Timeline shows why early college program was discontinued

ESCANABA — After the recent announcement the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts would not be able to continue early college programs, representatives of the districts, Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD), and Bay College offered a timeline showing how the end of the program came about.

The Gladstone and Rapid River school districts have been partnering with Bay College over the past few years to offer early college programs. They received permission to conduct the program from the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) in 2014.

“The first group of students came in the fall of 2015,” Bay College President Laura Coleman said.

According to a timeline provided by DSISD Superintendent Doug Leisenring, concerns with the program started to arise by the end of its first year. At that point, people involved with the program found the Gladstone district had failed to officially code 11th grade students participating in their early college program in the Michigan Student Data System (as had been specified in the MDE’s early college guidelines), among other issues.

“We started becoming concerned at the end of the 2015-16 school year,” Leisenring said. He noted the DSISD is responsible for ensuring local school programs meet MDE standards.

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

Dr. Jay Kulbertis, superintendent of the Gladstone and Rapid River school districts, received a list of the conditions in a memo sent by Whiston a few days after the meeting. The conditions included properly coding all 11th graders involved with the program, completing educational development plans and five-year study plans for all students in the program, and discontinuing a practice in which all of the districts’ 11th and 12th grade students were automatically marked as early college students. On July 31, Kulbertis met with Leisenring and Gladstone Area High School Principal Brady Downey to discuss the conditions.

“Dr. Kulbertis and staff members in those districts started working towards meeting those conditions,” Leisenring said.

From October to December, an audit of the efforts made by the districts to comply with the MDE’s conditions took place.

“We found that Gladstone (and Rapid River) had not made sufficient progress meeting those conditions,” Leisenring said. After sharing the results with the MDE, it agreed with the DSISD’s findings and ordered Gladstone and Rapid River to end the early college programs.

Kulbertis took responsibility for the programs’ discontinuation.

“I was the one interpreting the feedback we were getting from (the) MDE,” he said.

He also said he believes he was judging the programs using different standards than the MDE was.

“I think, perhaps, we relied too much on the success of our students as an indicator of the quality of our program,” Kulbertis said.

Coleman said the college was disappointed to learn the Gladstone and Rapid River early college programs would not be continuing. The college were notified by Whiston earlier this month.

“We were saddened for the community, but … especially, we were saddened for the students,” she said.

Kulbertis noted he is pleased students currently involved in the fifth year of the early college program will be able to complete the program.

“That was our highest priority,” he said. He said the Gladstone and Rapid River districts will work with students and parents affected by this change to find other options for continuing their college education. Meetings on the topic will be held for Gladstone students on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. and for Rapid River students on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.

The districts will also continue to offer traditional dual-enrollment programs, and Kulbertis said he hopes to be able to re-introduce early college programs at Gladstone and Rapid River at some point in the future.

Bark River-Harris, which has also been offering an early college program with Bay, will continue to do so. According to a press release issued by the MDE, the department will be working with other nearby districts, such as Escanaba, to establish early college programs there in the near future.

Coleman noted a meeting will be held at Bay College on Feb. 7 for students and their parents. At this meeting, representatives of the college will share information on Bay College and filling out FAFSA forms and scholarship applications. The college will also mail information on the opportunities available at Bay to students affected by the change.

Kulbertis apologized for the loss of Gladstone and Rapid River’s early college programs.

“We’re sincerely sorry, and we regret not being able to make this work,” he said.