I just kept hoping that Ms. DeVos would not be confirmed. Perhaps it was the optimist in me thinking that good will prevail. Now it looks to be certain that she will the new Education Secretary. So many emotions right now and I have stayed relatively silent. I can’t do that any longer.  So here are some random thoughts.

I have given my life to this thing we call “public education.”
I believe in public education.
I know it works.
It is the foundation of our democracy.
It is the baseline for the American Dream.
While Ms. DeVos might be a nice person (I don’t know her personally), I do not believe for one second that she is qualified to be in charge of anything to do with public education.

I invite Ms. DeVos to come to the Newaygo Public School District.

See our students who have hopes and dreams for their future.
See our staff working day and night so they can share their passion with students.
See our families working to support their students while laboring hard and long hours to make ends meet.

Middle America has been a steady place to raise families and send children to public schools.
Education is not meant for corporate America to make money off taxpayer dollars.

I worry about the future of education.
I want our teachers and staff to have adequate resources to continue to do the great things that they do for our kids.
I want our staff to know that what they do really matters, despite what the reformers and profiteers might say.

I have given my life to this thing we call “public education.”  I cannot and will not give up. I ask every citizen who believes in public education to not give up. We can’t. Our children deserve better.


Thanksgiving can be a time for reflection.  I know I don’t thank the people here at NPS enough but here goes…

At NPS, I am thankful for:

Dedicated teachers who work to meet all of our students’ needs under incredible pressure and with minimal resources.

Committed classroom aides who consistently get asked to do many of the “other” things to meet the needs of students, and do so with smiles on their faces.

Loyal bus drivers who have a very difficult job and work to make each trip to and from school brighter (and safe) for students.

Cherished secretaries who stay calm and try to please everyone in the midst of whirlwind activity (on some days) in the school offices.

Skilled principals and directors that support all of the students, families, and staff and work to make decisions that are the best for kids.

Other support personnel (tech, academic interventionists, behavior specialists, etc.) that work very hard behind the scenes to make sure our students have the best chance for success.

Dependable board members that want every student to reach his/her full potential and to see this school district on a path to greatness.

Last but not least, I am thankful for the students, families, and residents of this great school district. They are truly what makes Newaygo special!


I appreciate teachers

May 2-6 is Teacher Appreciation Week. As a result, I take a few moments to reflect on what teachers do for society. When I was growing up I was lucky to have good teachers and role models and in fact some of my teachers were influential in my decision to pursue education for my career. I had teachers that were inspiring and cared deeply for students. Now with that being said, did I always like or appreciate what teachers demanded of me? Of course not. Thankfully, I had parents who expected me to do what teachers asked and if I didn’t like it, they would “side” with the teachers. (Yes, admittedly I might not have been the “perfect” student!)  I was raised in a family where you were expected to put your nose to the grindstone, work hard, and don’t complain.  If I didn’t like something, I was expected to deal with it (or ‘suck it up’ in today’s terms).  Little did I know, that kind of background and my experiences with “tough” teachers or teachers that I didn’t particularly care for would ultimately benefit me later in life.

Because teaching is a series of human interactions, the teaching and learning process is not simple or easy. There are challenges, disagreements, and lessons that need to be learned by our youth. There are times when students “fight” learning and/or resist what teachers try to get out of them.  Thankfully, the moments of learning and positive interactions outweigh the struggles. I know that the teachers I have worked with in the past and currently work with now make incredible sacrifices because they are doing what they feel called to do; work with our youth to develop good citizens.  And for that, I have deep gratitude for them.

Appreciation is a beautiful thing. Take a moment this week to thank a teacher. Maybe it is a teacher you had when you were growing up. It might even be the teacher that was “tough” on you. Or maybe it’s the teachers that showed incredible care and concern for you. Perhaps it is a teacher that has influenced or gone the extra mile for your son or daughter.  It might be the teacher that continues to believe in and care for the person who doesn’t believe in his/herself.  It could possibly be the teacher that was an inspiration to you or your son or daughter. Just remember that appreciation doesn’t cost a dime. It can be a simple spoken “thank you,” a quick note or email, or a sincere voicemail message. We are fortunate at Newaygo Public Schools to have a dedicated group of talented teachers. Take a moment to tell them they are appreciated!


Tales From Students When There is No Snow Day

As a Superintendent in a smaller-sized district, I enjoy the privilege of getting to know a few students on a more personal level than perhaps those Superintendents who work in larger districts (part of the reason why I love where I work!). As a result, when the snow falls, but it is not enough to warrant a snow day, I take a fair amount of good-humored back and forth kidding from some students if I happen to be in the buildings that day. Tuesday, January 12, was one of those days. When I saw that the storm missed Newaygo County and over 200 schools were closed by the time we decided to stay open, I readied myself for the usual jokes, questions, and comments of a disappointed nature from students who were saddened that they had school that day and no snow day.

Here’s how one encounter went:
Student (in the high school):  Where is Dr. Mathis? I need to talk to her!
Me (about an hour after school started):  Hey, I heard you were looking for me this morning.
Student:  Why am I in school today? (Insert indignant face emoji here.)
Me:  Because you need to get an education to get smarter.
Student:  My head is big enough already!  (Obviously this student has no problem with self-confidence!)

Here’s another encounter that occurred at one of the elementary schools:
Student:  Hey Ms. Mathis, my Dad and Uncle Duane were going to spin out in your driveway this morning (apparently to try to convince me to cancel school).
Me:  Wow, really?
Student:  Yes, and we thought about spraying a hose on your house so you’d think it was all iced over!  (This student knows me well enough to joke around with me and he had a huge grin on his face.)

I take these decisions very seriously because the safety of our students is my top priority. Perhaps my point here is that even under tense circumstances when decisions need to be made with snow days or cancelling school events, NPS students can feel comfortable enough to share their opinion(s) with me. They can also learn that even though things don’t always turn out as they had hoped, honest (and sometimes jovial) give and take conversations can be productive.

We have several more weeks of winter and you can be assured that we will work to make decisions to keep students safe. Parents can help us by remembering to take it slow when driving, using caution around our buses loading and unloading students, and that patience is essential! 


Helping Our Young Students to Become Good Citizens


Over the last several years, schools have faced difficult decisions when examining available resources and increased operational costs. Our funding sources are varied but one revenue source that has increased is that of Section 31a At-Risk funding. Section 31a of the State School Aid Act provides funding to eligible districts for instructional and pupil support services who meet the at-risk identification characteristics specified in the legislation.*

Schools opt to use these funds in a variety of ways and in the past, NPS has used these dollars to fund counseling positions, English Language Learner support, and some other areas. We will continue to do this, but due to the fact that we have an increase in this funding, we are able to add two positions. One will be an Elementary School Behavioral Intervention Specialist and the other will be a Middle School Behavioral Intervention Specialist. This concept is not new. During the 2012-2013 school year when we had principals working in two buildings, we had a Behavioral Intervention Specialist working at the elementary schools to assist Mr. Bush there.

We are grateful for this funding and are excited to be able to provide additional support to students and families as our kids are required to continuously meet higher academic expectations. These people will work with students, teachers, families, and administration to provide additional support for students who need the assistance. I once saw this quote and perhaps this can lend some insight.
“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.
“If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.”
If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we…
teach?     ….punish?”
Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?
(Herner, 1998)

Some may wonder about how this will affect the school culture. This does not mean students will not experience discipline or that there are not consequences for behavior. There will always be consequences for behavior. One of my mentors who had his first career in the military told me, “Discipline is training.” As a result, we will help train students to develop their character and citizenship as well as their academics. Behavioral Intervention Specialists will be a key component of this.

*Source:  MDE website

Learning Never Stops

Educators often spend time in the summer working on improving their knowledge and skills. Some take college classes, some work on curriculum, others attend workshops or conferences.  Why do they do this?  Educators do this for the same reasons that other professionals and workers attend training sessions; to improve and grow as a teacher and/or leader.

This summer, 27 certified staff attended the PLC Institute in Lincolnshire, IL.  Professional Learning Communities (PLC) is a term that has been around for several years.  Essentially, schools are a learning organization.  It is critical for educators to work in teams and to keep learning to improve learning for students.  The concept is simple:  no one educator is as good as a team of educators.  With the complexity of teaching and learning today, it is imperative that we equip educators with the time necessary to work with a team to improve learning for all.

The NPS Leadership team has spent some time learning together this summer and we are excited about welcoming back our teachers and students to the 2015-2016 school year.  It is my hope that we can continue to develop professional learners, both students and teachers, so student achievement can progress.

To the Class of 2015

It is time for NPS to send you out into the real world.  You are now one of us; an adult who is expected to contribute and make the world a better place.  I came to Newaygo when you were in 9th grade, so in a sense I was a “freshman” just like you. It was your first year in the high school and it was my first year as the NPS superintendent.  A lot has changed since then. I know I have learned a great deal and I am sure you have as well.

This community is pleased with all of your accomplishments and leadership exhibited throughout your high school years.  The Class of 2015 has produced several champions in both athletics and band.  The artists in this class have achieved like none before. Academically gifted, this class has many students who finished their high school career with over a 4.0 GPA. Perhaps most significant, is that this class has produced outstanding citizens who exhibit care and concern for others.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to see you all learn, grow, and make your path. Congratulations on achieving this milestone. This community is proud of you. Go out and make this world a better place. And… never forget your roots. You’ll always be a Newaygo Lion!  Carry that Lion Pride everywhere. Best wishes to you as your pursue your dreams.

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NPS Has Outstanding Participation at County STEM Expo

The 3rd annual STEM Expo at NCRESA was on March 24. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) are areas in which we work to cultivate student interests and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The STEM Expo is an event open to all students in Newaygo County and it is sponsored by the Gerber Foundation as they have judges evaluate the work of the students and award scholarship money. For the third year in a row, students from Newaygo Public Schools comprised a majority of the participants.

Consider this: Out of the 37 high school and middle school participants, NPS had 22 students who participated! In fact at the Middle School level, out of the 23 participants, Newaygo had 19 students. I was so proud to see the Expo area dominated by Newaygo students and families. I had one staff member from NCRESA ask me why Newaygo was so well-represented. I gave my standard response, “We have awesome students and teachers.” Things like this do not happen by accident. A big THANK YOU goes to science teachers, Andy Busch, Jenne Bush, Deb Iwema, and Cheri Spoelma who worked as mentors for our students so that they could participate in the STEM Expo.

Congratulations to the students who designed, conducted, and evaluated a project in order to participate this year. The confidence they exhibited while presenting their study was impressive. A complete list of the Newaygo students, their projects, and mentor teachers can be found on the district webpage under spotlights. Once again, the Newaygo community can be very proud of our students and their work.

From a 1st grader: Why Don’t We Just Build a New School?

March is Reading Month. The elementary schools do many things to celebrate and encourage reading during the month of March to shine a spotlight on the importance of becoming a good reader. One of those activities includes the Superintendent reading a selected book to each Kindergarten and 1st grade class, and it is enjoyable for me to do this and this year was no exception.

As I prepared for this year’s reading assignments, we had some other issues to contend with. When the snow began to melt, the Vera Wilsie building was experiencing several leaky areas in the roof and we had two classrooms that had water damage to classroom walls, ceilings, supplies, and carpet. As a result, the teacher and the students in those two classrooms had to relocate to other unused areas in the Vera Wilsie building for a few weeks. Naturally, this was a disruption to the learning but the students and teachers were patient and flexible.

In one 1st grade room, I sat down to read in an area of the classroom that had been refurbished after the water damage. When I finished reading my story, the students wanted to talk a little bit about moving classrooms, the reasons why, and what could be done. I apologized to the class for having to do this. One little boy quietly raised his hand and I called on him. He commented, “I have an idea. Why don’t we just build a new school?” It was such a straightforward question presented in such a simple and innocent way. After further discussion, another boy stated, “But if we build a new school, we won’t be Newaygo anymore!”

Little did the students know that earlier that week, the results of a Facilities study that had been authorized by the board were presented at the March board meeting. The timing was perfect. It also became clear that our students have a keen awareness of the stress that our facilities are under. While moving classrooms due to water damage may not seem like a big deal to some, to students and teachers, it represents uncertainty about how long we can continue to operate in our elementary facilities. To school leaders, it means that we worry about educating students in old facilities that require significant costs to keep repaired.

In the next several months, we will be sharing the results of this Facilities study and examining what options might be available. The residents of this community need to know that we have some facility needs that must be addressed but that I personally do not have pre-conceived notions about what the solutions are. We will want to proceed in such a way where the community can support the effort and do what makes sense in a responsible and fiscally sound way.

As I talked with those first grade students that day, I was both encouraged and proud of how flexible and knowledgeable they were about their situation. I did assure them, however that despite what happens; new school, renovated school, or old school, it will still be Newaygo. It was intriguing to me that with the disruption and moving classrooms, there were students who thought that a new school meant they were “no longer Newaygo.” I told them that no matter what happens, “You will always be a Newaygo Lion!” Certainly, a goal in the coming months is have all of Newaygo become informed about the state of our facilities and options that might be on the horizon. We also want to make sure we put the best interests of students like the ones I read to that day, at the forefront of what we do.


Simple Ways Technology Can Help Young Students Learn Math

If today’s adults think about how they learned basic math, perhaps visions of worksheets filled with problems come to mind.  Maybe you can recall opening a textbook and looking at an extensive list of assigned practice problems. These assignments are necessary, however because we know that in order to master a skill, it takes practice and getting proficient at math is no exception. Fortunately, there are many resources that are available through technology that can assist with student learning in mathematics.

With the addition of student devices in NPS classrooms, I observed a couple of different ways that iPads are utilized with math instruction. First, the iPad can be used by students to process math problems and they can easily show the steps with different colors to visualize their thinking. Yes this can be done with colored pencils, but the number of problems students can complete in a given time frame increases greatly with an iPad.Educreations Math

In a similar vein, students can log into one of numerous programs to practice math facts. In some cases, the student’s progress or score can go directly to the teacher and he or she can quickly know how each student is doing on a particular skill. This allows the teacher to monitor each student’s progress and possibly differentiate the next set of practice items for each student based on their skill.

Justin Mielke practices his math facts.

These are just two very simple examples of how students devices can be used to assist students in learning math. The iPad (or Chromebook) is simply a tool, in a similar way that we used “tools” like pencil and paper. The goal is to be able to have students not only use the device for “practice” purposes but to understand the complex processes involved in learning about how and why numbers work the way they do. Furthermore, it is hoped that students have some fun and learn to love math in the process!