I was fortunate enough to attend the visit to Gull Lake Community Schools on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 with Dr. Davis, Board member George Seifert, Board member Richard Lindsey, Jr., Board member Bill DeSmet, Walter’s principal Paul Holbrook, Hughes Principal Matt Lefebvre, 1st grade Walter’s teacher Marcie Hydrick, and Hughes 3rd grade teacher Deb Veale. These are the notes I took when we met with the Superintendent of Gull Lake Community schools, the Curriculum Director, and the principals of the three elementary schools in the district.
Gull Lake has the same elementary school configuration Dr. Davis is recommending for Marshall Public Schools.
Please note: these are my personal notes and observations. This is not meant to represent the feelings or observations of others in the group.
Gull Lake Community Schools cover a 150-mile radius with students coming from three counties. Gull Lake needed to close an elementary school building due to budget constraints. In 2003 it was decided (after many community meetings and forums) to close Bedford elementary school (located over 10 miles outside of Richland, Michigan) and move those 6 teachers, one administrator and 100 students to one of the two remaining elementary schools located on the Gull Lake Community Schools campus and to Kellogg Elementary school (located approximately 5 miles from the main campus). Over the next 4-5 years they slowly transitioned their 6th grade to the middle school and moved from one K-3 building (which was at capacity) and one 4-6 building to two K-3 buildings, one 4-6 building to finally transitioning to their current configuration of two K-2 buildings (Richland and Kellogg Elementary) and one 3-5 building (Ryan Intermediate).
*note: dates are approximate. I tried to take down specific dates when they were mentioned.
Before the transition they had the following configuration: (2003)
Then they transitioned to: (2003-2007)
7-8 (moved to old high school)
High School (new high school was built)
Currently they are configured: (after 2007)
Here is more information on Gull Lake’s current elementary school buildings:
Richland Elementary (K-2): 320 students, 14 classroom teachers, 5 special area teachers. Technology is taught by a para-pro and within the classroom by the grade level teachers. Average class size is 24 students. Richland Elementary offers services in reading support, special education, social work, and speech therapy. They also offer the opportunity for students to qualify for an accelerated curricular program.
Kellogg Elementary (K-2): 212 students. School population consists of Early Childhood Special Education, Young Fives, and kindergarten through 2nd grade. In addition to regular classroom instruction students also receive instruction in art, music, physical education and Spanish. Technology is taught by a para-pro and within the classroom by the grade level teachers. Students may also qualify for EXCEL, an academic enrichment program. Additional services include reading support, math support, special education, social work, ELL and speech therapy.
Ryan Intermediate (3-5): 618 students, 8 classes of 3rd grade, 9 classes of 4th grade, 8 classes of 5th grade. Two principals, two secretaries, a school counselor, music teacher, art teacher, Spanish teacher, physical education teacher, media specialist. Students attend 6, 30 minute, specials each week (Music, Art, Spanish, Library, Gym and Technology). Students are also given a 55 minute lunch/recess block. Classes are capped at 24 (ideal class size is 21). School is organized by wings with each grade housed in their own wing. Each grade is provided with 30 iPads and 30 Mac Book Airs. ****we were able to tour Ryan Intermediate. Notes about this tour are located later in this report.
**Each building has their own PCO.
Only two of the people we met with were with the district prior to the reconfiguration (the secretary to the superintendent and one of the principals).
They admitted that when they first made the move the curriculum did not support the configuration. At the time they did not have PLC’s, common planning time, and no consistent meetings throughout the district. Closing the achievement gap was not even a consideration when they made the moves. They needed space and had to close a building. They did not have any achievement gap data available. They admitted that their bottom 30% of achievers are still having a hard time getting out of that bottom 30%. They could not comment to if their transitions affected scores. Gull Lake Middle School is a FOCUS school. They admitted that their current configuration does not help with accelerated learning and they are still studying and working on that. Comments were made that they need to do a better job of assessing the “high flyers”. They concentrate the most on the bottom 30%. They said they are sure the “systems” they have in place, and not the building configurations, contributed to the increase in their MEAP scores (which are lower than Marshall’s).
Gull Lake has CI services at each building. They have a CI teacher and 2 para-pros at each building. Resource rooms are at every building. They did comment that they need to do a better job with their special education students because currently all EI, Down Syndrome and Autistic children are all in one room. They do not have a large population of severely handicapped students as they partner with Comstock and Parchment for those services. They also acknowledged that their special education population is growing and they need to do a better job at addressing their needs.
Tips for reconfiguration success:
- Bring teachers together
- Include the union
- Admitted that there were pitfalls. It took several years for the teachers to come together and gel as a cohesive unit across the district.
- Time and planning is very important.
Visit to Ryan Intermediate School (grades 3-5)
Ryan is a new building, built to house three grade levels. It is configured into grade specific wings. The assistant principal gave us the tour of the building. There is a large, bright media center located in the center of the school. A large computer lab with 30 workstations, a large music room, large art room and a very large gymnasium are located within the building. There is a school counselor, two secretaries and two administrators.
The assistant principal said, “The 3rd graders are so intimidated when they arrive at this building we keep them in their little wing and limit their exposure to the older children”.
Each student attends 6, 30 minute, specials each week. Art, Music, Physical Education, Library, Technology and Spanish.
Observations: narrow lockers, small classrooms, plentiful technology available (they are a 1:1 district, each grade level has an iPad cart and a Mac book Air cart), very large school (618 students….almost the same size as MHS), large gym, very large, open and bright media center. I was impressed that the students attended 6 specials each week and that art and music were housed in their own large rooms. I was also impressed that there are 4 music teachers and 4 art teachers in the district. Older students do walk to the early elementary school that is located on the campus for reading mentoring. No mentoring takes place at Kellogg Elementary school.
Gull Lake busses all their students. Older elementary school kids are shuttled to the early elementary schools to meet up with younger siblings.
Important to note:
Gull Lake Community Schools do get $1 million per year from the Kalamazoo County education millage. They also have the Gateway Academy (2nd chance school for high school), 100% virtual school, partnerships with Kalamazoo Christian schools and over 300 home school students that partner with the district (from .17 to .99 FTE). Due to the recent implementation of school of choice in Kalamazoo county and the programs listed above they saw an increase of 1000 students over a 5-year period. Gull Lake added two kindergarten classrooms last year and will add another one next year. While birth rates are consistently projected to decline they have seen a consistent increase in enrollment. They have room to grow. All buildings have the space to accommodate growth.