Archived Story

New LCISD chief visits to discuss ‘Race to the Top’

Published 11:01am Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac Board of Education officially met new Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Superintendent Robert Colby Monday night at Justus Gage Elementary School, but both probably wish it had been under different circumstances.

Colby and Superintendent Peg Stowers addressed the $400 million Race to the Top grant, which might also be described as reform on the cheap with devilish details.

As Gov. Jennifer Granholm touted in her Nov. 20 radio address, Michigan needs to be one of the winning states in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition.

All 50 states race to reform their education systems so children can compete in a global economy. Only a few states will win this race, but they will be rewarded handsomely.
Each will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Recovery Act funds.

Last week, Stowers, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Hal Davis, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Patti Brallier and Principals Matt Severin of Sister Lakes and Marcy Hendress of Justus Gage sat in on the first state Webinar “and began to formulate our understanding regarding the Race to the Top grant and what it would do for Dowagiac if Michigan was one of the states chosen for ‘integrated education reform,’ ” the superintendent said.

Colby, introduced by John Ostrowski, retiring after 6 1/2 years at the LCISD helm and a stint as Cassopolis superintendent before that during his 41-year career, came to Cass County from Huron County in the Thumb.

“I don’t need to tell you this is a tough time to be a school board member,” Colby said.
“We have lots of challenges ahead of us. This job was appealing to me for a number of reasons. My wife and I have always lived in rural areas and appreciate that lifestyle. Cass County looks very much like Huron County with farm fields and small communities, except you have hills. You could stand on a brick and see our whole county.”

The Colbys have a son who teaches in Climax-Scotts and lives in Portage. They expect their first grandchild in the coming year.

“I’ve spent the past two months with Bob Colby and I feel more comfortable leaving this job than I’ve ever felt leaving any other job I’ve ever left,” Ostrowski said, calling his successor “the right fit for Cass County,” yet active at the state level, “which is of critical importance at this time in education. There are battles to be fought for local control. There are forces out there who would like to consolidate local districts.”

Educational reform proposed under ARRA, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, is “comprehensive and extremely involved,” Stowers said. “It should impact every school district. What that impact is we’re not fully sure. We know the Michigan Legislature has been extremely busy passing the rules and regs legislation it must have in place for Michigan to be in this competitive race for this grant. A tremendous amount of money will be pumped into schools that are in the lowest 5 percent of achievement to foster and nurture those failing schools and to turn them around. The remainder of Michigan districts would be very involved in the comprehensive data program that would track students statewide, pre-K through graduate school. It also would put Michigan in position to adopt a curriculum that mirrors the nation. It is very much involved in teacher and principal evaluation tied to student growth -not just one assessment. It also does some work with making more charter schools available for parents to have choices. It also mandates administrative certification which, in Dowagiac, we already expect our principals to be certified. It also allows for teachers who are not fully certified as teachers to be hired in the classroom. It has a lot of caveats for improvement, but I have to be honest with you, I don’t know as much about this grant as I’d like. It’s only been about 30 days that the state has been working diligently to become one of the competitive states.”

Stowers explained the “quick turnaround”: “There is an expectation that all boards, all superintendents and all union presidents will sign a memorandum of understanding by Jan. 7. I’m concerned about the narrow window  not really knowing what the expectations will be if we get these dollars.”

Colby stated, Race to the Top attempts to address failing schools and pushing the agenda of educational reform. “Both of those are good things by and large,” but “logistically, this is a long-term project with short-term dollars, which can create some real problems. You’re going to be asked a memorandum of understanding that you agree to those pieces of reform and support them and will implement them long-term here in Dowagiac – even though the dollars you get to do that won’t be enough to get it done in the first place and will go away in very short order.”

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