Monday, May 18, 2020

Weekly Updates - thinking about the future

The pandemic has been an interesting time as it relates to "thinking ahead".  Like many (most) institutions, we have had to be so focused on the present and the ever changing landscape, that thinking ahead has been challenging.  Even so - that has been a critical part of our district leadership's time, especially as of late.  Even with relatively limited information, we are doing everything we can to think about some big questions that lie before us.  Most of these questions somehow relate to that critical question - "what does school look like in the fall?"

Unfortunately, we have generally had to respond with "we don't know yet".  However, there are some developments taking place right now that are leading us in the direction of some answers taking shape.

First - it is becoming increasingly apparent that we're going to get some guidance on what school can/should look like from the state.  In a press conference on Friday, our governor announced that a school task force is being convened to provide guidelines for the fall.  In addition, there are three other committees representing rural, suburban, and urban school districts that are reporting their work to this state task force directly.  The bottom line is that there is a plan being formulated with input from school districts from all across the state.

Second - there has been some movement at the state regarding budget for both this fiscal year and next fiscal year as well.  Unfortunately, this news has not been particularly positive at this time.  While certainly expected due to the economic impacts of COVID19, these budget realizations are likely to make for some hard times ahead as schools and other government institutions seek out ways to work within our means while having as little adverse impact on our core mission as possible.

Third - I'm pleased that we've made some progress with shorter term decision making regarding how we can best finish out this school year, honor our graduates, and set ourselves up for success in the long term.  As has been noted previously, Benzie Central has now set a date for commencement exercises (June 28th) and is working on contingencies for whatever guidelines may be at that time regarding public gatherings such as this.  We also are doing scheduling for next year at all of our buildings, and continue to provide remote instruction as we move toward the "official" end of the school year on June 11th. 

And finally, as you may have already heard, Benzie Central is moving forward with a bond proposal vote set for Tuesday August 4th.  This new proposal was created following feedback from our community and is designed to address many of the concerns raised from past proposals while ultimately keeping priorities following years of hard work on the part of active community members and school staff regarding the long term needs of the district.  More information about this will be forthcoming over the weeks and months ahead leading up to this critical vote.

It may be raining today, but the grass is also greening, leaves are popping, and beautiful days lie ahead.  Springtime is a powerful metaphor for circumstances like we find ourselves in with the current coronavirus pandemic.  It may be raining and gloomy today, but we know better times are ahead.  We look forward to being together again, working for a stronger community, and continuing to provide a world-class education for our next generation.

Take care and be well!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Commencements, Mother's Day, and things to come...

To the faithful readers of this blog - I thank you for engaging and hope this has been helping you stay up to date!

And to the many mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, and mothers that come about that term from their actions moreso than biology - I hope you had a truly wonderful Mother's Day this past weekend.  It certainly should be a memorably one if nothing else!  

I first want to let everyone know about an important decision that has been made regarding our seniors and graduation.  How we plan to go about doing commencement exercises (graduation ceremonies) has been one of the first and most important questions asked as we entered into these unprecedented times.  Since that time, we have been gathering information and input from many different sources, fielding lots of great ideas and suggestions, and carefully considering our options.  We would like nothing more than to be able to do graduation as we always have, but are well aware that this just simply isn't an option given our unique circumstances.

Given that, we have made the decision to delay our graduation until June 28th.  It is our hope that this additional time may allow for current restrictions on gatherings to be at least loosened enough to allow some sort of "in-person" ceremony outdoors that will more closely mirror what we hope for.  We will certainly continue to communicate to our community as the time gets closer as to what it will look like exactly, and will also be making contingency plans for a "virtual" graduation should it be required.  In addition, we will also be having a virtual celebration of our senior honors night to celebrate the accomplishments of our seniors and to present scholarships.  This is planned to be released on May 28th.

To our class of 2020 - we are all so proud of you.  It is my fervent hope that you all are feeling the admiration, love, and excitement that we all feel for you.  There's more to come and we look forward to further celebrating you, all that you have accomplished, and all there is yet to come for you.

We continue to look forward and plan for what is to come for us at Benzie Central Schools.  I know many questions linger regarding not only the end of this year, but what is to come for 2020-21 in the fall.  We are watching Lansing and Washington D.C. with anticipation as decisions that are made there will undoubtedly impact our schools, potentially in very significant ways.

Regardless of what happens, I hope you all will know this at least.  We WILL continue to serve our kids and community, regardless of circumstances.  Benzie Central Huskies have shown in these past couple of months that we can and will adapt, improvise, and overcome any obstacles put in front of us.  Have a great ending to this school year, and we look forward with anticipation and excitement to our next year and better times ahead!

Take care of one another, be safe, and be well.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Appreciation for Educators

This week marks the annual celebration of "Educator Appreciation Week".   Traditionally, this is always an important time for public schools and a time to reflect on the value that our educators bring to the lives of our children.  Often it's a time for homemade cards and signs from kids, gifts or gestures from PTO's, some treats in mailboxes in the offices, or nice lunches being brought in from a local businesses.  There's lots of ways that we say thank you, and it's always great to feel appreciated.

Of course, business isn't exactly happening as usual these days, and Educator Appreciation Week is another thing that just simply can't occur in the same way it always has.

It's my hope that we can all find ways to thank the educators in our lives, especially now that we are certainly in the midst of a time when they are working harder than ever to try to help our kids learn.  I would encourage us all to take a few moments this week to drop our educator friends a note of support, give a gesture of thanks, or otherwise find some way to express our appreciation for what they do.

In addition, I also think that this educator appreciation week should include appreciation of ALL educators.  In these times, that includes our parents working with their children at home.  While schools have always viewed parents as their child's first teachers, this new era of remote learning has thrust that "parent as teacher" role into a much more critical light.  I know many of our parents are struggling with this, particularly those who are also trying to juggle their own work at the same time.  To all of you - thank you for the heroic work you're trying to accomplish amidst a true global crisis. 

And I'd be remiss if I didn't especially thank those staff that fall into BOTH of the categories above - those who are teaching their own children at home as parents while also teaching remotely in this new environment.  This is a particularly challenging double duty knowing the difficult of either of these roles on their own!  You all are super heroes!!!

And finally - thank you to the faithful readers of this blog.  I appreciate you taking the time to engage with your school district and will continue to keep information coming as we learn more.  My goal will continue to be to provide transparent, timely information about what is happening, and what we anticipate will happen at Benzie Central Schools during this unprecedented time. 

Have a great day and Go Huskies!!!

Monday, April 27, 2020


I've been reflecting a lot lately on the concept of priorities.  What are my own priorities?  What should the priorities of our school district be?  How does a global pandemic impact those priorities?

Personally, I've always strived to keep my priorities simple.  I've often said that I'm a husband, a father, and a superintendent, in that order.  My logic is that if I'm a good husband, that will help me to be a good father.  Taking care of my family and getting support from them is ultimately going to make me a better worker in my professional life.  So to be the best superintendent that I can be for Benzie Central, it's important that I keep my personal life in order.

What I recognize, and I'll bet we're all feeling this in some form right now, is that crisis has had a way of messing with priorities.  Often it takes other more basic needs and vaults them to the front of the line.  It sounds great to focus on being a good spouse and/or parent, but if a crisis grips the household, ensuring that you have food on the table and a roof over everyone's heads quickly moves to the top of the list, sometimes making those other priorities suffer.

Schools are much the same way.  Our priorities are rightly focused on learning.  Yet we also recognize that we cannot help students learn when their basic needs are not met.  It is this care that we have for students that  has driven us to develop programs like our food service to meet the physical needs of our students and why we retain staff to meet mental health needs of our students like our counselors and safenet workers.

Now, as we face this COVID-19 crisis, our priorities have been shaken up dramatically and we are responding as best as we can.  This is why we quickly shifted our food service program to become mobile and ensured access to mental health services online, even when distance separates us from our students and families.  While there is no doubt that we've had to shift our priorities, our base mission and priority - to focus on learning - remains very much at our core.

To that end, we have done everything we can in a very short timeline to transition to a remote learning model.  And we have been amazed at how quickly our students have figured out the technology!  While imperfect, it has been inspiring to witness our group of educators rally in the face of adversity to make this happen.  It continues to get better every day, and the commitment to improving is evident in countless actions being taken every day.  What this means more than anything, is that we are adjusting our priorities to ensure ongoing connection to our students and families.  The priority is first and foremost on that connection and ensuring basic needs are met.  Because it's then and only then that we know they will be in a good place to learn.

To our families - please know that we understand your priorities are rightfully in whatever place they need to be to make sure your basic needs are met first.  For some of you, that may mean that learning isn't at the top of the list at the moment.  We will work with you where you are.

Our biggest ask of you is that you help us stay connected with you and your children.  Please help keep the lines of communication open.  Your child's teacher(s), our building leaders, and our support staff are ready to assist you.  Rest assured - we've got this - together!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Schooling at Home - Help!!!

I wanted to take a few moments to talk to all of the parents out there in Benzie Central and beyond who are feeling scared / nervous / inadequate about being thrust into the role of being their child's primary teacher.  Even for those who may relish this new role and the many opportunities it brings, it can be downright intimidating.  I say this from my own perspective as a now mostly remote working from home parent with three kids (2nd, 6th, and 9th grades) now at home with me every day too!

First - a quick clarification.  I want to point out that what we are embarking on together is not really "homeschooling" in the traditional sense.  Yes - we're staying at home these days and we're doing schooling there.  But any parent who "homeschools" seriously outside of global pandemics will tell you that homeschooling doesn't only take place at home.  Indeed, those who choose to homeschool often rely on networks of other families, museums, field trips, libraries, churches, and many other places and communities outside of the home to participate in the experience.  "Homeschooling" ONLY at home is a different challenge all together, particularly during a global pandemic!

So whatever we decide to call this new endeavor (crisis schooling sounds a bit scary, non-traditional schooling perhaps not intense enough), suffice to say, it's a challenge, right?! 

So what do we need to do as parents to be successful and ensure we are doing right by our children?

I think it's first critical to allow ourselves to take a deep breath and realize that, as the old saying goes, "the kids are gonna be all right".  Kids are amazingly resilient.  And if you're feeling like it's not going well so far - I guarantee you that it's going better than you think...

Second, I'd suggest that we all recognize that it's okay that kids are going to have different routines, different expectations, and not keep the same sort of hours that they do while in school.  No adult would want to be in meetings online for 6 or 7 hours straight (I can say that from experience as I'm sure some of you can as well - we've been testing that theory a lot in our society lately!).  Indeed, breaking up schoolwork into smaller manageable chunks throughout the day (less for younger kids, a bit more for older ones) is a great and reasonable strategy.  Likewise, recognize that more time does not always equal more / better results.  Quality, focused time is more critical than quantity of time.

Finally, I would invite us all to recognize and celebrate the other learning and positive things that are happening outside of "traditional schoolwork".  There is huge intrinsic value in much of what's happening in homes across our country (and our world) right now.  There are lots more family meals being eaten together than is usual.  There are more opportunities for family discussion and focusing on a smaller group of people right in front of us.  Playing in the yard and building a blanket fort in the living room allow for creativity and expression.  Yes - even arguing with their siblings can be a learning opportunity - conflict resolution is a skill that needs to be practiced to be done well!

I don't mean to talk down or suggest that it's all roses and sunshine amidst this pandemic.  Indeed, I know many of us are undergoing all sorts of different stresses as we strive to figure out our way forward.  What I absolutely will suggest though is that our parents can and should cut themselves a little slack and not let "being your child's teacher" be another stress thrown on the pile of everything else we're dealing with.  Being their parent is enough - and spoiler alert - you've always been their first teacher anyways!  You've got this :).

As always, we're here to support you and your children as we figure out this new normal together.  One of the best things that you can do is to stay in contact with your child's teachers.  They are here to help and want to make sure to stay connected to ALL of their students! 

Thank you for all that you do, and we look very forward to having your kids back with us in the school building as soon as we can make it happen safely!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Hang in There!!!

Hey Benzie Central Families!  Hang in there!!!

I know, time seems to have slowed down in so many ways during this unprecedented time.  I saw a meme recently that said something to the effect of the date being the "fortyteenth of Maprily"... Felt pretty accurate!

I know many of you are undergoing a lot of stress right now.  We're all living in an unprecedented time, which means we've not practiced for it.  I know there's a lot of uncertainty, including a great deal about school and what the long term plan is.

First, I'm sure many of you are plugged into social media quite a bit, maybe more than usual right now.  There's been a lot of speculation regarding what will happen with the rest of the year, and what that means for the various situations our families and students are in.  I completely understand the speculation, and hope I can help temper some of the anxiety.

Regarding this school year, as you may have heard, the Governor has strongly suggested that school will not resume for the 2019-20 school year.  She had an interview late last week which stated this and a press conference this morning in which she re-iterated the point.  However, there are many implications of such a significant decision and no doubt they are trying to work out as many of those implications as possible.  I am pleased to tell you also that our elected representatives have been in contact with myself and other local school superintendents and are likewise working to make good decisions that will be in the best interests of our students and public health.   Your local and regional educational leaders are also working on the implications as well.

To be clear, it does appear likely that school as we currently know it will not resume this school year.  However, that does NOT mean that we will be throwing in the towel or abdicating our responsibility or abandoning our passion to educate kids and support our families.  That is our mission, and we will continue to seek to do just that in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

To our seniors and their families, know that we stand firmly committed to you.  We will seek means of not only making sure those on track graduate, but that we find means of recognizing and celebrating that achievement.  We are a creative and close knit community and won't allow our seniors to simply fade into their next chapter.  While we don't know what that looks like yet - please keep faith that your community loves you, supports you, and can't wait to celebrate you!

To our other students and your families, know that we stand with you as well.  Indeed, our staff are already working to change their practices to adapt to this new reality.  We need your patience and grace, but know that we are committed to all of you as well.

We will likely have more information in the next few days, maybe less.  Rest assured, as soon as I know - you will know.  We've got this.  Stay strong and take heart in the #OneBenzie community, even if we have to do it virtually and from a social distance perspective.  This will end, and we will come out stronger and more unified than ever on the other side of it.

Be well!

"Super" Matt

Monday, March 2, 2020

Keeping Healthy

While it seems that last winter was one for the books with regard to snow and ice, this winter seems to be shaping up to become the winter of illness.  It began with a pretty rough flu season (which isn't over yet) and now the talk of the town is COVID 19 or the coronavirus as it's commonly referred to.

I know most of us are getting inundated with communications regarding this issue.  Indeed, Benzie Central has sent out a communication in collaboration with our region last Friday.  We have since gotten communications from the State of Michigan, and our federal government is giving updates through our media outlets as well. 

So the question on everyone's mind seems to be - what do we do should the outbreak become more severe?

Our school district has been focusing on being proactive through prevention and education.  As is always the case during flu season, the best approach is prevention through good hygiene habits.  We encourage all students and staff to engage in frequent handwashing, to cough/sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, and to minimize contact, especially in public places.  If you are ill, please stay home and rest returning when you are free from fever for at least 24 hours. 

In addition, we have been engaging in discussions about contingency plans in the unlikely event where longer term closures are necessary.  The good news is that we have some tools at our disposal that could help maintain education using online tools that are relatively simple to use.  Indeed, many of our staff already have "online classrooms" and some students are already engaged in learning in a virtual environment.  Should an extended closure of "brick and mortar" buildings ever become necessary, we could potentially have some options to keep learning from grinding to a halt. 

Benzie's bottom line is learning.  It's what we are committed to and what we will always strive to keep going, regardless of circumstances. 

Be well, be healthy, and thanks for reading!