Parent’s Playbook: Benton Harbor

Published: Aug. 18, 2020 at 6:26 PM EDT
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August 31 is the start date for Benton Harbor Area Schools, and Dr. Andre Townsel joins us now for our Parent's Playbook. Good to see you, sir.

Dr. Townsel: Thank you so much, very good to see you as well.

Tricia: You just wrapped up in-person, outdoor summer school how many kids participated? How did it go and did everyone stay healthy?

Dr. Townsel: Oh my God, great question. We had dozens of students participate at multiple campuses. Yes, everyone was extremely healthy, we had social distancing guidelines in place. Sanitization in place. Hydration in place, and it was done outside and in-person that was absolutely phenomenal, a major, major shout out to our teachers and educators who led the way and thank you to our parents for trusting the process and allowing us to educate their kids in person to help close that achievement gap that's often in place over the summer.

Tricia: Oh, absolutely. It's something very positive and successful to start you school year off with. Now, there has been a strong recruitment push in Benton Harbor. How are your numbers looking?

Dr. Townsel: Listen, our numbers are looking absolutely phenomenal. I've had parents call me personally, and say listen, Dr Townsel, we trust and believe in the vision. We're bringing our kids back to Benton Harbor area schools. As you know, we put 10 billboards, all over the city and neighboring areas of Benton Harbor area schools asking our young people to come back, roaring, and they're coming back in major numbers. Now traditionally we lose about 100 students per year, but with this recruitment push, we're looking to cut that number in half and in fact, also not lose 100 students and actually gain students, over the years, so we're excited. Let me just give you a little small fact, we have about 3000 students that choose to go to other school districts outside of Benton Harbor Area School. We want to earn our young people back, we're talking $24 million going elsewhere, and if we do what we're supposed to do, we're confident that we are bringing our young people back and give them a world class educational experience.

Tricia: Tiger strong, I like it. All right. How are your staffing numbers are you fully staffed at this point?

Dr. Townsel: Let me give you a drumroll. Zero vacancies. Zero vacancies every last one of our teaching jobs are filled with fully certified teachers, and this has not been the case for multiple years in Benton Harbor area schools. We're so excited when we were able to announce that we had no vacancies. Last year at this time I think we had about 40 to 50 vacancies. But that's not the case this year. We're so excited about the people that chose to join Benton Harbor area schools, and to do some good work for our young people so we're very excited about that. Thanks for asking.

Tricia: Well, we are excited for those positive things to talk about. But we also have to talk about the pandemic and what that is created some difficulties for school systems. So what are the current learning options for families in Benton Harbor?

Dr. Townsel: Now we surveyed, teachers, parents, students, all of the major stakeholders in the Benton Harbor area schools, community. And what we found is that we had a lot of people that said hey look, we don't know we don't want to come back to school. About a third, a third and a third -don't want to come to school, want to come to school full tilt, wants some type of hybrid option. Well, we decided looking at all the data, looking at data in the state of Michigan in the Southwest Michigan region, and also listening to the leadership in our governor's office, we decided that our high school is coming back for the first quarter of the first nine weeks of school 100% virtually. That's the best option for high school students. Now, we listened to our pre K through eighth parents and students and teachers and what we're going to do on that level, we have two options. The first option is instructional waves- the am and a pm schedule. For example, if I have an am schedule the expectation is that I come to school in the morning, have lunch, go home, complete online. And the second wave of students come in. The student with the pm schedule, the expectation is during the am they're home working online, they come to school, have lunch and have their pm in person learning. Now, that is the option A. Now there is a second option proposed. For those parents who do not want our young people coming back to school and they have to register and opt into the online virtual program, which keeps them, you know, no in-person learning but as safe as possible, quarantined at home, learning. That's what we have going into the new year. It's unprecedented. It's the best decision with the data that we have and that's what we're going to do, what we're going to be successful and execute.

Tricia: Dr Townsel, thank you for your time this morning and best wishes as you get back to school.

Dr. Townsel: Thank you so much for the opportunity. Stay safe.

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