Construction proceeds on Jefferson Middle School, in Lakeview Public Schools, in August to add classrooms and a new kitchen, among other improvements.

Construction proceeds on Jefferson Middle School, in Lakeview Public Schools, in August to add classrooms and a new kitchen, among other improvements.

Photo by Deb Jacques

St. Clair Shores schools aim to make 2021-22 as normal as possible

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 25, 2021

 Workers build the new Jefferson Middle School kitchen area.

Workers build the new Jefferson Middle School kitchen area.

Photo by Deb Jacques


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Masks may be optional and advanced cleaning will continue, but all three St. Clair Shores school districts say they’re eager to welcome students back in September for the 2021-22 school year in a manner that more closely resembles pre-pandemic times.

Under the guidance of the Macomb County Health Department, Lake Shore Public Schools is planning for a full return to learning as it looked in 2019, Superintendent Joseph DiPonio said. Masks will be optional, although the current recommendation from the health department is for those who are not vaccinated to wear masks, he said. Contact tracing and quarantines would be conducted under the requirements of the health department.

“Currently, a fully vaccinated person is not required to quarantine, but we’ll continue to follow their guidance and their direction,” he said. “Our plan is, when the first day of school rolls around, that it looks as normal as it once did.”

Although rules and mandates are subject to change, information provided by the superintendents of Lake Shore, Lakeview and South Lake school districts was accurate as of press time, Aug. 19.

Lake Shore is continuing to offer fully virtual school for families that still want that option, and the district is maintaining its smaller class sizes. DiPonio said only a small number of families have chosen fully virtual learning so far.

“I think everyone is very excited at the prospect of getting back to a consistent schedule for our students, and I think the one thing that we are really excited about is, the level of support that (we’re) receiving from the state and the federal government, financially, has allowed us to do things that we’ve only dreamed about in the past,” DiPonio said.

The additional funding is paying for more staff, as well as a wide range of extracurricular activities to help students reengage with school outside of the traditional classroom.

The past year and a half has been “a reset button for all of education,” DiPonio said. It’s allowing the district to “evaluate what are the things that we need to rush to get back to, and what are the things (where) we have an opportunity to reinvent what learning looks like.”

School improvement teams will be taking a look at what helped students thrive and what support some students still need when school returns Sept. 7. Academically, assessments show Lake Shore students did well overall in math and reading, he said.

“The area I think we really need to focus on is more the social and emotional, and perhaps just the standpoint of stamina,” he explained. “There is going to be some conditioning that all of our students are going to have to go through to get back into the swing of what” a normal school day is like.

“Our measurement of success this year will be in smiles and laughter. If we can engage the students’ love of being in school, then everything else will fall into place naturally,” he said.

Some construction work has been proceeding over the summer, including some cosmetic upgrades, such as floors, paint, furniture and playground updates; a lighting and technology upgrade at the auditorium; and a new video board coming to the football stadium to transform it into a space that can be used for more than athletics. Students will be able to see the results of their graphic design, marketing and video production skills there in the future, said DiPonio.

Lakeview Public Schools, on the other hand, is in the midst of a large bond project at Jefferson Middle School to add eight classrooms — six standard classrooms and two flexible classrooms — on the north end of the school and an addition and renovation of the kitchen on the south side of the building.

“The rooms in that whole wing will be more future-looking rooms, and those flexible rooms will have a little more space and be able to be used for group work, and a divider wall,” said Superintendent Karl Paulson.

An expanded parking lot on the north side of the building with a new entrance, along with blue panels to make the school easily identifiable as part of the Lakeview Public Schools District, are also included in the work.

The middle school work is scheduled to be done by December or January, said Paulson. The large amount of rain in July somewhat delayed the time table but won’t impact a return to school for middle schoolers because the project was never scheduled to be finished by September.

There will be a modified food service setup until the kitchen is completed, but once it is done, the school will have its own production kitchen instead of relying on deliveries from the high school.

A generator backup is also being added to Lakeview High School and Jefferson Middle School. Paulson said they experience two or three power outages per year, which can lead to thousands of dollars’ worth of spoiled food, depending on how long the outage lasts.

“This is a 40- or 50-year fix, hopefully. We want to do things to make this cost-effective, long-term,” he said.

Safety improvements are also being made throughout the district, including the installation of a BluePoint Alert system, a police alarm, similar to a fire alarm, that can be pulled in the hallways of every building, Paulson said. Teachers will also have the ability to lock a door from inside the classroom. Technology improvements to the wireless systems and proper cooling in the server rooms are less visible improvements, “but they’ll make everything function better,” he said.

The district is also redoing parking lots, along with some drop-off reconfiguration, at the Wheat Administration Building, Greenwood and Harmon elementary schools

Operationally, Lakeview expects to start the school year as close to normal as possible. The Macomb County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have not implemented any mandates regarding COVID this year, Paulson said, although there are recommendations that have been passed along to schools.

Unless otherwise directed, Lakeview will have a full-day, 5-day-per-week schedule with the option for families to enroll in the Lakeview Virtual School full-time, if they wish. Paulson said, as of press time, there were about 135 students committed to virtual schooling for the upcoming school year, as opposed to about 800 or more students that signed up for that option in 2020-21.

For in-person school, contact tracing is required by a health order, and those identified as close contacts will have to quarantine for 10 days if they have not been vaccinated. Non-vaccinated individuals who are wearing a mask will be identified as a close contact if they are within three feet of a positive case, or within six feet of a positive case if they are not wearing a mask.

Paulson said those were the protocols being used during summer school.

“We encourage people to get vaccinated,” he said. “Vaccination is a way to avoid quarantining.”

He said he’s encouraged by vaccination rates in the local area and said, “we may have high school kids, four out of 10, who have both shots.”

“I think that’s a promising thing in terms of quarantine issues. That’s going to reduce the (amount of) quarantining substantially.”

South Lake Schools didn’t have any major construction projects this summer but is planning for renovations at South Lake Middle School at the end of the 2021-22 school year to continue into the summer of 2022.

“With everything that was going on with the pandemic, we kind of felt it was a good time to stop and catch up on our previous projects, make sure everything was done, before we started anything new that was significant,” said Ted VonHiltmayer, superintendent of South Lake Schools.

The district is approaching the 2021-22 school year as a normal year, with students attending full days and specials classes returning. State requirements for the number of days and minutes students must attend are not being forgiven this year, VonHiltmayer said.

The South Lake Digital Academy, a fully virtual option, will still be offered this school year, as there were still families seeking that option, he said. The district will prioritize families that have medical conditions that make attending in-person classes difficult, but VonHiltmayer said he had also heard from some parents that their child did better learning online than in the classroom. Regardless, students will learn at the same time as their in-person classmates, and teachers will teach both groups at the same time.

“We plan on doing live, synchronous instruction, as we did last year,” he said. “We will be adding cameras into classrooms to help facilitate that. That way makes it easier for the teacher and, all around, a better experience, I think, for the kids.”

He said they have been forthcoming with families about the fact that some classes, like culinary arts, auto shop and ceramics, won’t be available online. About 25% of respondents at the end of the 2020-21 school year said they were interested in an online option, with more interest at the secondary level than in elementary school.

Nevertheless, he said, “our goal has been to have our kids with our teachers.”

South Lake Schools is continuing to follow guidance from the Macomb County Health Department and is trying to maintain class sizes at 25 or fewer at the elementary level. Most elementary classes, VonHiltmayer said, would be closer to 20-23 students.

“That will help with social distancing in the classrooms,” he said.

Cleaning protocols will continue, with an added benefit that the district saw low instances of flu and other illnesses during the last school year. No decision on whether masks will be required or optional had been made as of press time; the South Lake Board of Education was set to meet Aug. 25, after The Sentinel went to press.

“We know that when we come back, there will be some adjustments that need to be made, and we will work very hard to get the students to where they need to be,” VonHiltmayer said. “We know there will be students who will need a little more, going into next year, as a result of the last year and a half.

“Hopefully, things will go great this year, and we’ll move on from a global pandemic.”