Archived Story

Schools take next step tonight

Published 9:38pm Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It’s an exciting, if uncertain, time for Dowagiac Union Schools.
Almost a year after hosting “Disney Way” author Bill Capodagli, a comprehensive process of reinvention nears the finish line, a May 8 election.
The school board called a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Thursday to approve the preliminary bond qualification application.
The community needs to catch up — even those involved in brainstorming customer service storyboard sessions at Southwestern Michigan College involving the school system, City Hall and Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital.
The educational dream proved an evolving work in progress.
Central to the plan is creating five schools with three buildings, but broad-based input adjusted and continues to alter some original assumptions.
The plan still expands the 2005 middle school approved in November 2001 to include grades 9-12 — extending Riverside Drive to Mathews Street, which would make Southwestern Michigan College a convenient neighbor for dual-enrolled students.
The two schools would share such facilities as the Performing Arts Center, gymnasium and cafeteria. A two-story high school has been repositioned from behind DMS to the south toward the tennis courts.
The current DUHS would be overhauled into two schools for pre-kindergarten to third grade rather than 1-5 outlined last August.
The leading recommendation is to create a pre-K and first grade configuration. The second school, with a separate entrance, would be second and third grades.
Each of two instructional leaders would oversee 400 students.
Districtwide, all resources focus on reading at grade level by third grade.
Having, say, 10 kindergarten classrooms in a central location makes possible “looping,” or reinforcing with the same teacher for first grade.
Or, intense Reading Recovery, which works with four students for eight to 12 weeks. Instead of having one Reading Recovery teacher at Sister Lakes, all will be together, collaborating for a world where analysis and evaluation supplant memorization.
Solving a problem isn’t an end, but a means to applications.
There is an emotional attachment to traditional buildings.
Beyond that, the administration found reservations that all five elementary grades in DUHS with a thousand students would be too large and sacrifice advantages of a smaller setting.
These tweaks revised summer outlooks for Justus Gage and Patrick Hamilton. Justus Gage was seen as an early childhood center.
It has two Great Start classrooms, but Dowagiac supplies the building. Lewis Cass Intermediate School District hires teachers, so Justus Gage’s outcome remains somewhat up in the air.
Fourth and fifth grades would attend Patrick Hamilton, which for years housed fifth and sixth. Some feel a “complex” exists there with DUHS, the football field, APEX and a large playground, despite industrial property sandwiched in between.
In the school suite at City Hall set up since the October move from the Wolverine Building, there is a long whiteboard tracking a dizzying array of initiatives.
Brains have been picked, from Edwardsburg Superintendent Sherm Ostrander, who has a very effective pre-K-3 configuration, to a Hartford kindergarten-first grade teacher who went through such a restructuring, seeing initial opposition melt away to now they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dowagiac visited Niles’ New Tech and will set up four “smart” interactive classrooms at DUHS to visually show it’s different for a purpose of networking students.
Stay tuned. There’s a lot to learn in the next leg just beginning.

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