Archived Story

Inside Track likely to be lost

Published 10:24am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac Board of Education decided Aug. 17, 2009, that the district would shoulder its $175,000 Inside Track preschool program, lacking any official word about state funding.
What has also become known as the Great Start Readiness Program for 4-year-olds at Justus Gage Elementary School includes three half-day classrooms.

Cutting this program close to the Sept. 8 start of school “would create hardships,” Superintendent Peg Stowers advised the school board meeting in the middle school cafeteria, such as laying off at least one teacher immediately, shifting a half-time teacher to another program and axing 1.5 paraprofessionals.

“It is my hope for all of our community’s 4-year-old students that the funding issue will be resolved by October and reinstated to its original amount,” Stowers said.

Monday night in the Union High School media center, Stowers advised the Dowagiac Board of Education that the governor’s budget proposal “is just that, and we are faced with having to make some tough decisions in terms of staffing and programming for next year, so at this point, purely for information, I’m going to say we’ll go back to our agreement in August that until there is funding, we’ll not be able to offer the program.
“If funding comes to be later, after the governor’s budget is hashed over, we can reinstate that program. Parents are beginning to call, so we want to be upfront and honest about what may happen.

“At this point, the most upfront and honest would be to say right now we’ll not be offering the program. If funding does return, which probably will be sometime after June, the program could be reinstated at that point.

“Marcy (Hendress, Justus Gage principal) and Hal (Davis, assistant superintendent for business and operations) and I have talked about keeping the rooms and equipment intact so, hopefully, down the road we’ll be able to offer that program for our 4-year-olds again. It is a significant piece at the beginning of their education.”

Commenting on her impending retirement after “an amazing” 32 years, including as superintendent since 2006, Stowers said, “I leave feeling fulfilled and enriched, but I also know the next three to five years are very difficult. (Leaving) is not about making tough decisions. I can do that. But I really think it takes someone who’s going to be here for three to five years to last those decisions out and see what happens. I knew I would not be here” that long.

“It’s in the district’s best interest at this point to fill this seat with someone who’s going to be here that length of time. Some of those people (in the audience) were my kids. Thank you for all the opportunities this school district has afforded me in 32 years – classroom teacher, coach, principal (of Patrick Hamilton Middle School), assistant superintendent and then, finally, realizing my dream to become superintendent.

“You’re stuck with me for a few more months and we’ll make some tough decisions. Again, it’s an absolute great place to work.The hard work we do really makes a difference in this community for each and every child.”

Michelle Helmuth made the motion the board approved 6-0 to “regretfully” accept Stowers’ retirement. Bill Lawrence was absent. The board also adopted an updated policy manual and rescheduled its March 1 work session to May 3.

That’s because the board meets again next Monday, March 1, to begin the selection process of Stowers’ successor.

Retiring along with Stowers, who received a standing ovation led by President Randy Cuthbert, are: Kathy Johnson, Kurt Reich and Teri Frantz, DUHS; Cheri Gowan, Dowagiac Middle School; Sherrie Wolf, Kincheloe; Pat Leonard, Patrick Hamilton; and Ginger Cloud, Justus Gage.

“I anticipate we’ll have some retirements for the next couple of months,” Stowers said.
Stowers acknowledged a second $750 donation from the Pamida Foundation since the 2009-2010 school year started.

“That is distributed to our K-5 buildings. Principals use that to purchase things for kids and supplies. We certainly try to do as much shopping as possible at Pamida, which is a nice thank-you. The ladies there are so great to work with. They’re so excited to provide us with money donations for our kids. Thanks to Pamida Foundation for its continued support.”

Patti Brallier, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, reported that MEAP scores have been placed on the Michigan Department of Education Web site for disaggregation by principals and teachers, but remain embargoed for public consumption.
“We will be meeting as buildings March 5,” she said. “When the embargo is lifted and scores are released to the public, we’ll let you know.”

The school board approved a family medical leave for Tara Fletcher, Kincheloe and Sister Lakes music teacher.

Alex Vins, Union High industrial arts teacher, resigned effective March 5 to join his wife, who is “moving across the nation to another state.”

Board members finished the night in closed session for “a pre-negotiations update.”

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