By Angelo Parlove
June 16 was it – the last day of school at Saline Area Schools.
“It is an exiting time of the year,” Superintendent Scot Graden said at the school board meeting June 13, days before the students and staff wrapped up the year. “The faculty and staff are finishing strong. There is a lot of energy in the buildings at this point.”
The 2016-2017 school year brought significant changes to the staff at the district. Overall, 33 new teachers were hired the previous summer, representing over 10 percent of the teaching staff. The district continued to hire right up to the start of the year, with two teachers beginning their first day on Sept. 19.
The district also said their goodbyes to five educators, in which June 16 was their permanent last day of school. Charles Couasnon (art teacher – Harvest), Lori LaBoe (teacher – Heritage), Kathy Ringel (teacher – Pleasant Ridge), Betsy Marl (teacher – Woodland Meadows) and Dianne Gotelaere (paraeducator – Pleasant Ridge) all retired following the school year.
Marl boasted 40 years in the district.
“It’s a little bit of a bittersweet thing, because we are very, very happy for them and wish them very well, but we also are losing some people who have been absolutely integral to the operation of our school district for the last several years,” said Curt Ellis, assistant superintendent of human resources.
The district recognized the departing educators at the board meeting at Saline City Hall June 13, with Ellis presenting each with a plague for their dedicated service. “I can assure you we are very, very glad these five individuals have been with us for a while now,” Ellis added.
The 2016-2017 year also saw significant shuffling at the administrative level, with district personnel being reassigned to take over the principal posts in four buildings – high school (David Raft), middle school (Brad Bezeau), Heritage School (Laura Washington) and Pleasant Ridge Elementary (Kevin Musson).
“I would like to thank the administration for getting us through the school year. We had a lot of changes at the building levels this year, and that all seemed to go real well,” School Board President Tim Austin said. “It was a really good year.”
As the kids were looking to rush out the school doors in just a few days, Board Member Paul Hynek gave some last minute summer advice for the students. “I hope everyone takes this summer to decompress from the school year, and does some mindfulness training and stuff instead of taking classes during the summer,” Hynek said in jest. “Just tossing that out.”
Saline Area Schools now transitions to the summer bond work that will be completed over the upcoming months, ahead of the kids returning for the first day of the new school year September 5.
“The pace of our conversations and our meetings with our contractors and bonds have greatly increased, so I applaud [Director of Operations] Rex Clary and his crew,” Graden said. “We’re in crunch time, and they have multiple communications per day on a variety of fronts.”
The district expects to complete another $13 million in projects over the summer as part of the $67.5 million bond proposal that was passed by voters in November 2015. While construction will touch every building, the bulk of the work will center on the middle school, high school and Liberty School in 2017.
“We are so far in front of where we were at last year with the bidding process,” Graden said at the board meeting. “The reality is the workload we anticipated last year is the same, and is certainly hitting us this week.”
Liberty will get a secure main entrance and overhaul of the board room to improve the environment for meetings and other community gatherings. The building will also see the remodeling of community ed and the front area of the central administrative office, which will have a kiosk for online enrolling.
Further, the construction will make room for Pooh Corner to be relocated to Liberty at the end of summer and include a new playground. The alternative high school and young adult program will also see significant upgrades.
Construction work at the middle school will include the redesign of the media center, featuring new collaborative spaces with flexible learning environments and furnishing for easy movement and rearranging, as well as skylights for natural daylight.
“The media center will be one of the main focuses this summer,” Clary said. “This will be a showcase piece when its done. I am really looking forward to what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.”
The high school will see a new secure vestibule, added video surveillance and LED lighting in the pool, commons and corridor, while the site work will include a crosswalk from the high school to Harvest for connecting students.