Please Join Us…

I would like to invite community members to join our facilities team on Tuesday, May 19, at 6:00pm in the Dowagiac Union High School media center as we share the results of our recent community survey, and the culmination of our two-year community school tours.

The tours, as you may recall, included each elementary building and were led by people most knowledgeable about the building needs. Our former maintenance director, Dave Daniels, and our current maintenance director John Juroff, provided insights into the unique challenges and needs of each building. Administrative and teaching personnel were also present to discuss issues related directly to educating students within our aging school buildings.

After each tour, we collected input, suggestions, concerns and ideas from the many, many community members who attended.  Using the information that our community members provided, we recently developed a survey focusing on the top issues of concern.  We want to thank each and every person who braved the weather, took time out of their busy schedules, and helped us determine just what the community feels is needed for our schools.

Please join us for light refreshments as we share the result of this two-year process in a short presentation, which will wrap up in time to attend the DMS Band concert at 7:00 p.m. at the middle school.

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Thank You!

As most of you know, although I am new to the superintendent position of Dowagiac Schools, I am not new to the district. I have spent many happy years in various capacities in the DUS school system—as an employee and as the proud father of DUS students. I have said before how glad I am to be back at DUS, and with the outpouring of responses to our recent survey, I have been realizing just how fortunate my family and I are to be part of such a great community.

The survey, in case you didn’t hear, is available on our website at www.dowagiacschools.org. We knew we needed a certain number of responses to be “statistically valid,” and even though the survey response window has not yet closed—it is open until April 27—we have had a great turnout.  This means we are not only collecting data that allows us to make informed decisions, but more importantly to me, it means that so many members of our community  are willing to take time out of busy schedules to let us know what is most important.  Survey results will be shared in May.  It is not too late to give us your opinion.

Thank you to those of you who have shared your thoughts and opinions. Dowagiac Union Schools is your district — my job is to help make it everything you want and need it to be.

On Dowagiac!

Student Achievement…Job One!

We’ve been telling you how well our elementary schools are doing, with two of them earning the recognition of being a Reward School. We told you how well our high school is doing, when comparing “apples to apples” across the state by accounting for socioeconomic variables. Now we’d like to share the findings from Bridges, another independent organization.  Dowagiac Union Schools has been ranked as one of the top 12% of all districts in the state.

Much like the Mackinac Center report that ranked DUHS in the top 25% of high schools state-wide (and higher than others in our region), Bridges also measures districts by analyzing major variables.  These variables include income levels and how well students are scoring on standardized tests.  Both the Mackinac Center and Bridges, as independent organizations, are coming from opposite ends of the spectrum politically, which helps us as a district feel confident that these findings are fair and accurate.  Dowagiac is consistently doing very well as a whole.

The Bridges report also breaks down the district scores, as follows:

  • As an elementary education provider, we score in the top 10% in the state
  • For educating students in grades 6-8, we score in the top 13%
  • At the high school level, we score in the top 22%

We are obviously very proud of this ranking, but you might be asking, what does it really mean?

For our students, it means regardless of what grade they are in, they are getting a high-quality education with a diverse socioeconomic environment by highly qualified teachers.

For our parents, it means they can feel confident that our staff are dedicated to supporting the education process in a way that allows this kind of achievement to occur.

For our community members, it means you can share in the tremendous pride we rightfully feel for our schools, and our students. Dowagiac Union Schools is truly united in providing the best educational experience available to students in southwest Michigan.

On Dowagiac!

Success is Success…And all Can Achieve It at DUS

Patfinders Pic

Above:  Pathfinders certified teacher, Lindsay Cyr works with Alyssa Eblin on her online course.

One of the jobs of Dowagiac Union Schools is to service our community.  A great example of this can be found in our Pathfinders Alternative Education High School.  Former students or those just in need of an alternative education setting have an opportunity to become high school graduates at Pathfinders. Pathfinders provides a flexible learning environment and unique opportunities that help students achieve their goal of acquiring that critical high school diploma.

When a student enters the program, the first step is a one-on-one meeting with Pathfinders Director Sara Park, to determine how many credits are needed to complete the program. Then, the student and Mrs. Park work together to come up with a plan that is realistic and works with the student’s schedule and goals. Students can opt to study one subject at a time and focus on that class alone, or students who thrive better with a little variety can mix it up by studying several different classes at once.

With the capability of what is known as a “seat-time waiver”, students also have the option of working on their classes from home. Park says, “We can log in to the online program, and see that the students are working at home and monitor their progress.” For students who are looking for a more traditional educational setting, Pathfinders offers classrooms with enough personal computers for each student, high-speed internet, busing, and lunch, as well as the opportunity for one-on-one instruction from one of the certified staff who is always on site. The curriculum, which conforms to high school-equivalent coursework, it is not easy. “These students work incredibly hard. They know they want a diploma and they really work to make that a reality for themselves” according to Ms. Park.

Pathfinders is proven to be an excellent option for students who for whatever reason were not able to complete a high school education in a traditional setting.  To celebrate that important achievement, Pathfinders students walk, in cap and gown, at a high school graduation ceremony. Regardless of a person’s background, age, race, or income, anyone can earn a high school diploma through Pathfinders.

On Dowagiac!

Creating a Strong Community

Earlier in September I wrote about my beliefs as an educator and school administrator and my philosophy that we are one; students, schools and community all existing dependently.   I believe student achievement is our number one job as educators.  I believe you don’t stop being a DUS student in the summer and we as a school don’t “cut ties” when our students graduate.

Why do I believe these things to be of importance, not only to the school district but also to the community as a whole?   I believe it because the success of our children has a direct impact on the success of our community and a strong community creates strong children.  Preparing our children for their future academically and socially is a large task and takes a large group of individuals with many different talents.

In the area of student achievement, we are having some outstanding successes.  Just a month ago DUHS was ranked higher in the Context and Performance Report Card than any other high school in the county and many other high schools in the area.  In fact, we ranked higher than almost every other high school that borders ours in Berrien or Cass counties.  We make a big deal of this because it is a source of pride not only for the schools but also for the community.  Early in the school year you read or heard about two of our elementary schools being designated by the state as Reward Schools, Patrick Hamilton for the first time and Sister Lakes for the second year in a row.

The relationship between the schools and the community is more than just test scores and rankings though.  We have partnered with groups such as 5-Star at DMS to bring in community mentors and a program to help our students at a difficult age of transition.  We have partnered with BTCU to help our students understand the ins and outs of banking and the importance of saving and finances.  We have  Rotary Interact, a group of high school students dedicated to helping our community by collecting food and performing other civic-minded acts.  We have started the Chieftain Health Scoop Initiative.   Through this endeavor a newsletter and FaceBook page have been developed.  This is an opportunity to share information about the social, emotional and health issues that our students face on a day-to-day basis with parents and guardians.  These parents, guardians and extended families have the greatest impact on the lives of our students.

Another piece of the school-community relationships is the facilities that we provide our students.  Over the upcoming months we will be forming committees to look at needs of the district that have been identified by you, the parents, guardians and community members of the Dowagiac Union School District.  This process began with tours of the school buildings that make up our district and will culminate with a plan of how to address the needs of the district in a realistic and manageable manner.  This is an open invitation to all those interested in having a voice.

Together we make a difference our children’s lives.  Our partnership is strong and getting stronger.

On Dowagiac!

Celebrating Student Achievement

In November of 2014 the Michigan Public High School Context and Performance (CAP) Report Card was released by the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy.  This report compared Michigan high school scores on standardized tests across four years, taking into consideration socioeconomic factors present in the schools, such as average family income and percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.   The Mackinaw Center calls this type of comparison “apples to apples” and provides a comparison of all Michigan high schools based on this student demographic.

In this latest report Dowagiac Union High School received a B grade and was ranked 155 out of 659 high schools in the state.  This ranking places Dowagiac Union High School in the top 25% of all high schools in the state and above other high schools in our area.

We scored higher than the majority of high schools in districts from which we draw school of choice students.  We ranked higher than Niles, Brandywine, Eau Claire, Decatur, Berrien Springs and the three Cass County schools—Edwardsburg, Cass and Marcellus.

This is another example of the great things going on in our schools.  Having two reward schools (Patrick Hamilton and Sister Lakes) and a highly-ranked high school are great accomplishments.  In fact Sister Lakes has been named a Reward School for two consecutive years and DUHS has ranked highest in the county in two consecutive CAP reports.

These successes don’t just happen.  It has been a focused effort on student achievement by students, staff, parents and guardians.  There are a lot of things that go into academic success.   We have quality teachers and a focused curriculum and we strive to provide the best instruction possible.  There is more to it though.  The relationship between schools and parents is also a key part of successful education.  Studies have shown that when parents, guardians and the community as a whole value education, they pass that value down to the children attending school.  It is obvious that Dowagiac values education.

Good things are happening at Dowagiac Union Schools and we need to talk about them.  We need to get the word out.  There is a lot to be proud of.  Thank you staff, students, parents, guardians and community.

Together we are building a bright future for our students and community!

On Dowagiac!

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round…

Dowagiac Union School Bus Drivers

The Dowagiac Union School District is made up of over 170 square miles of land and is populated by over 2340 students, many of whom ride a bus every day back and forth to school.  In fact DUS runs 14 bus routes every day.  Each bus transports on average 55 students between home and school.  The secondary runs are the first of the day as the high school and middle school start times are 7:37 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. respectively.  Once those students are dropped off the buses begin to pick up our elementary students which begin school around 8:45 a.m. give or take a few minutes depending upon the individual building.

In order for our bus routes to run efficiently, most of our drivers begin their day about 5:15 in the morning.   Even before the first child steps on their bus, each bus has to be inspected.  Lights, brakes, tires, etc. are all looked at by the drivers and our mechanic prior to hitting the road.  If it is winter then the buses need to be thawed out and warmed up thoroughly.   During a typical school year our drivers will cover 245,000 miles of road; most of which are two lanes and often poorly lit.

All of our bus drivers are certified through the Michigan Department of Education and go through six hours of recertification classes every other year.  They are required to have a class B CDL (Commercial Driver License) with endorsements in Air Brakes and Pupil Transportation.  They must also pass a Department of Transportation physical.  Our drivers are highly trained and good at what they do.

Bus drivers are the first school employee that many of our students see in the morning.  And after a few routes they know each student by name, know where they live and more about them than you would suspect.  Bus drivers are also the last school employee they see as they get dropped off.  Bus drivers are an important piece in the education of our students and they work hard to set a good tone for the student’s day.

Driving a bus is a challenge and takes concentration, patience and perseverance in order to be successful.  At times there can be up to 75 students sitting behind a driver while traffic and busyness swirl all around the outside.  Ideally the students, while on the bus, keep their hands to themselves, speak appropriately in hushed voices and do their best not to distract the driver.  In cases where this doesn’t happen, drivers must address the issues behind them while focusing on the surroundings ahead of them.  No small task but one that they do very well.

I bring these things up because getting students to school safely, on time and ready to learn is extremely important to student achievement.  The DUS bus drivers do this day in and day out and they do it very well.  I thank them for that.

This article was inspired by a similar piece written by my colleague Tony Habra, Superintendent of Paw Paw Public Schools.