Sharrar promoted to new position

When new Superintendent Chris Timmis was hired on June 12, he said he saw changes right away that he wanted to make in the district administrative structure.

And with an announcement on Dec. 3 that Assistant Principal Mollie Sharrar would be accepting a new position as the Executive Director of Instruction and Strategic Initiatives, Timmis started the first of these changes.

After working as an assistant principal split between the high school and Mill Creek middle school from 2006 to 2007, Sharrar became the principal at Creekside Intermediate school. She worked there full time until 2010, at which time she returned to the high school to once again be an assistant principal.

Throughout her time at the high school, Sharrar has seen her fair share of changes, one of them being the implementation of the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Timmis said he noticed a conflict in the district between supporters of an Advanced Placement curriculum and those who supported the International Baccalaureate curriculum. But in his view, there really shouldn’t be a conflict.

“The way I see it, they’re all smart kids,” Timmis said. “There isn’t a program that works for all students because everyone learns differently, so why not figure out a way to make them both work.”

Such debate between supporters of AP and IB was just one of the factors that has lead Timmis to begin putting together a district instructional support team that he wanted Sharrar to lead.

“There’s nothing more important that we do than teach,” Timmis said. “And right now, we don’t have anyone in charge of that. The whole concept is to have a team that will lead what we do in terms of teaching. There’ll be a team to oversee and manage new initiatives to make sure we get them done.”

Sharrar was on a short list of people Timmis said he considered for the position. He said he met with her to discuss some of the details and sent her a proposal. After he worked with Sharrar to tweak the proposal a bit, he appointed her to the position.

“I looked for strong leaders in key roles,” Timmis said. “I had no need to look outside the district, since we already had her here. Now, I’m most looking forward to putting this instructional support team model into place.”

What most often ends up happening in a school district is that a principal doesn’t necessarily have control of making the changes they want to make happen, happen, Timmis said. His plan is to set up a team so Dexter has the people in place to implement new curriculum, changes and ideas, and implement them well.

But as Sharrar’s influence in the district expands, it means changes for the high school’s administration.

Sharrar, who was in charge of testing at the high school, was part of a three-person team that also included Principal Kit Moran and the other assistant principal, Ken Koenig. And Moran said he’s going to miss Sharrar immensely.

“I have the best team of people on the planet,” Moran said. “We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well. We all kind of do our own thing, so it’s really the three of us in charge, collaborating.”

Moran also said he enjoys working with Sharrar, and has worked with her for five years, so filling her shoes would be no easy task.

“Our new job is to find someone with the skills (Sharrar) has,” Moran said. “Someone who will fit into the team just as she did.”

And find someone they did.

On Jan. 20, the board of education approved former high school teacher consultant Karen Walls as the new assistant principal.

Walls was among 160 applicants for the position and was called back for two rounds of interviews.

“We’re all looking forward to working with her,” Moran said. “Her energy and enthusiasm is fantastic. And so is her knowledge of special education students.”

Although she won’t be moving very far within the building, Walls is just as excited about the new position.

“What was so enticing about this is that as an administrator, I will still stay connected with kids,” Walls said. “I’m not far removed from any of the staff, and I’m looking forward to being able to have a really positive influence. I’m really so thankful to transition with Sharrar, but I know I have big shoes to fill.”

Laurence Carolin's memory lives on through Make-a-Wish Foundation

For those who knew him, Laurence Carolin was someone who put others before himself at all times.  He cared for people, helped others and cheered people up on daily basis.

Carolin died in January 2010 at the age of 15 from a brain tumor which developed in the center of his brain.  When his doctors told him that he didn’t have much time left, however, he didn’t fear death. His attitude was that if it was time to die, it was time to die.

“Some people die sooner than others,” he said at the time.

Accepting death is one of life’s biggest challenges.  Fighting for life is another.  Regardless, Carolin didn’t let his brain tumor stop him from staying positive.

He was offered a wish from the Make-A-Wish foundation and said that he’d like to meet Bono from the band U2. Carolin credited the band’s lyrics as with helping to raise his spirits and keep him positive about his situation.

Make-A-Wish said that they were unable to make the arrangement so Carolin then said that he wanted the $5,000 that was going towards his wish to go towards the UN Foundation.  This act of selflessness is how we should remember him.  He has helped raise over $20,000 dollars in donations to the UN Foundation.

He was truly a one-of-a kind kid.  He is not the average Joe who would just cruise through the day and do everything for himself.  Carolin went out of his way to support and care for the people in his life.  For him it was a priority, not just a side gig.  Carolin is respected because of actions like these.

And one of his most important legacies is Airplane Day, so named because it was the day when the adopted Carolin flew into the United States from South Korea.  Today, the Carolin family still celebrate Airplane Day.  They get together to remember how great the day was and its importance.  They give gifts to each other share stories related to Laurence.

This year’s Airplane Day is going to be celebrated at Foggy Bottom as an awareness/fundraiser/music festival on Saturday, Feb. 22 from 6-10 p.m.  Admission is free, but donations to the United Nations Foundations will be accepted at the door.

If you can’t make it to the celebration, please consider donating to the UN Foundation online at unfoundation.org/

Laurence Carolin inspired more people than I can count.  His strength and fight are what kept him moving forward.  We should follow his example.  We should put others before ourselves and pay it forward.

New bill in the House of Representatives seeks to change teacher evaluation guidelines

House bills 5223 and 5224, which aim to change the standards by which teachers are evaluated, were read in in the House of Representatives on Jan. 22.  These could change goals for teachers beginning as early as next year, but there is still much dispute about whether these changes will be for the best.

These bills would set up a new system for teacher and administrator evaluation in Michigan.  Under the proposed legislation, student growth will comprise at least 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation for the first three years and would increase to at least 50 percent beginning in 2017.  The rest of the evaluation will be based on teacher practice, namely the results of observations.

Additionally, the bills will require schools to set up a mentor system in which teachers with high evaluations are partnered with teachers who are deemed less effective.  While some schools already use a mentor system, the bills propose making it a requirement.

Dexter Education Association President Joseph Romeo, a computer teacher at Dexter High School, said he supports this aspect of the bill.

“Mentors are absolutely critical,” he said.

While the intent of the bill is to provide a concrete measurement for how effective individual teachers are in communicating the material, the fear among many educators is that the emphasis on student growth will shift focus from benefiting the students to simply producing test scores and grades.

“All of our jobs are to prepare (students) for college,” Principal William Moran said.  “I’m disappointed that we’re going to create a situation where teachers aren’t trying to do the best teaching. I want my teachers to focus on teaching the kids that show up every day to the best of their ability.”

Part of the problem, Romeo said, is that all students do not come from similar situations outside of school.  The differences in students’ ability to focus on education outside of school will be reflected in their test scores and, in the new system, in their teachers’ evaluations.

“I would say to understand whether schools are adequately doing their job, we must address (other) issues,” Romeo said. “You would expect … students from higher socioeconomic communities to outperform students from lower socioeconomic communities.”

In order to ease such fears, legislators went to the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness for recommendations on which to base their bill.  This way, educators would be involved in forming the education bills.  Much of the bills are based on these suggestions, but more weight was given to student growth in the bills than was advised by council.

“The (MCEE) recommendation was excellent,” Moran said, despite his qualms about the bills themselves.

According to Moran, the effects of the bills changes in teacher evaluations would primarily be seen when deciding which teachers will be laid off in times of financial strain.  Therefore, the changes would be less evident in districts such as Dexter, where mass layoffs have not yet been a problem.

As these bills are only the most recent in a string of proposed changes to the Michigan educational system, teachers cannot yet be sure what changes will come in the near future.  Moran is not confident, however, that the legal system will produce an ideal system for teachers and students.

He said, “I wish I was more optimistic.”

Dicaprio elevates his game to a new level in "The Wolf of Wall Street"

As most true Americans know, Leonardo Dicaprio is “the man.”  With his great looks, beautiful acting and overall Playboy status, he is one of the most desirable men in America. Man or woman, you would be foolish to not take his hand in marriage.

With his recent track record of acting in such roles as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 release “The Great Gatsby” and “Dominick Cobb” in the 2010 release “Inception,”  Dicaprio had his fan base (all of America) craving more.

The legendary producer Martin Scorsese heard America’s cry and this past December he sent us into the new year with the blessing of Dicaprio’s presence in his film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

The film follows the rise and fall and true story of self-made billionaire Jordan Belfort.  He worked as a stockbroker and pioneered the trade of penny stocks.  Between a twisting series of events including corruption and greed, and a Playboy lifestyle of hard drugs and reckless partying, Belfort’s life spirals out of control.

For the first hour or so the film is extremely captivating, and really funny at times.  Vulgar and sharp humor delivered by supporting cast such as Jonah Hill, keeps the movie fresh.  However, as the plot builds, the movie becomes more stressful.  At about two hours in, I was ready for the movie to end.

There are parts where it could have been tied up and ended perfectly, but there always seemed to be “just one more thing.”  For example Dicaprio’s character is offered a chance to turn himself in, and then another chance to cut a deal with the police and turn his partners in.  Instead he keeps doing what he’s doing and it draws out the movie way too much.  It got to the point where I was exhausted and began to lose interest.

After all, this plot is nothing new.  It’s the same classic concept as in movies like “Scarface,”and “Blow.”  Money and power corrupts;  it’s not the most original of screenplays, but what it does have going for it is that it is a true story.

That being said, it’s still a great movie.  The acting is phenomenal, and it definitely has entertaining parts.  My advice to any viewer would be to just stop watching the movie when you feel like it should be done.

There are countless points throughout, where you could just leave the theatre and be completely content with that “ending.”

Lockdown procedure gets overhaul

During the summer of 2013, Principal Kit Moran and School Liaison Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk decided to implement ALICE lockdown training for the Dexter Community School District in an effort to enforce safer procedures if an intruder were to enter the building.

ALICE, an acronym standing for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate is a critical incident-response training company that specializes in active shooter and violent intruder response strategies. It is more of an active-response training as opposed to what Moran described as the passive-response training that was used previously.

With the new procedures, students and teachers will be instructed differently. For example, if an intruder were to enter near the office door, and students were in the art room on the bottom floor of the opposite side of the building, they would exit the building and get to the next-safest destination.

As for teachers, the training is designed to make them more aware of how to handle a life or death situation if it were happening, as quickly as possible. They’re scheduled to have a first meeting about the new training on Jan. 23.

“Teachers will learn defense tactics like latching the door, blocking the entrance with desks, different kinds of barricades, and essentially anything they can do to slow down the intruder,” Moran said. “Many of these instances only occur in 5-10 minutes, so finding anything to slow an intruder down will save lives. There is a body count for every minute or two it takes for the police to get here. If you can get out of the building, get out of the building.”

It was a training session in August that made it apparent to Moran and Hilobuk that ALICE would be the new lockdown method for the district.

“They reenacted Columbine (the school shooting incident in Colorado in 1999 where 16 people including the two student-gunmen died), and it was scary to say the least,” Moran said. “It was frustrating to watch because there were so many instances where kids lost their lives because they were following an illogical lockdown method, and we don’t want that to happen here.”

However, training didn’t stop there. Moran underwent multiple training sessions to become more accustomed to the ALICE procedures.

“Training entails raise level of awareness,” Moran said. “Showing what ALICE looks like,  going through each letter of ALICE and seeing how we can do that here, with scenarios, and practicing those scenarios in the location where you hide.”

But that’s the milder side of training. It becomes more realistic when the sheriff’s department gets involved.

“Hilobuk comes in with a cap gun and it gets frightening,” Moran said.  “They show us what we used to do, when we hid in a corner and the guy could come in and shoot us.  Then we practiced ALICE, finding ways to slow down the intruder and evacuate as many people as we can to safety.  It’s all very eye opening.”

Moran said he expects to have the school participate in an ALICE lockdown drill during lunch.

“It’s a very unorthodox procedure because students must act on their own judgement and teachers won’t have as much structure and organization over their students,” Moran said.

A large issue lies in the elementary school and how young children will handle a situation like this. Good judgment and critical thinking skills, attributes that are needed for ALICE to be executed successfully, may not be fully developed yet for these children.

“The main thing we want to do is give people options,” said Hilobuk. “One advantage when it comes to the elementary schools is since they’re so close together, if one thing happens at one school, they can take them to the other school.”

Not only can ALICE be applied to the classroom, but also in everyday life.

“It’s good life skills,” Hilobuk said, “you can be aware in other environments too.” It is evident that ALICE is a more effective lockdown method, and while hopefully it is a procedure we will never have to use, we will all be capable of performing it if need be.  As Moran said “ALICE is us fighting back.”