(C. Proxmire, Sept. 3, 2013)
Change is in the air at Ferndale Schools as the community heads into the 2013-14 school year.
Superintendent Gary Meier sent out a Back to School Welcome Letter, also posted on the Ferndale School’s website, which details some of those changes. These include increased breakfast and lunch prices, reduction in the availability of classes and activities, a switch to Common Core teaching standards, and changes to security protocols.
The Ferndale School Board voiced their support of Common Core Curriculum on Aug. 19, with a resolution stating they “strongly urge the Michigan Legislature to support and fund their continued implementation in Michigan’s public education system in order to maintain Michigan’s commitment to rigorous expectations for all students through equitable funding and support for economically disadvantaged districts.”
“Collaborative efforts across 41 states developed these rigorous academic standards designed to better prepare our students and our graduates for success in college and careers. Critical thinking, problem solving, and project-based learning are key features of the Common Core, where students are no longer memorizing and repeating facts, but instead are taught the skills of inquiry, deduction, and analysis.”
Availability of Classes and Activities
A careful reading of the welcome letter shows that what sounds like positive improvements for the district, are actually cutbacks. The teacher layoffs, which were approved at a special budget meeting earlier this summer, were not mentioned.
Music instruction is not available in 4th grade any longer. Meier’s letter explains this decision in the letter, stating “The district’s band and orchestra teachers feel strongly that our students will gain more skills by starting one year later…”
After the elimination of a full time and part time Spanish instructor position in the recently approved budget, the class is no longer available for 5th and 6th graders. The letter does not mention the budget concern, rather states “To strengthen and better align with the Michigan Merit Curriculum, daily Spanish will now begin in Grade 7 instead of Grade 5.”
School Board President Jim O’Donnell said the cuts are not budget-related. “The music instruction change was not a budget issue: there were no savings proposed or requested. The Spanish change was driven primarily by academics with only minor budget savings,” he stated on Facebook.
The District’s cheerleading teams have also been eliminated, though this is not addressed in the letter. O’Donnell responded to an inquiry about the lack of cheerleaders at the recent football game, stating in an email “I think we are looking for a coach. Since it’s not a school board issue, I’ll refer the basic questions to Stephanie Hall [Director of Community Relations].”
Hall confirmed that the decision had to do with coaching. “The Athletic Director made the decision not to field a sideline cheerleading team this year. It is not a Board decision. The most significant reason he cites for making the decision focuses on the difficulty they have had in recent years in recruiting and retaining cheer coaches who have the appropriate qualifications and gymnastics and stunting training. He also indicated there has been a low number of students trying out and/or being eligible to play,” Hall said in an email.
Increased School Breakfast and Lunch Fees
This year, school lunch prices have increased slightly to align with increased expenses. Preschool and Elementary lunch fees will now be $1.50 for breakfast (30¢ for reduced price); $2.75 for lunch (40¢ for reduced price).
Secondary lunch fees will now be $1.50 for breakfast (30¢ for reduced price); $3.00 for lunch (40¢ for reduced price).
Ferndale Schools has been working with the Ferndale Police to revisit emergency protocols. “Our wish is that we never have to use them, but in case we do, we are prepared with solid and unified plans of response,” Meier said in the welcome letter. We will continue to provide security guards in schools where they have been placed in the past, and later this fall will evaluate our budget and staffing to determine our options for adding security coverage at Coolidge and Kennedy.”
The District has added a “secure the building” plan that is separate from the previously used “lockdown” plan. “The “Secure the Building” response would be used if the threat is outside the school, such as if a police chase is underway in the neighborhood outside a school. The exterior doors of the building would be locked, nobody in/nobody out.
However, during Secure the Building responses, activity inside the building would continue as normally as possible. The “Lockdown” response would be for a threat inside a building and would involve a total building sheltering in place. In a Lockdown, all doors would be locked, lights turned off, and everyone would hide until the threat ended,” Meier’s letter stated.
Some teachers and police have also received training through Oakland County about an active shooter scenario. The Ferndale Police are well-known for their longstanding SWAT program, and several members of the force were instructors for County-wide tactical trainings. This was not mentioned in the welcome letter, but it is something that parents and teachers around the country worry about in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in Newton, Connecticut last December.
Also potentially impacting school security, but not mentioned in the welcome letter, is the reduction in the number of secretaries in the district. During the budget process, five secretary positions were eliminated. That saved the district $315,000, but it also means that some secretaries will have to work alone in their respective offices.
At the budget meeting, a handful of parents and school secretaries spoke against the cutbacks. Their arguments included that secretaries are key points of contact with the public, stable figures in the lives of children and parents, and a key component of school security because they see who comes and goes on a day to day basis. “If you want to know what goes on in the school you go to the secretaries,” said parent Brad Parks when he came to speak against cutting those positions.
Michelle Sibula, who has been a secretary with the school district for ten years, also spoke at that meeting, stating that safety is an issue. “Down on the ground, in the trenches, we have things happen every day,” she said. “It’s a very scary situation when a person could be out of control. They come into the room where you are, and you can’t get out, and you’re by yourself… We love our jobs but we don’t want to die doing it. At least having two people in an office provides a level of safety.”
The bond improvements are coming along, including “new full-service kitchens at Roosevelt and University High School; renovated pool mechanical systems at Ferndale High School; asbestos removal, new ceilings, walls and lighting at Ferndale Middle School; and the transformation of the Ferndale High School auditorium, which is still underway.”
Other changes include new bell times, and the addition of weekly progress tracking of student performance in a data-driven manner. In the administration, there are two top officials who have announced retirement, Barb Evoe and Henry Gold. Evoe is scheduled to retire Oct. 1, and Gold on Nov. 1.
To read the entire letter go to http://www.ferndaleschools.org/indexlinks/2013%20Back%20to%20School%20Welcome%20Letter.pdf. For more information on Ferndale Public Schools in general go to www.ferndaleschools.org.
NOTE: This article has been updated to add the quote from School Board President Jim O’Donnell.