The Michigan Department of Education is continuing an initiative to visit all of the school districts in the state over a period of five years.
The effort began under former State Superintendent Brian Whiston who directed his Deputy Superintendents and each Office Director at the Department to make at least ten visits each year.
The goal is to improve customer service from the state to the local districts and to celebrate the great things happening in local schools and learn what the Department can do for them.
State Director of Special Education Teri Chapman and Assistant Director Jan Weckstein spent a couple of days in the Copper County visiting different schools in the CCISD.
Chapman says many other school districts have more resources individually but Upper Peninsula districts excel at working together to achieve the most out of what they have.
“In ISD’s where there are districts that have more of their own individual capacities, there’s maybe a little more autonomy, and that comes with its own pluses and negatives, but I think what I am impressed by in the UP is the creative approaches that people have to bring to the work that they do in trying to define how to create better capacity given all they have together rather than everyone being able to just move forward individually,” said Chapman.
Having the representatives tour the districts also gave local educational leaders a chance to share their needs with Lansing, such as increased funding, the need for more support and resources to help at-risk students, and teacher shortages.
Chapman said the lack of qualified educators is causing a strain not only in the UP, but in school districts across the state. “I think the state is acutely aware of this universal challenge, I don’t think it’s unique to Michigan, but it is causing us all to look differently at the way in which we require teachers to become certified and maybe making some decisions about how we make changes to that to make it more appealing and a little more timely for young people to come into education,” she said.
Weckstein says the information collected during these visits is recorded at the Department of Education and the issues are discussed when state leaders get together for their monthly meetings. “Areas of concern—we bring those back and we talk about those and what can the Michigan Department of Education do to improve customer service to those districts—the folks that we represent,” Weckstein said.
The connections made during these visits will help the Department meet the needs of the district. Chapman said, “I do think that the information overall is being looked at as part of our analysis on really understanding the needs that are there and where the Department is uniquely positioned to begin addressing them.”
During their stay, Chapman and Weckstein visited the one-room school in Copper Harbor, the CTE Center in Hancock, and visited different public schools in Houghton County.