New staff, projects to greet students this school year

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Osceola County school administrators are excited for the start of the school year, as new curriculum, projects and staff are set to greet students on opening day.

Students at Evart Public Schools begin the year on Thrusday, Aug. 25, while Reed City Area Public Schools and Trinity Lutheran School begin classes on Monday, Aug. 29.

Evart Public Schools

It was a busy summer at Evart Public Schools, as officials got to work on making the improvements approved by voters in May’s bond request, said Superintendent Shirley Howard.

“We had a lot going on with the bond,” she said. “There is work on the roof at the middle school, new pavement and new doors being put in.”

Howard explained work will begin on a new entrance at the elementary school that will be directly across from the office.

“It’s already a secured entrance, but this project will make the building more secure,” she said.

The district also hired Jessica Kolenda as the new high school principal.

Other personnel changes include:

  • a new high school Spanish teacher;
  • a new high school math teacher; and
  • the hiring of Jay Wallace as the new athletic director and special education teacher.

There are some curriculum additions for the new year, Howard said.

The district is adding a developmental kindergarten at the elementary, something that has not been available for a few years, she said.

Kindergarten through third-grade teachers will begin exclusively using the Open Court reading series for students.

“It’s been very successful with our students so far,” Howard said.

Howard also said industrial arts will return for middle and high school students, with a focus on woodworking.

“We’re pretty excited to be able to offer this,” she said. “We feel that with industrial arts, we will be meeting a need for some of our students.”

Howard said elementary teaching and support staff are starting the process to become a Leader in Me school, with training and professional development.

Howard expects the student count to be similar to last year.

“We are gaining students, but I’m also getting requests for students who are leaving,” she said. “We are a blended count, but we’ve been pretty consistent over the last couple of years.”

Reed City Area Public Schools

RCAPS Superintendent Tim Webster has a sense of excitement and anticipation for the new school year, as there will be a lot going on thanks to voters approving the bond issue in May.

“We are very thankful to the taxpayers for voting yes,” he said. “It will allow us to get a lot of things done and catch up on some areas that we need to.”

Webster explained the bond will allow the district to do many upgrades, with the priorities including student safety, technology and programs. Many of the projects will not be in place when school begins, but will begin soon.

“We upgrading our security system,” he said. “We have the responsibility to make school a safe environment. We’re going to have more cameras, better cameras, better software and servers district-wide.”

Other security upgrades include:

  • making every phone line capable of direct 911 calling;
  • remodeling entrances to make them more secure, which also will require remodeling of some entrances and offices in the different buildings; and
  • reviewing the district’s emergency management plan.

On the technology front, Webster said the district plans to spend more than $500,000 on technology over the next five years, with some money going toward infrastructure such as wiring and servers, but the largest amount being spent on equipment for students and teachers.

“We’re going to be adding a new position for a technology teacher for the elementary,” he said. “It will be an enrichment class for the students, like art and music.”

The district also added a new position for a half-time teacher and half-time technology coordinator, to help design the district’s K-12 technology curriculum. The coordinator also will help staff with professional development to get the most out of the technology they have.

Thanks to the bond, Webster said the district also will see energy savings from:

  • replacing LED lighting for the gym;
  • updating heating controls to digital for better efficiency;
  • nearly $1 million for fixes to the roof at the middle school and high school;
  • two slightly used buses for the transportation department; and
  • more than $500,000 will be spent on a new track and to fix draining problems on the athletic field.
Webster said he budgeted for around 35 fewer students this year, but it is difficult to estimate an exact count.

There also will be some new staff members in the district, he said, including a new band instructor.

“We have a pretty strong band program,” he said. “We’ll have about 500 students in the high school and about 100 of them will be in band. We expect to continue the high quality of the program the community has come to expect.”

Other staff changes include:

  • the half-time social worker position has been changed to a full-time position;
  • a half-time nurse will be shared with Big Rapid Rapids Public Schools, with the capability of service all the time over a computer;
  • a half-time athletic trainer will spend 20 hours a week at the district;
  • five new elementary staff members, including the technology teacher;
  • four new teachers at the middle school; and
  • hiring new math, language arts and art teachers for the high school.

Trinity Lutheran School

At Trinity Lutheran School in Reed City, one of the new faces in the hallway on Monday, Aug. 29, will be new teacher and principal Jason Harder.

Harder said he took a lot of time to think and pray about the teaching/administrative position at the school.

“At first I wasn’t sure Reed City would be the right decision,” he explained, saying initially he didn’t think Reed City was the right place and decided against taking the position. “Then, I just didn’t feel right about the situation. I started to pray a lot about it and decided to visit. It became clear it was the place for me and my family.”

Harder said the summer has been spent preparing for the school year, with a lot of work done to the building.

“We have a whole new wing for our school with classes for the students as well as the work on the gym,” Harder said.

The new wing was officially dedicated on Sunday, Aug. 21.

Harder estimates between 70 to 75 students will attend the kindergarten through eighth-grade school this year.

“It’s going to be exciting for everyone,” said Harder, who has taught for more than seven years. “We’re going to be opening up the chapel the first day and have a chance to start the year right.”

Harder said he’s anxious to get to know the students, their families and his staff.

“The entire year is going to be spent learning about them and the best way to help them in their faith,” he said. “The importance at a small private school like this is it’s rooted in faith. That’s really the key. I hope they learn here the importance of a strong foundation in faith.

“The world throws a lot of different views and attitudes about things and they’re going to be challenged,” he said. “Even if that foundation cracks, if we trip and fall, that foundation is there to help us get back up and continue.”