3 Mason schools families show complexities of choice

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Choosing the best school for children is one of the most difficult choices parents make. Michigan’s schools of choice program increases the options, but does not lead to simple decisions — or simple conclusions. Meet three Mason families: One that sent its children to other districts, one out-of-district family that sent its children into Mason schools and one that moved to Mason for the schools. Together, they reflect a small-town district that gained about as many students as it lost.

Penny Schmidt and her three children have come a long way with the local school district and are thankful for schools of choice. Although all three started their educations at Mason schools, only one has graduated from the district. Her youngest daughter, a sophomore, is the only one still enrolled in school. When she started going to school in Mason, she experienced frequent bullying and was on the verge of failing, her mother said. “Mason did nothing about it,” said Schmidt. “They pretty much said ‘you’re on your own unless the issue gets physical.’” Something needed to change, and fast.

Despite having a good experience living in Mason, Penny ultimately knew its schools were not going to be right for her daughter based on her eldest child’s less than ideal experience there. “My first went to Mason and had an extremely hard time there. He never graduated and went on to adult education,” shares Schmidt. “Mason does not help kids who are struggling in the school system unless they are classified as ‘special ed.’ [Mason] appears to be all about sports and their extremely good students. Kids that require a lot of help do not get it.”

It has been quite the rollercoaster ride for the Schmidt family, but everything has been looking up since they made the switch to the Leslie school district for middle school. “We moved her to White Pine [Academy], then settled on Leslie Middle School. She went from failing to getting A’s and B’s,” recalls Schmidt. “Leslie teachers bent over backwards to help students. My third child even got on the honor roll twice last year, so big improvement! I am very thankful.”

Leslie resident Debbie Getter Howell also has three children and find themselves in the opposite situation. “I have one son who is a senior now, and two more that have graduated from Mason High School.” This family has had nothing but positive experiences with the Mason school district. “When my middle child was in fifth grade, she received the Mason Promise Scholarship, so she had to stay in Mason schools to stay eligible.” The Mason Promise Scholarship is a prestigious award given to select students at the end of fifth grade. It guarantees funding for two years at Lansing Community College, in addition to mentoring and support that aids young students in choosing a career path that is right for them.

“Even if my daughter had not received the scholarship, I still would not have switched them from Mason schools,” said Howell. This is where they felt the most comfortable and made the best friends.” She admits that her children have done well academically at other schools they have attended, but the teachers have made the biggest difference. “[The teachers] are just so wonderful. I told my kids, no matter what, I would never make them switch school districts again.”

Another Mason advocate, Mike Richmond and his family used to live in Lansing. “We lived in a decent neighborhood and actually really liked the elementary school,” said Richmond. “However, we moved because the children in our neighborhood went to 30 different schools. None of the kids knew each other.” He decided on a house in the Mason school district primarily because of schools of choice. “In my opinion, schools of choice might be good for individual children, but it’s terrible for communities.”