Push on to improve conservation education

Capital News Service

LANSING — When NASA reported 2017 to be the second-hottest year on record, the announcement was confirmation of a continuing trend: All 18 of the hottest years in modern history have occurred in the past two decades.

Yet as the globe heats up, no coordinated effort to standardize education on the conservation of natural resources in Michigan’s public schools has appeared, according to state officials and educators.

Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said he believes public schools are failing to properly educate students about conservation.

Eichinger said public education standards heavily emphasize the more rote aspects of science, while he prefers more of a focus on how humans can take better care of their environs.

“I think it’s far more important for us to prepare somebody in their compulsory education less on how many particles make up this, that or the other thing, and talk more about conservation biology and how humans have the potential to impact it,” Eichinger said.

A lack of education in these areas has led to misunderstandings, Eichinger said, using clear-cutting as an example.

Eichinger said people often have a negative reaction to the idea of chopping down large swaths of trees, when in fact, clear-cutting is an important part of a healthy regeneration process within forests.

“Being able to really talk about some of those nuances that happen when you’re talking about conservation — we miss a lot of that,” Eichinger said.

The implementation of environmental education is “hit-or-miss” across the state due to a lack of state oversight, said Kevin Frailey, the education services manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He also serves on the board of the Michigan Science Teachers Association.

This is unlikely to change immediately because standardized tests like the MEAP focus on other aspects of science, technology, engineering and math education and don’t leave much room for variation.

“What the state does do is they create the tests,” Frailey said. “If you’re going to have questions about environmental education on the test, then teachers are more likely to teach that to kids.

“But of course, that’s the question: How do you get environmental education types of questions on the tests?” he said.

The framework for Michigan’s current K-12 Science Standards, adopted in November 2015, do make mention of human impact on Earth’s systems. “Earth and Human Activity” is listed as one of the “core ideas” for earth and space sciences.

However, Gregg Dionne, supervisor of curriculum & instruction for the Department of Education, said local boards of education are the ones that approve curriculum, so the state does not have much say in how thoroughly this subject matter is explored.

School boards “have the authority over implementation — how much time is spent on it, how deep they go into the content, those kinds of things,” Dionne said. “They assess that locally.”

Frailey said this “fragmented” setup sometimes leaves the implementation of environmental education up to individual teachers.

Michigan residents “do think it’s taught in their schools,” Frailey said. “If it is, it’s pretty much the teacher’s choice.”

Frailey said the decision to leave that choice up to the districts reflects Michigan’s historical preference for hands-off governing by the state.

“Michigan is not a state that typically mandates much of anything at the state level — it’s more done at a local level,” Frailey said. “There’s never been a lead at the Department of Education to make environmental [education] or conservation a priority with Michigan students.”

The state’s refusal to mandate environmental education leaves it up to other organizations to push for change.

At the DNR, Frailey is responsible for coordinating educational programs, like Salmon in the Classroom, that bring students in contact with natural resources and environmental studies.

Frailey said he believes students nowadays still have more knowledge about natural resources than in the past. He attributes that in part to a growing awareness among educators of the importance of getting such information out to children.

“I would say kids in school know more about wildlife and the environment than they ever used to,” Frailey said. “I used to go into classrooms 30 years ago and ask kids about wildlife or habitats or whatever, and they would just look at you blankly.

“Nowadays, you go into schools and it seems like kids know so much more of that stuff,” he said.

Barbara Lester, curriculum director of Centreville Public Schools in St. Joseph County, said Centreville students are afforded many opportunities in and out of the classroom to learn about conservation.

Lester said field trips to the Kalamazoo Nature Center and an agricultural science class are among the many ways the district implements environmental education in the curriculum.

“We teach environmental science as part of our curriculum in almost every grade level,” Lester said. “It’s part of biology, it’s part of earth science, it’s part of the elementary curriculum. It’s infused into what we teach in science.”

Lester said she also has seen a definite improvement in students’ understanding of environmental issues in her time as an educator.

Because of that improvement, Frailey said he’s hesitant to connect climate change denial with a lack of standardized environmental education, saying climate change denial is often more of a political issue than an educational one.

“I think people know the science, but the politics sometimes don’t allow them to let the science sink through,” Frailey said.

A 2013 study from Stanford University found that 77 percent of Michiganders believe global warming is happening. The same study found 72 percent of state residents approve of increased consumption taxes on electricity and 23 percent favor increased consumption taxes on gasoline.


High school sports with the most head injuries, 2016-17. (2015-16) in parentheses.


  • 11-player football – 1,647 (1,907)
  • Soccer – 207 (269)
  • Basketball – 168 (247)
  • Wrestling – 251 (245)
  • Ice Hockey – 124 (126)


  • Basketball – 371 (454)
  • Soccer – 364 (406)
  • Volleyball – 174 (211)
  • Softball – 146 (147)
  • Competitive Cheer – 150 (122)

Source: Michigan High School Athletic Association

Head injuries decrease in high school but girls’ rate is higher

Capital News Service

LANSING — Sixteen high school sports saw a decrease in reported head injuries from the 2015-16 school year to the 2016-17 school year, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).

Head injuries increased or remained the same in 13 sports, according to the report. Overall, high school sport teams statewide reported 3,958 head injuries in 2016-17, down 11 percent from the year before. Boys and girls sports were reported separately.

Football led the list for boys and basketball led the list for girls. Soccer ranked second for both genders.

Of the 750 high schools in Michigan, 97 percent reported athletes’ head injuries to the sports association but not to the state.

The rate of injuries for girls is far higher than for boys, according to the report.

For every 1,000 girls who played basketball, there were 23.34 head injuries reported. For boys, that number was 7.90.

Similarly, softball had 10.70 head injuries reported for girls, while baseball had 3.89 reported for boys.

MHSAA promised its members not to release data for individual schools for fear it will be misinterpreted, said John Johnson, the MHSAA communications director. As a private organization, MHSAA isn’t required by law to release data it collects.

Although the MHSAA report shows changes from one year to the next, it is too early to call it a trend.

The numbers don’t mean anything, said Joanne Gerstner, the sports journalist-in-residence at Michigan State University and author of “Back in the Game: Why Concussion Doesn’t Have to End Your Athletic Career.”

Context is lacking because there are no numbers from five or 10 years ago, and some schools have a greater number of students, which could equal more head injuries, she said.

“We don’t know what it was 10 years ago,” Gerstner said. “We have our data set right here, and it is great. But we aren’t going to know what it means until 10 or 20 years from now when we can look at everything.”

Other factors come into play, such as reporting differences for girls and boys.   

In all the gender comparisons in similar sports, females have a greater risk for a concussion, said Tracey Covassin, an associate professor of kinesiology at Michigan State and an expert in the effects of concussions.

“One factor could be that females have weaker neck muscles, causing a faster rotation of their head. Since they have less mass, it is predisposing them to having more concussions,” Covassin said.

Studies also show that girls are more honest about reporting concussions.

Sports like football or hockey have a macho culture, Gerstner said, but it’s more acceptable for female athletes to admit something is wrong.

And Covassin said, “There is still a percentage of athletes who do not want to report their injury due to missing playing time. They do not think it is serious enough or they do not want to let their teammates down.”

The other thing that people don’t want to talk about is fear, Gerstner said. Many don’t know what a concussion is, they don’t want to admit that it’s possible or they’ve heard scary things about it, so they don’t say anything.

“People knew of the term concussion, but it was more along the lines of a knock to the head or, ‘it’s a little thing, get up and keep going,’” Gerstner said. “Now people are taking it much more seriously.”

Awareness has increased even in the last five years, she said. Being more proactive by working on neck strength, having less contact in practices and games, and even reducing practice time have helped prevent head injuries.

Every state has a law regarding youth sports and concussions, Gerstner said. If a child is thought to have sustained a head injury during practice or a game, he or she cannot play.

Johnson said schools continue to make sports safer by making sure they’re officiated properly, that rules emphasize safety and that equipment continues to get better.

“There is no one policy, no one rule or no one piece of equipment that will ever prevent a concussion or any injury,” Johnson said. “All we can do is put ourselves in the best position to minimize the risk.”

Schools are using the MHSAA head injury report as a surveillance system. Every high school must report to the association the total number of athletes it has in all sports and any time an athlete suffers a head injury.

That helps schools and the MHSAA find out what sports the concussions are happening in and what athletes are at a higher risk.

Covassin said, “We are more aware of concussions, we are better at diagnosing and evaluating concussions and I also think more athletes are more aware of the signs, symptoms and dangers of playing with a concussion.”

The reporting system is great, Gerstner said, but that alone doesn’t reduce injuries or risk. Rather, it’s everyone doing their part that helps.

“Using the reporting system has been a step in the right direction. Recording everything in a scientific mode is missing in most discussion in the media and pop culture,” Gerstner said. “The data is so new and we do not have a lot to show, but we are getting there.”

Michigan optometrist helps the world see

Capital News Service

LANSING — Thirty-one years ago, Nelson Edwards decided to see the world. Since then, he has helped the rest of the world see.

While studying optometry at Ferris State University, Edwards joined Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), an organization with a mission to provide eye care in developing countries. Edwards is an optometrist in Fowlerville.

Edwards’ first mission was to Haiti in 1986. But that trip was cut short by a social uprising and overthrow of the Haitian government.

Upon returning to Michigan, Edwards realized he wanted to go again.

Continuing to volunteer with VOSH, Edwards has participated in 40 missions. His 41st was planned to be to Nkuru, Kenya, beginning Oct. 26. But reminiscent of that first trip to Haiti, politics and safety again disrupted his travel plans.

After the Kenyan presidential elections in August, accusations were made against the incumbent president of irregularities in ballot counts and interference in the election.

While protesting the election results, 33 civilians were killed as a direct result of police violence, according to a Human Rights Watch report. After an appeal, the Kenya Supreme Court nullified the election, and a new election was planned for the same date in October that the VOSH group was to arrive.

David Muiru is the director of projects for the Nairobi Utumishi Rotary Club and has worked with Nelson to plan VOSH missions to Kenya since 1998.

That inaugural mission was also met with adversity as the American Embassy in Kenya was bombed just months prior to the group’s arrival.

“When Nelson and I chose the date, we thought that the election fever would have settled down,” says Muiru.

The group now plans to arrive in Kenya on Jan. 12, 2018, and stay for 13 days. Muiru says the change was made because political disagreement would not allow the clinic to get the attention it deserves.

Muiru is responsible for ensuring that all the permits and procedures are followed.

The first step, Muiru says, is to notify local medical facilities and apply for the required licenses from the Kenyan medical board. Locally the process begins with contacting the county medical officer to request local doctors and nurses, working with government and police departments, and arranging transportation and lodging.

During the 11-day clinic each doctor will examine and prescribe glasses for about 500 patients. Most patients will receive three pairs of prescription glasses and one pair of sunglasses.

“Because we never know what kind of glasses or prescription requirements a patient might need, we bring between four and five thousand pairs of refurbished eye glasses,” says Nelson.

Any extra glasses are left with local eye care clinics.

If a required prescription is not available, VOSH and its partner Lens Crafters will fill the prescription upon returning to the U.S. and mail the glasses to the patient.

The Illinois chapter of VOSH has gone a step further. During a mission to Guatemala in 2014, the group engineered a field lab capable of completing glasses on location.

Most commonly the glasses are donated through groups such as the Lions Club, according to Daniel Wrubel. Wrubel is the faculty advisor to the Student VOSH program at Ferris State.

“We receive around a third of a million pairs of Lions Club glasses in a year,” he says.

First-year and second-year SVOSH students are responsible for assessing, tagging and verifying prescriptions to be taken on missions. Funds are raised for students in their third year to go on a VOSH trip if they’ve put in enough volunteer hours.

“We raise about $30,000 a year to cover the cost of their trip,” says Wrubel. “Last year I believe they only had to pay the deposit, so around $250.”

That is also the amount of hours that Wrubel estimates he puts in each year preparing for a mission to Dominique. Wrubel has captained the Dominique mission for 21 consecutive years.

Working with VOSH is only one of nearly 40 projects that Muiru works on in Kenya. He credits his education with instilling an understanding of community.

“I can never do enough for my community, I consider it a part of my life,” he says.

For Wrubel, the desire to help others comes from his own problems with sight.

“In school, I was held back, made fun of, because I had trouble reading,” he says. “Fortunately, there was a therapist who helped me. So I can relate to what it’s like to struggle without proper eyesight.”

For Nelson, the gift is not just a chance to see the world, but to see the world differently.

“You make friends and you hear news stories about a country you’ve been to,” he says. “You make a personal connection.”

State program boosts school nutrition with local foods

Capital News Service

LANSING — More Michigan students can enjoy fruits and vegetables from local farms because of the expansion of a state program that supports buying them.

The 10 Cents A Meal program is administered by the Department of Education.The state offers up to 10 cents per meal for schools to purchase Michigan grown or processed food.

Sixteen school districts joined the program its first year in 2016, serving more than 3.8 millions meals to 48,000 students, according to the program’s legislative report.

The state recently announced that 32 school districts will receive the funding this year. More than 90,000 students will benefit from it.

Almost 80 schools applied for the program this year, according to the Department of Education. Criteria for choosing them includes whether they are near farms, distributors and food hubs.

The grants are for foods such as local fruit, vegetables or dry beans, said Diane Golzynski, the interim state child nutrition director at the department.

“We’re just very excited about this program,” Golzynski said. “It’s really exciting and we’ve seen Michigan farms be able to get additional funding to help them grow and provide more products to local schools.”

This is the fifth year that Traverse City schools have participated in the program because it started there as a pilot program.

The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District partnered with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities to launch the initial version, said Tom Freitas, food service director for the district.

The local program prompted Sens. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, and Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s K-12, School Aid, Education Subcommittee, to initiate a statewide program two years ago.

“We are pleased that this is something that is being seen as a win-win by legislators for investing in the health of our kids and the health of Michigan’s economy, and we’re pleased that it is getting bipartisan support,” said Diane Conners, senior policy specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, a nonprofit organization based in Traverse City.

“The 10 Cents a Meal program is helping expose children to locally-grown produce options in the school setting and is creating partnerships between school districts and their local agricultural producers,” Hansen said in a news release.

And students apparently notice.

“Kids can tell differences. When the food service ran out of Michigan apples, they can tell the difference and say ‘what’s going on with the apple?’” Conners said.

Freitas agrees: “If you get a Honeycrisp apple versus a Red Delicious apple, they just like Honeycrisp much better, which is more of a local apple.”

Traverse City Area Public Schools receives produce almost everyday, Freitas said.

Even in the winter, when there is nothing growing in Michigan, schools still have supplies of frozen cherries, blueberries, strawberries and apples from local processors.

James Bardenhagen is the owner of Bardenhagen Farms. His farm and his co-ops sell apples, potatoes, grapes, apricots, nectarines, plums, leafy greens, carrots, kohlrabi to schools in Leelanau County and Traverse City.

Kids now want to eat at school rather than bring their own lunch, said Bardenhagen.

10 Cents A Meal means a new market for him.

“It’s a great program, and it benefits the farmers and school and the kids,” he said.

“Our hope is to get it across all of Michigan,” Freitas said. “Every time it grows a little bit, that is a good thing not just to schools but the Michigan economy and the farmers.”

Districts now in the program include Alanson Public Schools, Bear Lake Schools, Benzie County Central Schools, Boyne Falls Public School District, East Jordan Public Schools, Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools, Harbor Springs Public School District, Kaleva Norman Dickson Schools, Manton Consolidated Schools, Onekama Consolidated Schools, Pellston Public Schools, Public Schools of Petoskey, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Belding Area Schools, Coopersville Area Public School District, Grand Haven Area Public Schools, Hart Public School District, Holland Public Schools, Lowell Area Schools, Montague Area Public Schools, Saugatuck Public Schools, Shelby Public Schools, Thornapple Kellogg School District, Whitehall District Schools, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Bedford Public Schools, Dexter Community School District, Hillsdale Community Schools, Jackson Public Schools, Monroe Public Schools, Ypsilanti Community Schools.

CNS community:

Harbor Springs Public School District, Public Schools of Petoskey, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Holland Public Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools, Kaleva Norman Dickson School District


Schools would be able to hire tradespeople without degrees as teachers, if bill passes

Capital News Service

LANSING  — In Rep. Ben Frederick’s rural district west of Flint, constituents have learned to schedule construction projects a year in advance.

The reason? The demand for construction workers outweighs the supply.

And it’s due to a shortage of skilled workers such as electricians, welders, nurse technicians and carpenters, state officials say. The pinch isn’t felt only in rural areas.

“It’s a problem everywhere,” said Frederick, R-Owosso.

Officials have found a slew of reasons for the talent or skills gap.

“We did have a movement in our education system toward simply pursuing two-year, four-year college degrees over the last 20 years,” Frederick said. “A number of our trade-based programs in public education weakened or were eliminated in that time. And there’s a general perception problem with trades as dirty or dead-end jobs that needs to be tackled head-on.”

Frederick recently introduced legislation to allow schools to hire licensed career-technical professionals as teachers and to expand career technical education exploration in K-12 schools.

The bills came  from the recommendations of the Career Pathways Alliance, a group of teachers, business and union leaders formed by Gov. Rick Snyder in June.

Much of the alliance’s focus looks to bring technical education skills to students earlier.

That includes ideas like allowing for learning how geometry works in carpentry or computer science as a foreign language.

The group advocates for ridding the stigma placed on skilled trade careers by allowing earlier education in them and to raise understanding of careers that don’t involve college.

“One of the pieces of legislation will allow us to do more outreach to families who are interested in learning more about skilled trades programs,” Delaney McKinley, senior director of government affairs and membership for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said. “We know one of the ways to changing those misconceptions is career discovery.”

The state requires teachers to hold degrees in education. This legislation would waive that requirement for those teaching career technical classes and replace it with a requirement for  a high school diploma or GED and a license in their trade field.

“If you have a licensed professional who’s got a credential in their trade or a certain equivalency, an apprenticeship experience, I don’t see the added value of that person having a bachelor’s degree,” Frederick said. “And that’s simply a barrier that’s being placed in front of someone who may want to share their skills with students.”

Frederick said there have been problems with getting trade professionals to agree to teach because of the need for an education certification.

But gutting that requirement is opposed by the Michigan Education Association.

“Students deserve to have well-prepared educators in their classrooms whether they are in college prep or career tech programs,” said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the union. “And eliminating requirements for college degrees, passage of basic skills about how to do the art, craft and science of teaching doesn’t serve students well.”

The worry stems not from knowledge of the trade professional but in how they would go about teaching and how they would go about handling a classroom environment.

“We need to make sure that these folks have the basics of how to reach and teach a classroom full of students, that they understand the requirements,” Pratt said. “Does somebody coming in off the street with a high school diploma and a mechanics’ license understand they’re a mandatory reporter for child abuse?”

Pratt said he wants professionals to have a certification process where they learn things such as mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse to Child Protective Services.

“We’d love to have a conversation and figure out how to craft a system that makes sense for somebody who is not going to go back and get a traditional four-year degree and a masters degree and things like that because it may not make sense,” Pratt said.

McKinley said teachers are a barrier to creating strong career technical programs because teachers are not often taught skilled trades. Therefore, the Michigan Manufacturers Association supports getting certified trade professionals into schools.

“Getting people who know how to teach welding or know how to run a CNC machine, they’re just not out there,” McKinley said. “Or, they’re out there, they’re working in the manufacturing field.”

Pratt said education advocates are also worried about retention of career technical teachers because retaining college prep teachers is already hard.

“The downward slope in terms of salaries for school employees matters in terms of recruiting and retaining educators to the profession period,” Pratt said. “Now you take a look at that specifically through a (career technical education) lens, if you can make $100 an hour as a plumber or an auto mechanic, are you really going to come and teach shop for half that?”

Data provided by McKinley reported the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned slightly more than $81,000 annually, which includes benefits and pay. Data also showed the manufacturing worker earned almost $26 per hour.

There is more agreement on other facets of the bills, such as starting K-12 students to think about careers earlier and to provide them with more trade exploration opportunities.

Frederick said, “The idea would be to not have it be narrowly tailored toward career technical or trades but simply integrating within the education experience kind of the practical connection on the skills that the student is learning and how that ties into any type of professional career they wish to pursue.”

As of the 2015-16 school year, almost 108,000 students were enrolled in career technical education programs in Michigan schools. During the 2007-08 school year, almost 124,000 students were enrolled in career technical education programs.

The Career Pathways Alliance, which is housed under Michigan’s Department of Talent and Economic Development, estimates that 500,000 jobs will be available in professional trades by 2024 with15,000 jobs added to the fields each year.

Pratt said schools have begun implementing similar measures already.

“There’s positives in this package that are going to do good things for schools,” he said. “But we can’t just ignore the glaring negatives in a bill that frankly puts the quality of education of students could be getting at risk.”

Most Michigan kids lag national average in well-being; African-American students at the bottom

Capital News Service

LANSING — African-American children in Michigan score the lowest in the nation in a complex measure of their well-being, a new report shows.

“The data really shows that African-American kids here in Michigan are faring much more poorly compared to African-American kids in every other state in the country,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The Race for Results report, produced by the Kids Count project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, measures the well-being children of all races. It takes into account 12 indicators, including education, work experience, family support and neighborhood conditions. It looks at how children progress in education, health, economic security and other spheres.

The scores are based on a scale of one to 1,000.

African-American children in Michigan scored 260, far below the national score for African-American children, which is 369.

“Kids of color fare worse on most indicators compared to their white peers,” Guevara Warren said. “We have a lot of work to do around racial disparity.”

Latino children in Michigan fared better than their national counterparts. They had an index score of 446, which is above 429, the national score. Native American children in Michigan scored 511; the national score for that group is 413.

That said, both the state and national index scores for these minorities come up far short of the national index score for white children. The national score for African-American children is 369. For white children, it is 713.

White children in Michigan, while better off than their minority counterparts in the state, scored 667, below the 713 national average for white children.

Asian/Pacific Islander children in the state scored 804, which was better than the national score of 783.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Education declined to be interviewed about the report. Instead, department communications oficer William DiSessa, emailed this  statement:

“We need to work harder at getting every child to be successful in school, including children of color who have to overcome risk factors like poverty, undernutrition and lack of educational resources. Michigan has begun investing more heavily in early childhood education and programs to help at-risk students in our schools, and providing free nutrient-rich school meals for kids. When Michigan becomes a Top 10 education state in 10 years, it will be the result of these additional resources and greater focus on meeting the needs of our at-risk students.”

Guevara Warren said the League for Public Policy said it’s concerned that the Michigan fourth-grade reading level is low in all racial and ethnic groups. “The biggest and most troubling statistic is the rate of reading for African-American fourth graders in Michigan, which is the lowest rate of reading proficiency for African-Americans in the country.”

The Michigan Education Association says there is hope for the future, especially with the recent passage of a new law that requires school districts to assess the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade three times a year and requires districts to develop individual reading plans for deficient students.

“The new third=grade reading law will help make sure students are proficient in reading by the time they reach fourth grade,” said David Crim, a communications consultant at the MEA, the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel. “It will take some time, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Guevara Warren said the report looks at 12 indicators because children are impacted by where they live, how much they eat, their families, their education, health care and a variety of other influences.  

“If you’re hungry, you’re not going to read well,” she said. “If you’re stressed out because you live in an area of concentrated poverty with high crime rates, you’re going to have a harder time in school. There are all these things that are interconnected that are important to addressing the whole child.”

Crim said social conditions are huge determinants of success.

“Where a child starts doesn’t have to determine where they end up,” he said. “We need to address social issues that impede student success.”

Learning curve for school superintendents can be steep

Capital News Service

Lansing — Like many superintendents, Rick Seebeck’s first few years weren’t easy, and he leaned on others for help.

“I reached out to other superintendents that had much more experience than I did,” said the 13-year Gladwin County superintendent. “I’ve had good strong board presidents that have worked with me and I’ve developed good relationships with other board members.”

While the length of Seebeck’s tenure at Gladwin is unusual, his early inexperience is not.

Since 2013, inexperience has increased significantly among the pool of applicants for superintendent at Michigan schools.

The number of experienced superintendents applying for positions fell from 33 percent to 25 percent. At the same time, the number of applicants almost doubled from 20 a year to 35.

That makes things tricky for school boards picking their next superintendent.

“Some of the districts are so complex,” said Donna Oser, the director of leadership development at the Michigan Association of School Boards. “With fewer resources and higher expectations, being able to manage a financially challenged or academically challenged district can be hard for a new superintendent.”

Distaste for 80-hour work weeks is compounded by what the association considers to be the biggest reason superintendents leave: the quality of their relationship with the school board.

It’s a key problem with implications for teachers and students.

“The relationship between the superintendent and the school board is so important to the success of a district,” Oser said. “The board needs to be committed to that individual and give them professional development to help them make decisions. That doesn’t always happen.”

The state has nearly 600 superintendents. About 80 vacancies open each year. Typically the average tenure of a superintendent is about three to five years.

It’s a job where experience is vital, Oser said.

“If the foundation is laid and they have the right supports, they will do fine,” she said. “If someone wasn’t in the position before and they’re not prepared, it’s going to be problematic.”

The inexperienced applicant pool has prompted many training programs for both potential and new supervisors.

“Being a first-year (superintendent) can be an incredible challenge, depending on the district you’re in,” said Chris Wigent, the executive director of Michigan Association of School Administrators. “Just like any position you’re new to, you might not see challenges coming.”

That’s why the group started a mentor coaching program in 2016. Called Sustain Excellence, it pairs current or retired superintendents with new ones. The goal is to introduce them to challenges they may face while developing leadership skills.

“The neat thing is they really bond together,” said program instructor Cindy Ruble. “And in that cohort you have seasoned superintendents and brand-ew ones, so they really network a lot.”

The first year was a big success, with a strong blend of old and new superintendents  participating, Ruble said. “At lunch they would get together at tables and discuss strengthening school board relationships and building collaborative negotiating processes.”

The relationships that build among superintendents is the heart of the program, she said. The veteran superintendents and the association’s instructors become important resources for the newbies.

Scot Graden, a nine-year superintendent in Saline, said that when he started the job he asked a more experienced superintendent from Chelsea for advice.

“The decisions you make are very visible within most communities,” Graden said. “Early on you may not grasp the complexities of the job so it really helps to have someone to call for help.”

New superintendents could face major problems, like recommending closing a building or shutting down a high school. “It has a lot of impact on the community, so it only makes sense to talk to people who have done that before,” Wigent said.

The Michigan Leadership Institute, a private consulting business that offers leadership services to public schools, has hosted a rigorous academy for superintendent preparation for the past 18 years. It’s designed to be intensive because not all potential candidates understand the workload of a superintendent.

“A lot of applicants are administrators that have worked with the superintendent and think they know what to expect,” said Michael Wilmot, the president and CEO of the institute. “Often they’re shocked by how much work actually needs to be done.”

Stability in the position has a direct impact on student achievement, Wilmot said. So when someone interested in the job who attends the academy decides they’re not cut out for the work and pursues another career, it’s seen as positive.

“Quite frankly it’s good for the profession when someone decides they don’t want to do it,” Wilmot said.

Wilmot’s assertion is backed up by a study by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning, a nonprofit that funds education research. It found a superintendent’s longevity has a positive effect on the average academic achievement of students in the district. Those effects manifest themselves as early as two years into the superintendent’s tenure.

Oser said, “There’s a correlation between the success of the superintendent and student achievement. It’s in the best interest of the student to make that happen. It’s an investment in them to make the best decisions someone can for a district.”

Bilingual Michigan high schoolers could get diploma endorsement

Capital News Service

Lansing — A group of people are trying to establish a prize program for Michigan high school graduates who are proficient in two or more languages.

The program is called the Seal of Biliteracy. It is a diploma seal awarded by a school, school district or county office of education to recognize students who demonstrate a high level of proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English.

Around the country, 27 states have adopted the program.

“This is the highest award for recognizing the knowledge of foreign language for students,” said Marzanna Owinski, a language coordinator for the Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools. The mission preserves and promotes Polish culture in America.

Owinski pitched the idea of establishment of Seal of Biliteracy to the Michigan Department of Education in September 2016.

She is now working with the Department of Education in a multi-language task force that will decide the requirements and standards for the program.

“We’re hoping to finish it this year,” she said.

“It is going to be available for students graduating as early as June 2018,” said Irma Torres, a world language consultant at Oakland Schools, who is also working with the task force.

“I’m very happy to have this in place for students who are learning another language and can achieve a certain required level of proficiency,” Torres said.

“I’m happy that the school recognizes English learners who have a second language already and I’m happy that it may also bring forward other students who are not taking a second language but can demonstrate bilingualism,” she said.

About 10 percent of high school graduates from California have received the Seal of Biliteracy on their diploma, Owinski said.

Each state develops its own criteria and guidelines. Michigan would have its unique standard as well, Torres said.

Exams for the program usually cover speaking, reading, writing and listening.

Owinski said, “Seal of Biliteracy is for all languages, which is a beauty of the work.”

Generally only a few world languages like Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese and German are taught in schools. This program gives a chance to students who know other languages to be recognized for their language ability, Owinski said.

“We have to pay attention more to languages,” said Owinski.

Owinski said Michigan imports and exports products from and to many countries. Bilingualism can open perspectives and also helps in employment.

According to a study, “Employer Preferences: Do Bilingual Applicants and Employees Experience an Advantage?” 66 percent of employers prefer bilingual candidates.

In Michigan, some districts have already implemented a local program.

In 2014, the Dearborn School District established its own Seal of Biliteracy. Detroit Public Schools and Utica Community Schools, two of the biggest  districts, also offer programs in partnership with Welcoming Michigan, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports diversity in communities.

Utica Community Schools established the Seal of Global Language in 2016. Almost 150 students graduated with a seal the first year and 174 students graduated with a seal this year.

“Utica Community Schools expects that our students attain a high level of global language proficiency. We also celebrate and honor the diversity of our students and know that these experiences are preparing them for success in a global economy,” Superintendent Christine Johns said in a statement.

The idea is also supported by organizations like the Michigan World Language Association. Public affairs liaison Julie Foss said in an email that her organization enthusiastically supports the Michigan Seal of Biliteracy and is  working with the Department of Education on the initiative.

Community colleges seek access to wage information

Capital News Service

LANSING —  Alpena Community College was one of five Michigan community colleges  in 2015 to make the Aspen Institute’s prestigious list of top 150 community colleges in the country.

It was a point of pride for the college’s president, Don MacMaster.

But to be considered among the top 10 schools on that list, the school needed to report where its graduates work and how much they earn. The problem: Alpena Community College doesn’t have access to that data so it couldn’t apply for top-10 status.

And unlike universities, neither does any community college or trade school in Michigan. A bill, which has passed the House, would change that.

“That was the impetus to push on the system, to get access to that data,” MacMaster said. “The legislation reflects the efforts from the community colleges to make the case for the value of what students can do.”

The information is held by Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency. Unlike universities, community colleges can’t access that data. The information can be helpful in adjusting course programs and deciding where school resources should be diverted.

“Quite honestly, this information can’t be drawn by the community colleges simply by calling their alumni and getting their information,” said Rep. Jim Ellison, D-Royal Oak. “That becomes very burdensome.”

Ellison introduced the bill  to make that information accessible to trade schools and community colleges — but not just for the sake of meeting criteria for a nation-wide award. Wage record data tells a lot about the benefits and problems that an educational or training program might have. And it can guide them to make improvements.

Supporters of the bill say the information would help them further mold their curriculum to match what industries need from the schools’ graduates.

“There are two key reasons why this data helps, said Tim Nelson, the president of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. “First off, if we’re pointing someone toward an industry, we want to know if there are even jobs out there. Then we want to be able to say how much money they could make in that job.”

Wage data helps educators understand the extent that an institution’s technical training and workforce development translate to employment, said Michele Economou Ureste, the executive director of Workforce Intelligence Network, a nonprofit agency that generates labor market data and organizes training workforce development for Southeast Michigan.

“You can’t manage unless you measure, so everything needs to be data-driven,” she said.

All public or private employer that pay a payroll tax submit salary and wage data on their employees to the Unemployment Insurance Agency. That includes whether someone is employed, where they’re employed, for how long and at what salary.

Community colleges would cross-reference this information with the names of their alumni.

It’s not just the Workforce Intelligence Network that supports this bill. Other groups representing skilled trade schools like Michigan Works! and officials from Oakland Community College and Washtenaw Community College have testified in support of the bill.

“When we’re looking at training programs at community colleges or Michigan Works! programs, one of the things we want to measure is the success of our programs,” said Bill Sleight, the executive director of Michigan Works! Southeast. “When we send someone to a community college program in welding or heating and cooling, we want to make sure that we understand what the likelihood is those folks will get jobs once they finish training.”

“If we’re investing in programs that don’t have any long-term impact, we’ll want to take a look at those programs and see what the real issue is,” Sleight said.

Because the market for skilled trades is in constant motion, work groups like Sleight’s can use the data to better predict the future of the industry and where the needs for jobs will be.

Ureste said Michigan has a shortage of skilled trade workers numbering in the tens of thousands. Jobs in robotics, information technology, welding, carpentry and lead removal are vacant.

The data can guide institutions in deciding where to redirect their resources.

“Of course workforce development should be data-driven,” she said. “With technology moving so fast, we really can’t waste any more resources on programs that aren’t necessary.”

If a community college wants the same data, it must follow up with its graduates. And the results come with a mixture of inaccurate data and no-answers.

Ellison said he isn’t sure why universities have access to such information while community colleges don’t, but he guesses it could be because they weren’t as prevalent as they are now.

The bill made it through the House with only one vote against.

If it is signed into law, not just anyone could get access the information. As with the universities, an administrative official would be responsible for the data remaining private.

Ellison says the availability of confidential information is a legitimate concern, and one that the bill takes into account.

“These public institutions already have far more sensitive information on each of us,” he said. “All this bill really does is it puts it (wage data) in one spot to see how successful schools’ programs are.”

Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said he is unaware of significant opposition and expects to see the bill signed before the end of the year.