Closed talks held on early college issue

GLADSTONE — Members of the Gladstone Area Schools Board of Education continued discussion about the discontinuation of the district’s early college program during a special meeting Thursday.

In January, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts would have to discontinue early college programs, which they partnered with Bay College to offer. During a special combined meeting of the Gladstone and Rapid River school boards last week, Jay Kulbertis, superintendent of both districts, took responsibility for the closure of the programs.

As it dealt with the possibility of disciplining a current school employee, the majority of the board’s discussion Thursday took place in closed session. During this time, Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD) Superintendent Doug Leisenring shared a timeline of the events which led to the closure of Gladstone and Rapid River’s early college programs. Leisenring has also shared this timeline with the Rapid River Board of Education.

“A lot of what we wanted to do … during our closed session was just get up to speed on some of the

mation that had already been presented to the Rapid River board, as well as some additional information that Mr. Leisenring shared with us,” Board President Linda Howlett said. This additional information had not been publicly disclosed as of Thursday night.

According to the timeline, concerns with the early college program started to arise by the end of its first year. Then, people involved with the program found the Gladstone district had failed to officially

code 11th grade students participating in its early college program in the Michigan Student Data System (as had been specified in the MDE’s early college guidelines), among other issues.

In April 2017, the MDE issued a one-year suspension of Gladstone and Rapid River’s early college programs once further audits found the practice had continued in both districts. In a meeting held in Lansing the following month, State Superintendent Brian Whiston changed the suspension to a warning. Conditions both districts needed to meet to continue offering the early college programs were discussed at this meeting, as well.

Kulbertis received a list of conditions in a memo sent by Whiston a few days after the meeting. They included properly coding all 11th graders involved with the early college programs, completing educational development plans and five-year study plans for all students in the programs, and discontinuing a practice in which all of the districts’ 11th and 12th grade students were automatically marked as early college students.

An audit of the efforts made by the Gladstone and Rapid River districts to comply with the conditions took place from October to December. As the MDE and the DSISD agreed sufficient progress towards meeting the conditions had not been made, the MDE ordered the districts to end the early college programs.

After the closed session ended, Board Treasurer Tom Harrell thanked Leisenring for sharing the timeline with the board.

“I just appreciate the level of detail and content that you brought to us tonight,” he said.

No official decisions were made by the board at Thursday’s meeting. Howlett clarified that students currently in their final year of the early college programs will not be directly affected by the programs’ closure.

“Where we stand right now, as a district, is that the students who graduated high school in May of 2017 who are currently enrolled at Bay College will continue as, basically, what we’re calling ‘grade 13’ or their fifth year,” she said.

However, students in their junior and senior years will not be able to complete the programs in the Gladstone and Rapid River districts.

“(It) is no longer going to be available,” Howlett said. The districts will continue to offer dual enrollment.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled to take place on Feb. 19.