachers in an email.

“Our teachers have always given of themselves to create a better learning environment for their students,” McAvoy said. “I am, likewise, optimistic for the future.”

Find out more about Utica Community Schools by visiting or by calling (586) 797-1000.