MSTC closes due to lack of support

By Lauren Fitch

Pioneer Staff Writer

BIG RAPIDS — The Math/Science/Technology Center has come to a close, and that’s not the only thing changing in local career and technical education.

Superintendents of local districts within the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District decided to close the center at a meeting on Friday, which MOISD Superintendent Curt Finch announced to the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday.

“The Math/Science/Technology Center is dead,” Finch said. “It has been killed by the local districts. They’re not sending students. They’re not supporting it.”

All districts within the MOISD decided to stop sending freshmen to the MSTC this year, mostly due to cuts in state funding; local districts pay $2,800 for each student they send there, or 40 percent of the total per pupil cost for the center.

MOISD administrators explored other models for making the MSTC more affordable for local districts and attracting more students to it, but ultimately the decision was made to end the 15-year-old program.

“The way the (MSTC) is set up, we have to have students and the dollars have to follow the kids,” Finch said. “Quality has never been the problem. The problem is the dollars.”

The MOISD board contributed an extra $50,000 beyond its typical support of the MSTC to keep the center open this year. The students already enrolled in the center, who will be juniors and seniors next year, will complete the curriculum. Upperclassmen take Ferris classes and underclassmen use a separate classroom in Ferris’ Arts and Sciences Commons Building; the board still is deciding what that space will be used for.

A possible replacement for the MSTC would be to introduce a Science/Technology/Engineering/Math program through the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center. Administrators will take another year to explore different models for STEM programs.


engineering technology

Some of the existing MOCC programs, specifically the building trades and teacher education program, will be revamped.

Building trades is a two-year program that prepares students for the building construction industry. Every year, students build a residential home in the community, which is then sold.

The construction engineering technology program, which would replace building trades, would provide a broader view of many different careers and give students more hands-on experience with each.

In a modular classroom, which will be located in an existing building behind the career center, students would have the chance to work at different stations with tools used in building, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, engineering and heavy equipment jobs. Students would no longer build a house.

“Everybody gets everything is really the point of this,” Finch said. “Rather than 2-foot-wide and

1-mile-deep (in material covered), they get 2-inches-deep and 1-mile-wide so they can look for the hook ... of what they really like.”

John Simaz, who teaches the existing building trades program is retiring after this school year, endorsed the modular approach to a construction engineering technology program.

“The house projects have worked really well. They’ve done a good job,” he said. “But the way the state’s going, ... going with the modular makes sense.”

State and federal government is pushing for more workers in “infrastructure” careers – workers who can make bridges, roads and pavement.

It will benefit the students to allow them to make mistakes and learn from them as they work, Simaz said, rather than constantly have such high expectations or have to contract out parts of the project like they do when building houses.

“We’re looking at ways to retool the program so that it will meet the more rigorous standards,” said Jennifer Harrison, director of career and technical education. “This will allow us to more closely align with post-secondary education.”

Teacher education

While the building trades program will continue in a different format, the existence of a teacher education program or early childhood education program is in question.

With an increased focus on “high skill, high wage and high demand” at the state level, funding is not available for programs that do not meet those criteria – such as early childhood education, according to the state.

The MOCC switched to a teacher education program in an effort to earn state approval, but many colleges will not transfer credits from the curriculum. Students need at least an associate’s degree in education to get a job; whereas, a certificate in early child care is sufficient to work at a daycare facility.

Board members debated the benefit of each program for students and the likelihood of gaining state approval and funding for each. A decision will be made at a later board meeting.

Joe Davis shared with the board how the early child care program has benefited his family. His wife went through the program as a student at MOCC, and now their child attends the MOCC preschool.

“This is the best preschool in the area,” he said. “My kid does speech. You’ve got a great speech program and a great speech teacher. Where would he be, starting out in kindergarten, already two years behind with no speech?”

The high school students who help run the preschool as part of the MOCC early childhood program also benefit from the practical parenting skills they learn, he added.

Even if the preschool continued to run without the early education program, the children at the preschool would not receive the same valuable one-on-one attention they get with the high school students who help out, Davis said.

Julie Jansick, a counselor at Evart Public Schools, also advocated the importance of the early childhood program in helping students find jobs more quickly. She went through an early child care program in high school and was able to get a job at a daycare facility to help her pay for college as she earned a teaching degree. She was unable to get a teaching job in Michigan and moved to Florida before returning to Evart to work as a counselor.

“Kids can go get hired and work in early education in Michigan,” she said. “There are jobs for early education in Michigan, that is something that Michigan still offers. So I feel that if you can give kids training in that and have a step up and try to get those jobs ... then that’s just a positive.”

Board members said they would like to see enrollment numbers for the early child care program compared to teacher education before any further discussion.

The goal for all MOCC programs is to earn college credit. Current programs earn students articulated credits with Ferris State University, which means MOCC classes can equate to some general education classes depending on the program. But administrators would like MOCC courses to translate into direct college credit.

They will explore possible partnerships with community colleges such as Baker College, Mid Michigan Community College or Grand Rapids Community College. College credit would be especially important to a STEM program, if one is launched to replace the MSTC.

“We’ll work with whoever wants to work with us, whoever is the most cooperative and whoever gets it done faster,” Finch said.

Parent Advisory Committee

Also at the board meeting, three of the four Parent Advisory Committee members resigned. The Parent Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from local districts to advocate for the needs of special education students.

Irene Kasbohm, PAC chairperson, was the first to resign, followed by Jodie Daum and John Stadtfeld.

“My heart, my faith and my morals tell me I cannot continue,” Kasbohm said, citing past interactions with MOISD administrators and board members as her reason for resignation. “I was on the PAC to help kids. Now that I have resigned from the PAC, I will continue to advocate on behalf of our kids with special needs.”

Finch thanked all of the members for their service.

“This means we’ve got a new opportunity to expand our horizons and take the PAC in a different direction,” he said. “We want to thank those folks for their service.”

The board will meet again at 6 p.m. on Jan. 9 at the MOISD Board of Education building.