Boards discuss early college’s end

GLADSTONE — Members of Gladstone and Rapid River’s school boards met to discuss the discontinuation of the districts’ early college programs during a special combined meeting Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced the districts would be required to discontinue early college programs. The programs had previously been put on a probation plan due to multiple infractions and audit findings, and the MDE determined the requirements included in the plan had not been completed in a timely manner. (For a more detailed look at this situation, see related story.)

At Wednesday’s meeting, Gladstone and Rapid River Superintendent Jay Kulbertis apologized to both boards, the people and organizations affected by the programs’ closure.

“The closing of these programs is on me,” Kulbertis said. He noted his leadership may have demonstrated an “over-reliance” on skills that had worked for him in the past, but did not apply in this situation.

Kulbertis said the programs’ closure was due in large part to disagreements between the MDE and himself on how to administer them.

“We clearly were not seeing eye to eye,” he said.

Gladstone Area Schools Board of Education President Linda Howlett said while the programs may not have met the MDE’s requirements, they were created and operated with good intentions.

“I believe that the way that we have operated our program has been with a focus on what’s best for kids,” she said. “In the process of doing that, maybe we didn’t pay as much attention to MDE’s requirements and their rationale for their requirements as we should have.”

While she felt that Kulbertis played a large role in the loss of the early college programs, Howlett also said she was displeased with the MDE’s actions.

“I think that they have been unwilling to give us a chance to have this program succeed,” she said.

Other board members viewed the situation differently. Gladstone Area Schools Board of Education Trustee Steve O’Driscoll said he felt that, in retrospect, the way the program was operated was good for the student body in the short term, but not the long term.

“We never started this program from day one to be in compliance with what the state was asking of an early/middle college,” he said.

He also said all members of both boards should have a full understanding of the situation before corrective action is taken, as well.

“I don’t think this is an isolated incident,” O’Driscoll said.

Rapid River Board of Education Vice President George Kanyuh said that, based on research he had done on organizations including the MDE, Bay College, and the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD), he does not believe that the MDE was in any way difficult to work with on the early college programs.

“MDE bent over backwards to make this work,” he said.

He also said he felt Kulbertis did not do enough to address issues with the early college programs.

“This whole thing was just so preventable,” Kanyuh said.

Members of both boards spoke about what they should do to move forward during Wednesday’s meeting, as well. Kulbertis said he feels the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts can eventually work with the MDE to reinstate the early college programs.

“I do firmly believe that this program can be rebuilt,” he said. “I do think it’s (going to) take some time.”

However, other board members felt it was too early to focus on attempts to revive the program.

“I think that we need to take a much deeper look at how we got here,” O’Driscoll said.

Discussion on Kulbertis and the early college programs will continue with a special meeting of the Gladstone Area Schools Board of Education on Feb. 1. Then, the board will hear a presentation on this subject from DSISD Superintendent Doug Leisenring. Another dual meeting of the Gladstone and Rapid River school boards will be held in the near future.