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.