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Rebuild trust before bond

Published 10:14pm Monday, May 14, 2012

Speech therapist Susan Rice Monday night urged Dowagiac Board of Education to take the bond issue off the table “until we have restored the trust of our community and can move forward together.”

“I am here tonight,” Rice said, “because, in all my years, I have never seen morale so low and lack of trust so high.

“I ask you to consider forming an alliance that would have the goal of building this district back to trust,” Rice addressed the school board in Union High cafeteria. “I gladly offer to be a part of that group to work beside any and all of you in a positive spirit regardless of what transpired in the past. We are all good people, we have just lost sight of the prize — watching wonderful children become educated young adults ready to set the world on fire and proudly announce they went to Dowagiac Union Schools.”

Rice grew up on a Silver Creek Township farm she and her husband, John, bought from her parents and sold in 1994. She worked for the district 22 years and still is a therapist two days a week. She and her two brothers and their three daughters graduated here.

“I want it clear I have a lifelong vested interest in the children of Dowagiac,” Rice said. “All of us will tell you we got our work ethic from the farm and our academic successes from being educated in the Dowagiac school system because it was a combination of teachers, staff, administrators and board members, no one more important than the other.”

“Dismantling” the counseling department a year ago was a “huge mistake.”

“We started talking about closing schools, remodeling schools, building a school,” Rice said. “We get everyone up in arms before we have a solid plan. Rumors run rampant and trust drops more as you get a different answer from everyone you ask. Why on earth would we ask the community for a bond issue when the top two administrators are actively seeking to leave before the vote is even held?”

Rice credits DUHS’s bronze medal ranking from U.S. News and World Report to principals Paul Hartsig, who resigned after 17 years to become Bridgman principal, and the late Ken Dockerty and former superintendents Peg Stowers, Larry Crandall and Ron Jones.

The board also heard from City Councilwoman Lori Hunt, who “made a conscious decision to raise my children here that recent events cause me to re-evaluate.”

She said middle school Co-Principal Matt Severin’s decision to give her son in-school suspension was “unjustified, in my opinion” and “nothing short of racial profiling. An unintended consequence is children who become paranoid and lose respect and faith in the system supposed to protect them. He wasn’t looking for a fight and didn’t make contact even while being assaulted. Punishment did not fit the crime. What he failed to do was shut his mouth. For that he was wrong. A leader with good conflict resolution skills would have applauded him for not retaliating and gone on to help him understand what he could do differently if the situation presented itself again.” Severin declined to discuss the “student matter.”

Kristie Bussler resigned as a Sister Lakes fifth grade teacher to become a K-12 resource specialist with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians June 25.

The board granted tenure to Band Director C.J. Brooks, DMS science teacher Amy Cummings, DMS social studies teacher Kristin Dockerty and Patrick Hamilton Title I teacher Joe Sylvester before adjourning to closed session to conduct Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel’s evaluation.

Retirees reception

Sister Lakes — Martha Paulsen, 1996-2012

Patrick Hamilton — Linda Culver, 1983-2012

Dowagiac Middle School — Marshall Bailly, 1974-2012

Deanna Horrell, DMS — 1998-2012

Elaine Pilot, DMS — 1993-2012

Leslie Sestric, DMS — 1985-2012

Cathy Small, DMS — 1999-2012

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