Back-to-School: Benton Harbor Area Schools

Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 10:47 AM EDT
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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WNDU) - The proud Tigers of Benton Harbor headed back to school Monday with an interim superintendent and a strong vision. 

Just a few years ago, there was talk of a state takeover and even threats of closing the high school after several years of low test scores and poor graduation rates.

Then came the pandemic, new leadership, and key community investments.

Last year’s graduation rate improved to 92.6 percent largely in part to efforts made by former Superintendent Dr. Andrae Townsel. Dr. Townsel left last month to lead a school system in Maryland.  One of his former principals, Dr. Kelvin Butts, is now serving as the interim superintendent.

“I have some big shoes to fill,” said Dr. Butts. “I just want to make sure that we continue to make the district grow. Continue with those partnerships, we have some great partnerships around. So, it’s a very exciting time for me.”

In February, the district kicked off a five-year strategic plan.

“What we’re now doing is putting benchmarks, dates in place so we can make sure we’re keeping pace with what we’ve set forward,” said Dr. Butts.

Dr. Butts said they are almost fully staffed with better pay for teachers. New hires are being offered an incentive to teach at BHAS.

The recruitment incentive offers $3,000 for certified teachers and $2,000 for non-certified staff. In order to qualify for the full amount, the employee must be a new, first-time district hire this school year that stays for the entire school year.

Returning teachers are seeing pay raises thanks to the school district’s improved financial situation. BHAS are no longer in a deficit.  The first time in a very long time. Dr. Butts says the extra money for teachers is a welcome sight.

“Not only does it incentivize our teachers, it gives them more energy and excitement about being in Benton Harbor. They sacrifice a lot -so it was our due diligence to give back to what their sacrifice is worth,” said Dr. Butts.

Dr. Butts hopes to continue work to improve the facilities throughout the district. One area of continued work is lead mitigation. As the city of Benton Harbor continues work to remove lead service lines in residential areas, the school system will continue efforts to remove lead in school buildings too.

In the meantime…

“We’re still taking mitigation precautions. Bringing in waters water for students to drink. Putting filters on our water fountains just to make sure we add that extra layer of safety and precaution,” said Dr. Butts.

Benton Harbor Area Schools have several areas of career and technical education. The CTE courses featured at BHAS are Construction Trades, Computer System Networking, Culinary Arts, Radio & TV Broadcasting.

One new extra-curricular activity is the new Esports Lab at Benton Harbor High School, thanks in part to a $25,000 investment from Whirlpool.

“We’re working on those 21st century skills, that will allow them to advance in their abilities and get jobs in the future.  It really is holistically looking at what students are interested in. And trying to find pathways to that education,” said Paul Korson, Benton Harbor Area Schools director of Information Services. “There are lots of universities that we’ve been in touch with that are within the region and within the country that are offering large substantial scholarships to be able to play esports for their universities.”

The lab opened in June and their pilot program starts this school year. They’re looking to join a league and they are planning to hold open house game days soon. It’s just one more way, Dr. Butts hopes Benton Harbor students will be inspired to learn and grow.

“We have a lot of competition, so we want our students to be able to get out, be job ready, college ready, and ready to meet the challenges of today’s society,” said Dr. Butts.

Click here for the link to the school and employment opportunities.

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