Education

THANKS TO THE RESIDENTS OF FERNDALE, WE’RE GETTING A BRAND-NEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!

On March 10th, 2020, voters approved a $125 million bond to make a significant investment in our educational system. Due to rising property values and expiring debt, this bond was made possible at no tax rate increase to our community.

To learn more about all of the bond projects that will be completed over the next decade visit www.ferndaleforward.com. You can also visit our Ferndale Schools web page where we update the community on all of our bond projects as they are completed: www.ferndaleschools.org/district/operations/bondprojects.

While the bond will ensure every classroom in the District is updated, the most significant investment is the construction of a brand-new, state-of-the-art, Ferndale Lower Elementary School. While we are still more than a year away from its opening, in April of 2022 Ferndale Schools hosted a ground-breaking ceremony at the schools future location within Jackson Park.

THE NEW FERNDALE LOWER ELEMENTARY IS 50 PERCENT LARGER than the current building and will expand classroom sizes while integrating new scientific insights from learning environment research. High-efficiency heating, cooling, and infrastructure will accompany advanced classroom technology for every student.

Construction will continue until 2023, but you can take a virtual “fly through” of the building and outdoor spaces right now at www.FerndaleSchools.org/bond. While small modifications may be made during construction, this video will give you a great look at what to expect from the new Ferndale Lower Elementary.

To all of our neighbors, thank you for your steadfast commitment to ensuring our students have the optimal learning environment. Your investment in their future will be the bedrock of our lifelong-learning community for generations to come.

By Jenn Goeddeke

Creating the Essential Learning Curve

MEETING TORI WEBSTER IS THE DEFINITIVE BREATH OF FRESH AIR! She is the founder and Director of Best Friends Early Childhood Education Center, located in Oak Park (8430 W. 9 Mile). Webster’s strong, positive attitude and her enthusiasm and dedication become quite apparent after conversing.

She is achieving her goals on a daily basis: Keeping high standards in teaching young children, and nurturing them too. Webster maintains a five-star quality rating through the Michigan Department of Education, the first daycare in Oakland County to achieve this rating. She consistently sticks to the ‘quality over quantity’ approach and takes pride in the small group settings. Ages throughout the several classrooms span from infants to preschool children.

Webster attended school to attain a degree in early childhood education. She then purchased a home specifically to start a daycare; to build on the expanding curriculum and to gain all necessary behind-the-scenes expertise over a 13-year timeframe. Her ultimate goal was to start a daycare in a commercial building, which has been keeping her busy now at the Oak Park location since 2017.

The main reward, Webster explained, is to see each successful stage of development for a child as they progress in the program. The classrooms build on each other, with the end result being a thorough preparation for kindergarten.

One example of a teaching focus is building literacy through phonemic awareness. This basically means introducing the alphabet in relation to the sound of each letter, not simply by its name. This leads to blending the sounds, creating word recognition.

Lesson plans are not set in stone either. Webster clarified that there might be a need to pivot from anything previously planned-out. Staff listen out for cues, then build on what the children are focusing on. For example, a strong interest in the cooking play area could result in an early math-and-fractions class using fruit!

ALL TEACHERS AT BEST FRIENDS CHILD CARE maintain detailed, daily developmental assessments which then get compiled into reports. Educational software helps in this process. Any developmental delays can be noted in real time, and addressed quickly. One way Webster can help parents is to make recommendations for specialists, so that the child is not held back in his or her education.

Children can truly make some lasting social bonds. They track each other through the years. Some of these bonds can last a lifetime. Webster’s tagline for the daycare is: “Building early childhood foundations that last a lifetime.” She mentioned how extremely rewarding it is to receive many thank you’s over the years from parents for doing a good job or resolving a particular situation.

Webster pointed out that staffing has been the most challenging aspect of running the daycare. She has set high standards for the teachers: All have degrees in childhood development or are progressing towards their teaching qualifications. Webster frequently assists staff in furthering their educational goals, at various different levels. “I strive to keep them with me, but also want them to be prepped for life.” she added with a smile.

The longevity of staff employment and continuing a family-type environment are important factors. With the hiring process, and all other major decisions, Webster considers these to be a group decision among the daycare staff: “It’s our decision, not my decision!” Trust is a huge aspect, so adding on can be difficult.

The Covid19 pandemic has certainly affected the hiring process, but Webster keeps forging ahead in a determined manner. Best Friends has managed the situation by putting safety first, and following strict guidelines. All of the classrooms are self-contained with their own furnace and A/C unit, plus teachers maintain a single classroom.

Additionally, there is an air purification system in place for each room, including high-quality furnace filters. Therefore, if someone becomes sick, that classroom shuts down and not the whole facility. Webster emphasized that the children have adjusted well to wearing masks and the other Covid 19 safety protocol. They are, of course, already seeing masks in their everyday lives and they are typically thriving and happy. Occasionally, staff have to pull down their mask to show a smile or articulate something. But overall, the children have learned to accurately read inflection and body language cues.

WEBSTER SAID SHE WOULD LIKE TO EXPAND AT SOME POINT. Until then, she is focused on her current location and providing the structure children need to prepare for primary school. For important resources to those looking for a daycare, Webster mentioned two key web sites: www.GreatStartToQuality.org and www.michigan.gov/LARA (an acronym for ‘Licensing And Regulatory Affairs’). Both of these sites allow parents to make an “apples-to-apples” comparison with daycares in the area. They provide key details on hugely important matters such as safety, licensing, staff and administration management along with expert personal observations.

Finally, Webster wanted us to give a special ‘shout out’ to all her devoted staff, especially to Kelly Westwood (employed for nine years) and Lauren Reagan (employed for three years). They have all been troopers through the pandemic and loyal, supportive employees through the various ups-and-downs!

Best Friends Early Childhood Education Center is located at: 8430 W.9 Mile, Oak Park, MI 48237.
They can be reached at: 248.629.7065.
Daycare hours: Mon thru Fri, 7:00 A.M.-6:00 P.M.
Closed on weekends.
Visit their web site at: www.bestfriendsearlychildhood.com

By Sara E. Teller

THE BERKLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT IS KNOWN FOR PREPARING STUDENTS FOR SUCCESS from early elementary to beyond high school. The District is highly-ranked in the State of Michigan as well as nationwide, and there are plenty of diverse opportunities for students to excel both academically and in extracurricular activities.

“In the Berkley School District, students are prepared to be creative, curious, confident, well-rounded critical thinkers,” said Jessica Stilger, Director of Communications. “They are kind and caring and have a global perspective while understanding their communities.” She added that the District “is known for [presenting] pathways for students to achieve their individual best, whatever that looks like for each student.”

One of the main reasons Berkley has one of the top districts has to do with the tremendous support from residents. Since its inception in 1840, the District has enjoyed support from everyone, including businesses and families without children attending school. Stilger said, “Berkley’s students enjoy the multitude of experiences and successes because of the overwhelming community support, the fantastic work of their great teachers and administrators, and the rich and vibrant environments that families create. The incredible successes Berkley students experience are possible, in part, because of the support provided at every level.”

STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES

IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, STUDENTS ARE ENCOURAGED to think critically and reach their full potential through out-of-the-box courses in the Cultures of Thinking & Reading program as well as writing workshop models designed to enhance literacy skills and increase comprehension in all subjects.

There are a number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses available in higher grades – 26, in fact. These allow students to extend their knowledge beyond a traditional curriculum. Students also have an opportunity to take classes at the Oakland Schools Technical Centers as well as the Center for Creative Studies & the Arts (CASA). These partnerships allow for additional career exploration that is invaluable post-graduation.

“Classes like zoology, forensics, Encore! show choir, creative writing, film studies, history of the Holocaust, marketing, African-American literature, computer programming and more challenge and engage students,” Stilger explained. “Students can explore robotics, foreign languages, student newspaper opportunities and various music options in middle school. In addition, many middle school students complete high school credits while attending Norup and Anderson.”

Berkley offers a plethora of sports, including softball, baseball, football, basketball, track and field, cross-country, wrestling, swimming, volleyball, golf and tennis. Students can also join clubs like the yearbook team, Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA), Black Perspectives Club, Dungeons & Dragons, gaming club, robotics, and art and drama. The high school, specifically, offers soccer, cheerleading, hockey, figure skating, dance and rugby. Stilger explained, “At the high school level, students are able to join over 50 clubs of varying interests, like Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), GSA, drama club, future teachers and more.”

DISTRICT AWARDS

BERKLEY HAS ACHIEVED MANY AWARDS, including being named Best Community for Music Education for the last ten years by the NAMM Foundation (2012-2021). The District is also among the top 25 school districts in Michigan, according to the 2022 Niche rankings, and Berkley High School was named Best High School by the U.S. News & World Report in 2021, as well as being among the top six percent of high schools in the nation.

In recent years, students have been named All-State and Academic All-State for swimming, baseball, tennis, volleyball, and soccer. Twenty student athletes signed with colleges and universities in the 2020-2021 academic year. The Berkley High School (BHS) Orchestra was one of three high school orchestras nationwide invited to play at Carnegie Hall in 2019 for the World Stride Music Festival. “This was the second trip to Carnegie Hall in four years,” explained Stilger.

The BHS Drama Department produced a musical in Spring 2021 and performed outside to ensure the show would go on despite the Coronavirus pandemic. BHS was also the first school in the state to adopt Sources of Strength, a peer-led wellness program.

“The Berkey School District is incredibly proud of all of its students and the paths they are forging for themselves,” said Stilger, adding, “Families are encouraged to join their school’s support groups to stay involved with their child’s school and education.”

In fact, each school has its own Parent Teacher Association parents can join to have a say in the opportunities offered. Choir, Orchestra, and Instrumental Booster groups support grades 6 through 12, and the Athletic Boosters support high school athletics. The Berkley Education Foundation helps all students in all buildings through teacher innovation grants, student scholarships, elementary enrichment programs, and sending students in eighth grade on college tours.

2021 INITIATIVES

THE BERKLEY COMMUNITY PASSED A SINKING FUND INITIATIVE IN 2018 that was meant to expand upon a 2015 bond initiative to provide funding for school roofing and concrete replacement projects, technology infrastructure improvements, energy and security developments, technology device purchases and more. Most recently, the District has focused this funding on building an addition at Anderson Middle School for a multipurpose and cafeteria space. Construction is slated to be completed soon.

A draft of a new strategic plan is also ready for community feedback. The plan will guide the District’s work for the next three to five years, setting stretch goals for the District as a whole and creating a plan for the administrative team to report on to the Board of Education. “The words inspire, empower, lead, will guide the team through this process,” Stilger explained.

Berkley is continuing to ensure that diversity is at the center of its commitment to students and families. Stilger said, “The School District is committed to keeping diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of its goals by creating an environment where all staff, students and community members feel a sense of belonging. Many diversity, equity and inclusion goals and strategies are embedded in the new strategic plan proposal.” This focus ensures that the District’s core values of lifting up, encouraging, and supporting each and every child is upheld.

“All are welcome in the Berkley schools no matter the color of their skin, who they love, how they identify, if or how they worship, their family income, where they live, what they look like, their abilities or what language they speak,” Stilger said.

Berkley also has a new superintendent, Scott Francis, who was the District’s Director of Teaching, Learning & Technology for four years prior to moving into his most current position in May 2021. Francis was also the principal of Pattengill Elementary from 2014 to 2017.

“Superintendent Francis will spend the first months of his new position building relationships with staff, families, and community members,” Stilger said. “The goal of the conversations and work will be centered around what is best for students and staff, and how the community – along with Superintendent Francis can create a shared vision for the future of Berkley Schools.”

For more information on the Berkley School District, please contact the administrative office at 248-837-8000 or visit www.berkleyschools.org

By William Good

THE PANDEMIC HAS BEEN CHALLENGING FOR OUR COMMUNITIES, and Ferndale Schools are no exception. High-quality instruction continues safely in our schools, and we are progressing swiftly to heal all of the difficulties of the recent cultural challenges while continuing our commitment to positive improvements.

SUPPORTING STUDENT NEEDS

FERNDALE TEACHERS HAVE LONG UNDERSTOOD THAT NOT EVERY STUDENT enters the classroom the same. Some start with the skills and knowledge to exceed expectations, and some have to be taught these prerequisite skills first. These challenges can be academic or behavioral. Still other students are eager to accelerate their learning journey.

And this level of preparedness may vary for an individual student every year, or every day. In many ways, addressing the needs of students returning from Distance Learning is familiar territory. However, social changes and a pandemic are showing their impact.

Fortunately for our students, Ferndale Schools are prepared with a robust system of supports that adapts to each child. Achieving this includes:

• Fostering a Culture of Support.

• Identifying Needs.

• Deploying and Adapting Support as Needed.

Learn more about the process and see support examples at www.FerndaleSchools.org/MTSS.

RESTORATIVE SCHOOL CULTURE

STUDENTS SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN SCHOOL. In classes, clubs, cafeterias and common spaces, students develop complex relationships with classmates as well as adults and other peers at different stages of development than their own. All of these interactions amount to a very dynamic set of variables influencing each child while at school.

Guiding these relationships in a positive direction requires a school culture with well defined principles and clearly communicated expectations of behavior, attitudes, and procedures for seeking support. At Ferndale Schools, we guide our culture with empathy by putting Restorative Practices at the forefront of everything we do.

WHAT ARE RESTORATIVE PRACTICES?

RESTORATIVE PRACTICES include appealing to relationships and proactively encouraging empathy for others. By emphasizing pro-active culture building, we reduce the need for responsive behaviors such as punishment that may instill shame in students and isolate them from classmates and support networks. Making poor decisions is most often the result of situational effect or mood. By encouraging peer to peer interactions in the classroom, we strengthen those connections that provide a vital support network for our students.

Cultivating our school culture improves our schools by:

• Increasing sense of community and belonging.

• Reducing instances of interpersonal conflict.

• Reducing the need for punitive discipline.

CULTURALLY CONNECTED

SHOWING EMPATHY TO OTHERS REQUIRES SOME UNDERSTANDING of their experiences, and connecting ourselves to those experiences. Our school culture is not simply a reflection of or a response to the world we live in, it is a connection with it. Connection is forged by developing an understanding in our students, staff, and community that includes all aspects of cultural strengths and cultural inequities. With understanding comes the opportunity to include the methods communities have developed to reduce stress and build resilience which fit their unique culture.

Learn more about our Restorative Practice strategies in Ferndale Schools and the core principles that you can practice at home at www.FerndaleSchools.org/Restore.

FACILITY IMPROVEMENTS

We have been making major improvements to our facilities, paving the way for 21st century learning and play. You can view more photos and details at FerndaleSchools.org/New

By Brandon Jiles
Photos ©2021 by Bennie White

THE Oak Park School District’s nearly 3,800 students are served at Einstein, Key, and Pepper elementary schools (grades PreK-5), the Oak Park Preparatory Academy (grades 6-8), Oak Park High School (grades 9-12), NOVA (grades 3-12) the Oak Park Alternative Education Center (ages 16-19 years old) and My Virtual Academy of Oak Park (grades 5-12) in Oak Park, MI in Oakland County located in a suburban community near Detroit with approximately 30,000 residents. Our District consists of over 450 staff members, including 250 teachers and 11 building administrators.

Our School District boasts an abundance of educational and co/extra-curricular programs to meet the needs of a vast array of learners from Pre-K through twelfth grade. We encourage students to challenge themselves academically, explore comprehensive course offerings and take risks to discover their gifts.

We are dedicated to providing an intellectually challenging educational experience in safe, nurturing school environments that thrive on cultivating and empowering students to be their authentic selves. In addition, our academic and co/extra-curricular opportunities provide agency and shape self-identity, which are critical components to the adolescent development process.

The Oak Park Advantage is a holistic approach to education that not only prepares students academically and fosters a sense of belonging but also creates long-lasting connections to the Oak Park community. While attending Oak Park Schools, students develop a confidence that is woven throughout their post-secondary, professional, and social-emotional well-being years after they graduate.

“We take pride in our commitment to fostering a diverse teaching staff that is inclusive of everyone it’s integral to our culture as we aim to empower our students to bring their best self, unique perspectives, and talents to the classroom every day.” Brandon Jiles, Communications Coordinator

Commitment to student growth and emphasis on athletics and the arts are just a handful of the many Oak Park advantages. The Wade McCree Incentive Scholarship Program offers four-year scholarships to attend Oakland University for Oak Park High School students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA and score at least a 1060 on the SAT.

OUR COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATIONAL AND ENRICHMENT PROGRAMS allow us to distinctively meet the needs of all learners in Oak Park. In addition to the major academic areas, courses are offered in art, music, physical education, computer science, foreign language, bilingual education, alternative education, advanced placement, co-op, work-study, special education and college prep, advance placement courses at the Center for Advanced Studies and Arts (CASA). Special facilities include the state-of-the-art Hoffman planetarium, TV studio, multi-lingual studies, and computer labs.

Despite the COVID 19 pandemic, Oak Park Schools had an award-winning 2020-21. Oak Park High School teacher Owen Bondono was named the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year (MTOY). Bondono will be entering his seventh year of teaching English language arts in the fall. Before teaching, he worked as a paraprofessional in the classroom for four years. Bondono’s selection as the 2020-21 MTOY began with the nomination of more than 400 teachers during the fall of 2020.

“Ultimately, teaching is an expression of my love of humanity. My way of making my mark on the world is making the next generation better. I know that growing the next generation of humanity is a community effort, so I will create that community wherever I find it.” Owen Bondono

IN ADDITION TO OUR EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS, a wide variety of extracurricular activities keeps students involved after school as well, we have a robotics team, National Honor Society, Wayne State C2 Pipeline, and also a new partnership with the City of Oak Park Recreation Department offering hip hop dance classes and gaming competitions in the newly remodeled Knight Café.

According to Mlive.com, the Oak Park High School’s athletic department is one of the top 50 athletic programs in the state. Our girl’s Track & Field program has become a perennial power-winning MHSAA Division 1 State Championships six out of last seven years, also garnering three national titles in 2021. The Oak Park football program has 13 players currently competing on the NCAA Division 1-FBS level, which is ranked fourth best in the State of Michigan.

By Sara E. Teller
Photos ©2021 by Bennie White

A DEDICATED STAFF THAT ENJOYS PROVIDING PUBLIC SERVICE

THE FRIENDS OF THE OAK PARK LIBRARY (FOPL) WAS FOUNDED IN THE MID-1950S, just prior to the opening of the Library itself in June 1958.

The purpose of the group is to provide support for the Library by offering a broader understanding of what it offers, as well as soliciting a wider use of it services. In its earliest days, FOPL volunteers went door-to-door asking residents to join or donate funds and materials to help establish the facility that patrons enjoy today.

In 2012, the Oak Park Public Library (OPPL) underwent a remodel and expanded its space, offering residents an even wider selection of products and services in a larger space. The Library currently houses nearly 75,000 books and other materials, and provides the community with enrichment programs including classes, seminars, presentations, and other efforts to promote literacy and reading. It also offers a wide range of technology services, including courses designed to teach web-based skills. The diverse selection of materials available at OPPL represents that of Oak Park’s community-at-large, according to Library Director Kimberly Schaaf.

“The Oak Park Public Library [serves] an amazingly diverse community, and our material collections reflect that,” she said. “We have everything from urban fiction to a Russian language collection. Our setting also makes us unique, as we are located adjacent to a beautiful neighborhood park and our community recreation center.”

Adapting with the times, OPPL now offers patrons quick and simple ways to access the Internet on the go, which is particularly important to residents who are in need of free services that support their busy lives.

“The Library recently started circulating Internet hotspots so people can access the Internet at home or on the go,” said Schaaf. This allows the Library to continue partnering with residents during a time at which many individuals would rather be at home.

She added, “In addition to these hotspots, we also subscribe to Libby, giving residents access to thousands of downloadable e-books and audiobooks.” Patrons looking to attain continuing education credits (CEUs) can access Universal Class through Libby, which offers over 500 courses.

“We also recently purchased a variety of children’s picture books that read out loud to kids,” Schaaf said, speaking to the library’s commitment to offering products and services to all populations. She added, “The Library offers notary service, test proctoring, technology assistance, remote printing, resume review, and study rooms. We have a computer lab and regular events, including author talks, concerts, book clubs, and school readiness” options.

THE OAK PARK PUBLIC LIBRARY IS AN INTEGRAL PART of the community, Schaaf says, because “the goal of all the services and materials we offer is to impact our patrons’ lives in a positive way. Whether it’s helping a person scan a document, find their next favorite book, providing study space, providing access to online resources, or a place for their child to get ready for school, we are here to help people.”

As far as COVID-19 is concerned, while it has negatively impacted the library’s budget, Schaaf prefers to look at the positives. “We are currently operating in a fairly normal capacity with our normal services being offered,” she explained. “COVID-19 did impact our budget in a negative way. [Our overall] revenue has been reduced by COVID due to the many restrictions that were in place last year.” But, she added, “despite the loss of revenue, the Library has and will continue to offer the same level of support, service, and materials.”

FOPL continues to raise funds and attain other support for OPPL and is actively looking for volunteers for educational programs, physical improvements, and to encourage the overall enjoyment of reading. The group now has provided more than $50,000 to maintain operation of the library.

Schaaf said, “The Oak Park Public Library is blessed to have an amazing Friends of the Library organization who supports events, equipment, and material purchases. If anyone is interested in helping the Library, becoming a Friend of the Library member is a great way to do that. In addition, we are always looking for community partners and ways we work together with other organizations to accomplish common goals.”

FOPL meets the second Thursday of each month at 7:00 P.M. in Room 4 of the community center. Anyone hoping to join should download a copy of the membership application online, fill it out, and drop it off at the Library during regular business hours. There are also numerous upcoming and ongoing events in which residents can get involved.

FROM DECEMBER 1, 2021, TO JANUARY 5, 2022, THOSE WHO ARE A PART OF THE OPPL BOOK CLUB will read A Promised Land by former U.S. President Barack Obama, the first of two volumes, and meet to discuss their experiences. Meetings take place from the safety of readers’ homes via a video call on first Wednesday of every month at 6:00 P.M. The Promised Land will include in-depth discussions during a minimum of two sessions.

Patrons can also look forward to Storytime with Mr. Stuart, an ongoing, fun reading program for toddlers through age 6 that occurs on Wednesdays from 10:15 A.M. to 11:00 A.M.

The Library is partnering with local businesses in Oak Park and the surrounding communities and encourages residents to shop at Kroger, which donates a percentage of its profits to FOPL. Residents can also shop online at smile.amazon.com and the company will donate a very small percentage of any Amazon Smile purchase to a charitable organization. Library patrons can select FOPL to support the library at no additional cost.

In general, the OPPL is a small library which fits perfectly with the close-knit feel of Oak Park. Schaaf says, “Readers should know that although we are a small library, we have a very dedicated staff that enjoys providing public service. We look forward to welcoming new members.”

For more information regarding the Friends of the Oak Park Library or the Oak Park Public Library itself, visit OPPL’s page on the City of Oak Park’s website at www.oakparkmi.gov/departments/library/index.php, stop by in person, or call 248.691.7480.

HELLO, THIS IS REGINA WEISS, YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVE. I am a proud resident of Oak Park, and I serve the communities of Berkley, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, and Royal Oak Township in the State House.

I was elected to serve in 2020 and am a member of the House Appropriations Committee. I have been enjoying working for you in Lansing over the past year. Before I was elected, I was a teacher in the Detroit Public Schools system, and a member of the Oak Park City Council.

This year in Lansing, I have been fighting for the people of Oak Park to ensure that your needs are being met. One of my main priorities when advocating for you was securing the necessary funds in the 2022 fiscal year state budget to support public safety, community health, infrastructure, and parks and recreation projects. I voted yes on our budget that did this and much more.

Some of the budget highlights include an allocation of $15 million dollars for lead removal and home repair grants and approximately $2.7 billion in federal supplemental relief funds, including mortgage assistance and home repairs. In addition, there was a five percent increase in higher education and community college operations payments, and the Michigan Reconnect & Futures for Frontliners tuition scholarship programs were fully funded to create opportunities for Michiganders seeking educational advancement. I passionately believe that investing in these programs will benefit all members of our community.

As Minority Vice Chair of the School Aid & Department of Education Subcommittee on Appropriations, I was particularly proud of the K-12 budget that we passed for fiscal year 2022. This budget was historic in many ways it marked the most funding ever allocated for teachers and students in our state’s history and closed the funding gap for the first time ever. The budget also included a large expansion of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), ensuring that all eligible four-year-olds can attend a pre-K program, and increased the funding per-pupil for GSRP to match K-12 at $8,700 per-pupil for the first time.

FOR OUR DISTRICT SPECIFICALLY, I was able to secure funding for Kids Kicking Cancer, a student healing-and-wellness initiative piloted in Oak Park Public Schools. This program will significantly help our children and give them the resources needed to be successful in their everyday lives. I also secured grant funding for the Royal Oak Township Recreation Center.

Another project I have been working on in Lansing is House Bill 5270, which provides districts who have experienced declining enrollment with funding to stabilize their budgets. Many schools have struggled to get kids back in the classroom since the pandemic started, and this has caused less funding to go to those schools, leading to budgetary and staffing uncertainties.

I hope that as an increased number of people are vaccinated and other safety measures are followed, students and parents will feel more comfortable coming back to the classroom. I believe our students are more successful when learning in-person. As a teacher who taught through the pandemic, I did my best and so did my students, but the hours of Zoom instruction do not compare to having students in classrooms. I will make sure to continue fighting for the passage of this bill to ensure schools have the resources needed throughout the duration of the pandemic.

As always, I will continue fighting for you in Lansing. My office phone number is 517-373-0478 and my email is reginaweiss@house.mi.gov. Please reach out to my office with any thoughts you have on legislation or any issues that come up.

By Sara E. Teller

THE BERKLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT IS KNOWN FOR PREPARING STUDENTS FOR SUCCESS from early elementary to beyond high school. The District is highly-ranked in the State of Michigan as well as nationwide, and there are plenty of diverse opportunities for students to excel both academically and in extracurricular activities.

“In the Berkley School District, students are prepared to be creative, curious, confident, well-rounded critical thinkers,” said Jessica Stilger, Director of Communications. “They are kind and caring and have a global perspective while understanding their communities.” She added that the District “is known for [presenting] pathways for students to achieve their individual best, whatever that looks like for each student.”

One of the main reasons Berkley has one of the top districts has to do with the tremendous support from residents. Since its inception in 1840, the District has enjoyed support from everyone, including businesses and families without children attending school. Stilger said, “Berkley’s students enjoy the multitude of experiences and successes because of the overwhelming community support, the fantastic work of their great teachers and administrators, and the rich and vibrant environments that families create. The incredible successes Berkley students experience are possible, in part, because of the support provided at every level.”

STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES

IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, STUDENTS ARE ENCOURAGED to think critically and reach their full potential through out-of-the-box courses in the Cultures of Thinking & Reading program as well as writing workshop models designed to enhance literacy skills and increase comprehension in all subjects.

There are a number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses available in higher grades – 26, in fact. These allow students to extend their knowledge beyond a traditional curriculum. Students also have an opportunity to take classes at the Oakland Schools Technical Centers as well as the Center for Creative Studies & the Arts (CASA). These partnerships allow for additional career exploration that is invaluable post-graduation.

“Classes like zoology, forensics, Encore! show choir, creative writing, film studies, history of the Holocaust, marketing, African-American literature, computer programming and more challenge and engage students,” Stilger explained. “Students can explore robotics, foreign languages, student newspaper opportunities and various music options in middle school. In addition, many middle school students complete high school credits while attending Norup and Anderson.”

Berkley offers a plethora of sports, including softball, baseball, football, basketball, track and field, cross-country, wrestling, swimming, volleyball, golf and tennis. Students can also join clubs like the yearbook team, Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA), Black Perspectives Club, Dungeons & Dragons, gaming club, robotics, and art and drama. The high school, specifically, offers soccer, cheerleading, hockey, figure skating, dance and rugby. Stilger explained, “At the high school level, students are able to join over 50 clubs of varying interests, like Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), GSA, drama club, future teachers and more.”

DISTRICT AWARDS

BERKLEY HAS ACHIEVED MANY AWARDS, including being named Best Community for Music Education for the last ten years by the NAMM Foundation (2012-2021). The District is also among the top 25 school districts in Michigan, according to the 2022 Niche rankings, and Berkley High School was named Best High School by the U.S. News & World Report in 2021, as well as being among the top six percent of high schools in the nation.

In recent years, students have been named All-State and Academic All-State for swimming, baseball, tennis, volleyball, and soccer. Twenty student athletes signed with colleges and universities in the 2020-2021 academic year. The Berkley High School (BHS) Orchestra was one of three high school orchestras nationwide invited to play at Carnegie Hall in 2019 for the World Stride Music Festival. “This was the second trip to Carnegie Hall in four years,” explained Stilger.

The BHS Drama Department produced a musical in Spring 2021 and performed outside to ensure the show would go on despite the Coronavirus pandemic. BHS was also the first school in the state to adopt Sources of Strength, a peer-led wellness program.

“The Berkey School District is incredibly proud of all of its students and the paths they are forging for themselves,” said Stilger, adding, “Families are encouraged to join their school’s support groups to stay involved with their child’s school and education.”

In fact, each school has its own Parent Teacher Association parents can join to have a say in the opportunities offered. Choir, Orchestra, and Instrumental Booster groups support grades 6 through 12, and the Athletic Boosters support high school athletics. The Berkley Education Foundation helps all students in all buildings through teacher innovation grants, student scholarships, elementary enrichment programs, and sending students in eighth grade on college tours.

2021 INITIATIVES

THE BERKLEY COMMUNITY PASSED A SINKING FUND INITIATIVE IN 2018 that was meant to expand upon a 2015 bond initiative to provide funding for school roofing and concrete replacement projects, technology infrastructure improvements, energy and security developments, technology device purchases and more. Most recently, the District has focused this funding on building an addition at Anderson Middle School for a multipurpose and cafeteria space. Construction is slated to be completed soon.

A draft of a new strategic plan is also ready for community feedback. The plan will guide the District’s work for the next three to five years, setting stretch goals for the District as a whole and creating a plan for the administrative team to report on to the Board of Education. “The words inspire, empower, lead, will guide the team through this process,” Stilger explained.

Berkley is continuing to ensure that diversity is at the center of its commitment to students and families. Stilger said, “The School District is committed to keeping diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of its goals by creating an environment where all staff, students and community members feel a sense of belonging. Many diversity, equity and inclusion goals and strategies are embedded in the new strategic plan proposal.” This focus ensures that the District’s core values of lifting up, encouraging, and supporting each and every child is upheld.

“All are welcome in the Berkley schools no matter the color of their skin, who they love, how they identify, if or how they worship, their family income, where they live, what they look like, their abilities or what language they speak,” Stilger said.

Berkley also has a new superintendent, Scott Francis, who was the District’s Director of Teaching, Learning & Technology for four years prior to moving into his most current position in May 2021. Francis was also the principal of Pattengill Elementary from 2014 to 2017.

“Superintendent Francis will spend the first months of his new position building relationships with staff, families, and community members,” Stilger said. “The goal of the conversations and work will be centered around what is best for students and staff, and how the community – along with Superintendent Francis can create a shared vision for the future of Berkley Schools.”

For more information on the Berkley School District, please contact the administrative office at 248-837-8000 or visit www.berkleyschools.org

By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos ©2019 Levegniia Andrusiak

(Pub. Note: Photos are pre-Covid-19. Everyone has been safely masked at Ferndale Schools.)

On March 10th, 2020, voters approved a three-series, $125 million bond to make a significant investment in our educational system. Due to rising property values and expiring debt, this bond was made possible at no tax rate increase to our community.

The bond will allow Ferndale Schools to re-imagine our learning environments to fit the modern educational environment. The classroom structure has changed much and, as the pace of change accelerates, schools are reimagining the spaces where our students learn. These new flexible and adaptable spaces will allow us to build programming which prepares students for a future we cannot yet imagine.

Beyond gaining new educational capacities for our students, this bond will also keep our schools warm, dry, and safe. Energy efficiency and ensuring our students are “warm and dry” inside of their schools isn’t exciting, it’s expected. Upcoming repairs and infrastructure improvements will benefit the long term sustainability of our district. This includes expensive items like roofs and boilers. This new funding stream will safeguard our community’s investment into our facilities.

Ferndale Early Childhood Center

The FECC will add a secured entry vestibule during Phase One of the Bond. In later phases toilet rooms will be added on to each classroom, along with new furniture. The gym and playground spaces will also be redone.

Ferndale Lower Elementary

Perhaps the biggest change this bond will bring to Ferndale Schools will be the construction of a new Lower Elementary school. Our elementary schools are nationally recognized for applying the Whole Child philosophy to support our students with community partnerships, family-involvement, and a supportive school culture. However, our educators are limited by century-old facilities, aging infrastructure, and limited space. To build on this momentum and more fully integrate our forward-thinking education philosophy, we are constructing a new Lower Elementary facility with adaptable learning environments, exceptional energy and security integration, and room to accommodate the newly-established growth trends we are experiencing. This new facility would be built on the site of the Jackson Building, currently the home of Center for Advanced Studies & the Arts (CASA).

Ferndale Upper Elementary

FUEL will also see significant improvements including a new roof, secure entryways, and other facility upgrades. As part of Phase Three, an addition to the current building is also planned to make room for growth and integrate additional modern learning tools.

Ferndale High School & Ferndale Middle School

The largest portion of the bond revenue is being invested into the Ferndale High School & Middle School campus. The compound on Pinecrest will see improvements throughout all three phases of the bond, touching all areas of the facility: safety; classrooms; arts spaces; athletic fields; as well as building-wide infrastructure like roofing, heating, cooling, and more. Starting this summer the FHS pool area will be reconfigured and renovated to remove one of the pools and replace it with a new fitness center and team meeting rooms.

University High School

With the 2012 transition to the Coolidge Building – the newest in the District – UHS is securely warm, dry and safe. Some small changes to improve school identity and general tech are planned up–front. As part of Phases 2 and 3, some site expansion and a parking lot reconstruction will take place.

Tri-County Education Center

The TCEC, currently residing in the Grant Building, will see their improvements begin during Phase 1 of the bond. Due to the age of the facility improvements will be focused on renovating the exterior of the building along with interior work on the HVAC and electrical systems.

Beyond the 2020 Bond Ferndale Schools also recently adopted a new, equity based strategic plan which will run from 2020-2025.

Equity Vision Statement:

At Ferndale Public Schools, we are a school family of continual learners. We support each and every student to develop their purpose, plan, and passion. We encourage and honor dialogue about the histories, cultures, and goals of our communities. We actively and intentionally facilitate equitable access and representation, meaningful participation, and high expectations for all.

• To learn more about the 2020 Bond and all of the changes coming to Ferndale Schools, visit www.ferndaleforward.com

• To learn more about the new strategic plan visit: www.ferndaleschools.org/district/about/strategic-plan

By Sara Teller

THE FERNDALE AREA HAS EVERYTHING FIRST-TIME HOME BUYERS ARE LOOKING FOR – from arts and entertainment, an eclectic array of dining options, and unique shops within walking distance, all centrally located with quick access to the freeway.

As Erica Powers, Mortgage Banker at Level One Bank, explained, it’s a “highly competitive market.” So, it’s important for a buyer to have a knowledgeable team to guide them every step of the way.

Real estate agent Brendan Davis of Jim Shaffer & Associates also knows the area well. “I always tell buyers to have some criteria ready for must-haves and deal breakers,” he said. “A garage, for instance. Or a fence. Make a list and stick to it.” Dan Solomon of Guardian Home Inspections agreed, saying it’s important for buyers to have realistic expectations budget-wise and with what to expect when home shopping. Then, it’s time to focus on financing.

Erica Powers

Powers said, “A good place to start, and an important factor in a home purchase, is how the new payment will fit into your budget. Determine your monthly budget and then set up a time to speak with an experienced mortgage professional to review the many different loan options available before starting your search. Having a budget and the idea of the programs available will help you choose a mortgage option that best suits your short and long-term needs and goals.”

“You don’t want to start looking at places and realize they’re out of your price range, develop unrealistic expectations and get deflated after the fact. Get the pre-approval letter first,” Davis suggested. “It’s important to remember, too, if you’re putting 20 percent down, you also have to account for other costs. Always be prepared to bring more than this to closing.”

POWERS ADDED, “FOR FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS, ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES is saving up for a downpayment. Banks offer a number of programs to help first-time home buyers with lower downpayment requirements.” And, as far as getting pre-approved, the process isn’t as daunting as it may seem at first.

She said, “The best way to set yourself up for success in a competitive market is to get a true pre-approval that has been reviewed by a mortgage underwriter so you can confidently shop in a price range that you’re both personally comfortable with and that you qualify for based on the lending guidelines. A pre-approval that has been reviewed by the underwriter will not only give you the confidence you need to focus on what really matters – finding your new home – but it will strengthen your offer in the eyes of sellers and can dramatically speed up the loan process, getting you into your new home faster.”

First-time home buyers looking in the Ferndale area should be aware that many of the homes were built pre-World War II era. That’s why it’s so important to get the property inspected. Solomon Said, “A home inspector will not only fully inspect a house but should walk you through what that information means to you as you proceed.”

Brendan Davis

Davis added, “There’s some newer ones but, for the most part, these are older homes along the Woodward Corridor. They’re 70 to 80, sometimes 100, years old. Buyers should know what that means.” He offered, as an example, “The sewer pipes, sometimes, are made of clay crock, and they’ll need a camera inspection. This way, there won’t be any surprises.”

HIS TEAM CAN PULL COMPARABLE PROPERTIES IN THE AREA, so buyers have an idea of what homes will appraise for. “I can even tell a buyer if a home is under contract for a certain price,” Davis explained, meaning it may not be listed as a comparable just yet but will be. Jim Shaffer & Associates has the largest team of agents in the area and “our hyper-focus on Woodward Corridor makes us very knowledgeable about Ferndale and surrounding communities,” Davis said. “Buyers should find an agent who is local.”

Solomon said, “Working with a realtor that you have a good relationship with is one of the best things to make the process painless and successful,” and Powers couldn’t agree more.

“Typically, proximity to work, entertainment, good schools, and family and friends are factors that come into play when picking a location for your new home,” she explained. “A realtor who knows the market can help you navigate the location decision by finding you potential homes in the same school district and with great proximity to what’s most important to you. A good realtor can also point out housing trends and may be able to show you the next up and coming neighborhood that fits your needs – or avoid one that’s headed in the opposite direction.”

She added that, while there are a lot of moving parts, buyers shouldn’t forget to have fun. “Don’t get overwhelmed. While the process can be stressful at times, this should be a fun and exciting time. Build your team with a great realtor and mortgage professional so you can stay focused on what matters, be well informed and confident throughout the process.”