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School boards across Michigan have big plans for 2017

Brenda Carter

Brenda Carter and Superintendent Kelley Williams

Cindy Gansen

Steve Hyer

Kusatsu visited Pontiac from Japan.

Michael Rochholz

Brad Baltensperger

Not unlike many others in the month of January, school board members all over the state of Michigan begin to think about and plan those school New Year's resolutions they hope to accomplish in 2017.
January is also School Board Recognition Month, and as they are recognized as the voices and leaders in their school district, board members find themselves committed as ever to their resolutions, the students and student health.
Pontiac’s future
Brenda Carter, president of the Pontiac Board of Education and current president of the Michigan Association of School Boards, says she wants to focus on meeting the needs of children who may not have access to dental and heath services, and even basic needs such as washing their clothes.
“In an economically challenged school district, we want to provide a nurturing environment,” Carter said. “We don’t want our students to be hungry or bullied because of the clothes they wear. The best way to raise academic achievements is to keep them attending school. We don’t want to have any side effects to prevent children from wanting to come to school.”
One of the things Carter would personally like to address is some of the health issues the school district of the City of Pontiac faces. They are working to place clinics inside of district schools and focus on both mental and physical health.
“We want to stabilize our district,” Carter said. “We want to ensure long-term stability for our students and not only embrace physical health, but socioeconomic aspects as well.”
What Carter would like to do most is mentor future board members.
“In 2012, the Pontiac School District was supposed to dissolve,” Carter said. “But the Pontiac Board of Education decided to open up good programs. I want to mentor future board members, so that we can sustain momentum in the right direction.”
One program Pontiac Schools decided to re-open is the study away program in Japan for eighth graders. Carter was attracted to the program because of the high literacy rate in Japan and her hope that students will bring back skills they learn to share with classmates.
“Pontiac students will be able to live and go to school with Japanese students,” Carter said. “My theory is that when they are exposed to a different style of education, that they may bring something back that could be life changing for them. Many of these students have never been outside of the city.”
Houghton-Portage Township focuses on student safety and physical activity
For Brad Baltensperger, president of the Board of Houghton-Portage Township Schools and Michigan Association of School Boards member, the issue of student health is the whole function of the school.
One of the goals he and his board are looking to accomplish is passing a bond issue for school expansion and preparing the public for it.
“A large chunk of this project is to improve traffic flow -- where parents are dropping their kids off -- to help the safety of our students,” Baltensperger said. “Secondly, in the last 30 years, we have not given a lot of attention to our outdoor facilities, and we want to fix this to get students more engaged with outdoor recreation and exercise.”
Baltensperger said they want to be able to get physical education classes and the general public to use the outdoor facilities. A main focus on education is important, but there are so many things outside the classroom that come into play in order for students to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle.
“There is plenty of evidence that proves kids who don’t get regular meals and exercise are less able to perform in the classroom,” Baltensperger said. “Kids show up for school and are ready to learn, but what can schools do to help? We need to make sure schools are providing resources for kids to be alert and attentive. I think a new year always helps us put this in perspective. We aren’t always changing what we want to accomplish, but it helps us to put an emphasis on how we get there.”
Flushing Community Schools targets student health

Cindy Gansen is a trustee on the school board for Flushing Community Schools and is the president for the Genesee Intermediate School District. She is also a director for the Michigan Association of School Boards. With the Flint water crisis hitting so close to home, school, community and student health has never been more important.
“With challenges, come opportunities,” Gansen said. “What has happened has educated people on things that can possibly happen in cities that haven’t spent time or money on infrastructure. This whole situation has really stressed the importance of nutrition and health. We have opened up locker rooms for people to shower, as well as focused on educating families on foods young children need. Poverty in itself is a crisis, so it’s about what we can do to assist them.”
One of the largest problems today that Gansen has noticed is mental health and how devastating depression can be for young children.
“If we know what to look for, we can create a bigger awareness of how to help young people with these problems,” Gansen said. “Our ISD has a class on mental health awareness that is designed for faculty and staff to identify coping mechanisms for children. Hopefully this will help alleviate problems down the road.”
Anxiety or depression impact focus and can often result in a distracted student. If students start missing school as a result, it becomes a bigger problem.
“Situations are happening today that deter from people trusting folks,” Gansen said. “School should be a place they can trust. If there are all of these other distractions, it could be difficult to be successful.”
Gansen does a lot of work with school board members and believes that success starts there.
“Serving as a local school board member and an intermediate school board member, you start to see how your ISD can help serve all students within a county,” Gansen said. “This has been a wonderful education and privilege for me. There are so many student success stories; they just aren’t heard enough.”
Schoolcraft Community Schools emphasizes physical activity
Michael Rochholz attributes one of the health challenges in his local school district to the reduction of health programs and physical education in schools.
“Times are hard,” Rochholz said. “More is being required in the classroom, but we still need to make sure there is time for our students to do physical activity. There is a direct correlation between students, physical activity and success in the classroom.”
For five years Rochholz served as the president of the Board of Education for Schoolcraft Community Schools and now serves as the vice president. He also serves as the president-elect of the Michigan Association of School Boards.
“About 85 percent of our students participate in sports, but we want to implement more physical activity into the school hours so that we can reach all students,” Rochholz said. “It’s just hard meeting those requirements, because of what is mandated by the state.”
Community wellness a priority for Clarkston Community Schools

Steve Hyer, Clarkston Community Schools board president, wants to start focusing on community wellness for students starting at birth, rather than at the age of three.
“We want to focus on health services that the school district can provide, whether that be helping with the first pediatrician visit or overall nutrition and well-being,” Hyer said.
One thing Hyer strives to achieve in Clarkston is instilling drive, creativity and problem solving in students at a young age.
“It’s not just about test scores,” Hyer said, “It’s about them discovering what their passions are, too. And we want to focus on what we can do to help with that, whether it is providing food for students on the weekends or adding school and community programs to meet their needs.”
In Clarkston, Hyer says relationships are key to the health and wellness of students.
“We try to provide meaningful relationships for students with adults and set up activities between students and their classroom teacher,” Hyer said. “We want students to know that they have resources to help them discover their passions and reach their full intelligence.”
Whether it’s by way of programming, policy change or improving school facilities, public schools in Michigan are setting their focus on improving health and wellness for their students in 2017 and beyond.
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