Early college gains ground in Escanaba

ESCANABA — The Escanaba School Board heard an update on possibly starting an early college program during its regular meeting Monday.

Superintendent Coby Fletcher said he and High School Principal Darci Griebel attended an informational conference in Flint about the reality of implementing an early college program in February.

Fletcher said the state anticipates this to be a good move for not only Escanaba, but also the students impacted by the closure of early college programs in the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts.

In January, the program, which is hosted through Bay College in Escanaba, was halted by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) at Gladstone and Rapid River schools due to multiple infractions and audit findings that were not fixed in a timely manner.

At a Feb. 12 school board meeting, Fletcher said the Escanaba district could implement an early college program as early as the 2019-20 school year.

Following the meeting in Flint, Fletcher said the state officials see no issue with bringing the program to Escanaba and opening it to all students. Students who are eligible include current seniors, juniors and sophomores. Escanaba’s program could also accommodate the students impacted at Rapid River and Gladstone schools.

Fletcher explained current seniors would qualify for the “fifth year” option, which allows students to have a “second senior year” while also obtaining college credit; juniors would qualify for the dual enrolled aspect of the program, as well as the fifth year option; and sophomores would be eligible for it all.

“Things are looking very good on that front,” said Fletcher.

When the state evaluates a district on the effectiveness an early college program would have, Fletcher said it for look things such as students wanting to obtain an associate’s degree, 60 credit hours, or a certificate.

The state funds up to a total of 49 credit hours, noted Fletcher, adding this number will allow the district to break even as far as funding. Any number over that will come from the district’s pocket. The average student takes about 30 credit hours over the course of the program.

In addition to drawing in current Escanaba students, the district could also take in students from Gladstone and Rapid River if they want to continue the early college program.

In order to fully implement the program and as part of the application process, Fletcher said the district would have to adjust its graduation requirement policy and a pre-Labor Day start, as classes for early college students begin earlier than high school.

Graduation adjustments for the early college students would include requiring the fifth year seniors to take college courses while also taking a math or math-related course that can be counted towards high school credit, college credit, or both, noted Fletcher.

The submission deadline for the district application for the program is April 2, explained Fletcher, adding there are informational meetings set up with current seniors to discuss the program and what it all entails. There will also be meetings with parents and students from Rapid River and Gladstone to hammer out details of the addition of those students.

“It’s looking like a good opportunity for our students,” said Fletcher.

In other action, board members approved a donation from the Eskymo Fan Club to update lights in the high school gymnasium. Athletic Director Nick Nolde described the need for new lights, as the current lighting is too dim and in dire need of repair.

Nolde explained new fixtures will be updated to 500 watt LED lights and will offer energy cost savings for the district, as well as brighten the gymnasium.

Three quotes were obtained from local companies for the project, noted Nolde, including NK Electric, Billy Electric, and Kobas Electric.

Nolde recommended that NK Electric be awarded the bid because it offered 500 watt light bulbs, which are more expensive, but better in the long run.

In addition, the company has also devoted time to the school district — including in the gymnasium — and helping with the school’s robotics team, added Nolde.

The total cost of the project is projected at $15,944 and will take about three days to install. Nolde said he hopes to see the new lights installed before graduation this year. The donation was accepted unanimously.

The board also hired a new junior varsity coach and bus driver. Todd A. Milkiewicz was hired as the softball coach, while Thomas R. Jensen was hired as a bus driver. Both motions were approved unanimously. Vice-President Kathleen Jensen did not offer a vote in hiring a bus driver due to a conflict of interest.

The next meeting will take place on Monday, March 19, at the Escanaba Upper Elementary in the courtyard room at 6 p.m.