New superintendent hosts community conversation

On Dec. 5, new Superintendent Christopher Timmis held a meeting attended by seven Dexter citizens. Timmis held this open meeting with the community to address community concerns regarding the school district. His said his purpose was to figure out where the school system lies within the community and find a long-term way to success. Timmis organized the meeting like a question and answer interview with 10 questions he had for the community. Below are his questions and the community answers, summarized as bullet points.

What are we most proud of with Dexter Schools?

•The strong sense of community within the school system.

•The accomplishments throughout the schools.

•We are equal to or surpassed the success and accomplishments of other schools.

•The growth that the school has seen.

•The strong extracurricular activities.

What are we least proud of with Dexter Schools?

•Needs to be more effort with communication between building to building.

•Keep everyone on the same schedule and calendar to avoid confusion.

•We can expect more and set the bar higher.

What do we need to start doing?

•Have an eye on the next step for the student.

•Need to challenge kids to do more and better.

•Learn to not forget about the kids that are in the average category.

•We need to not be settled with mediocrity.

•Make the transitions for kids easier from school to school.

What should we stop doing?

•Nothing was stated.

What is our greatest strength?

•The faculty is caring and dedicated.

•People are often on top of things throughout the school and make sure certain things get done.

•The staff and students often go the extra step to help others.

What is our greatest weakness?

•Need more money to help those who need it.

•Need to compete more for state funding.

As a superintendent, what do you need from me?

•Be strong, consistent, a leader, and keep working on the little things.

•Address problems that need focus.

What can I expect from the parents?

•Support

•Communication

•Help

Teacher receives early holiday gift from fellow union members

When a teacher needed the help of the community as they faced an unexpected situation where personal sick days were not enough to cover an increasing need for absences, fellow members of the teachers’ union came to his rescue.

“Teachers in Dexter Schools are lucky to have a strong union, the Dexter Education Association,” the teacher, who asked that we not use his name, said. “They support teachers in a variety of ways such as advocating for our positions, securing reasonable salaries and benefits, and ensuring a safe working environment. When I unexpectedly needed to take a leave of absence, the DEA stepped forward and offered to help me by donating sick days. I did not request the days; they were an unsolicited gift. I am tremendously grateful for the compassionate generosity of my colleagues.”

However, this process of teachers donating their extra sick days to fellow teachers in need is not covered by the union contract, meaning it is not a process that is guaranteed or regulated by the school.

“The contracts are silent regarding loans of days from one employee to another,” Superintendent Chris Timmis said. “Occasionally, a situation arises where we need to look outside of contracts and do the right thing.”

DEA President Joe Romeo said he appreciates Timmis’ willingness to work with the union on this issue while he and other members of the union facilitate the process of aiding teachers in such situations.

Romeo said that once a need is brought to the table, DEA officials discuss the situation with the administration to determine how to help the individual. After this, they let the members of the DEA know—always anonymously to protect privacy— that there is someone in need.

When the help offered is in the form of a donation of days, Romeo said that he records the members volunteering to donate their extra sick days. After this, Romeo said that he checks with the superintendent’s office to make sure that the donors have enough sick days of their own.

Once this is done, Romeo arranges the list of donors by order of most sick days. He then takes one sick day from the teacher with the most days to give and then goes down the list in that order. This goes on until either he runs out of donors or enough days have been donated.

This process, however, is not a new one. There have been two such cases this year already along with numerous cases in years past.

“We have done this several times over the last dozen or so years,” Romeo said. “Although we have also experienced times lasting as long as five or six years when nobody has needed such help.”

All things considered, facilitating uncontracted aid is not an easy task, according to Romeo, and he is thankful for the extra administrative support as is the leadership of the DEA.

In a prepared statement, they wrote, “We appreciate the efforts of our superintendent to facilitate our members’ attempts to help other members who are experiencing unusual and unforeseen health difficulties. Also, the efforts of the district human resources department has been necessary for us to be able to provide the kind of help most needed in times that can feel overwhelming to someone experiencing a major unexpected health problem.”

And the DEA isn’t the only one giving thanks this time of year. The teacher who was aided is thankful as well.

He said, “Thanksgiving has extra meaning for me this year thanks to the wonderful staff of Dexter Schools, our DEA officers and Superintendent Timmis.”

 

asking.for trouble

Being called “slut,” “whore,” and pregnant have lead senior Eden Krull to completely delete all posts off her ask.fm wall. She has now been off of the site for over a month.

“I think it’s dumb,” she said of ask.fm. “But I don’t give a crap about (the things that were said about me) because it was anonymous. It was probably just one or two people who don’t like me.”

Ask.fm, a social media website which was launched on June 16, 2010, allows people to ask anonymous questions to each other. Users can then answer questions that they have been asked of them. These answers then become viewable to the public.

Questions can also be asked to a specific person with the option of anonymity, but all of the user’s followers can view the question and the answers to it.

The anonymous nature of the site seems to be the problem according to Assistant Principal Ken Koenig.

“The problems are not constant,” Koenig said. “They just tend to pop up. In general, they mostly come up at the beginning of the school year. People have less time to be directly social so the turn to social media.”

As for counselor Craig Rafail, “Ask.fm is the latest edition of of social media that is used for inappropriate conversation. For ask.fm users, they know bullying is a part of it. So the question is why sign up for an account?”

Krull says that she chose to get an account because “everyone did it and I thought it would be a good idea.”

After using the site for only 2 weeks Krull says she no longer accesses her account although she has not deleted it. “It was not worth it to get it originally. It is so dumb, I don’t even know why that site exists.”

According to Rafail this is the right thing to do.  In fact, he said if a student signs up for an ask.fm account, they are “accepting and participating in the bullying.”

“You have to block them or shut it down,” he said of bullies on sites such as ask.fm. “It creates situational depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. A trend coming from mental health professionals is recommending you don’t get an account like this.”

Koenig agrees and said he wishes students would realize that they do not have to respond to what is asked to them. They can simply ignore or delete the questions or comments which were directed towards them if they are inappropriate. They they will not go public thus avoiding the problem.

“The issue with the bullying lies in the maturity level of the people on the social media site, both the people who are putting out the mean comments and those that are letting them appear on their profile,” Koenig said. “They need to just use good judgement and not get themselves into potentially bad situations.”

Even with all of the problems surrounding the site, there are still many students who continue to use it such as junior Kimi Camara. Camara said one of the main things that appeals to him about the site is the ability to look at other people’s drama from the outside.

“I check (the site) a couple of times a day,” he said. “I think it is fun to watch what people ask each other questions because it’s funny. The site is intense. People really go hard, and I enjoy being a spectator to that.”

People who do this are a major part of the problem in Rafail’s opinion, “Ask.fm users know bullying is a part of it. (They) let the bullies be heard.”

But according to Businessweek.com, the approximately 60 million users on ask.fm will have to adapt to changes that have been made to the site. Ask.fm recently released an update which makes it easier to report inappropriate behavior as well as allow users to opt out of receiving anonymous questions. They would then only receive questions when the questioner identifies themselves.

Businessweek.com also reported that these changes are in response to the suicide of a  British teenager who had a lot of messages directed toward him in a negative manner. A statement on the blog Techcrunch reported that ask.fm is going to hire more staff in order to try to monitor and stop problems with bullying on this site.

Following these changes Krull says, “Nobody uses it anymore, It’s already dying so it won’t last much longer.”

As for anybody who is thinking of getting an ask.fm in the future Krull says, “Don’t do it because it’s dumb and it’s a pathway for bullying.”

Murals cause controversy

Senior Maitreya Menge stood in the hall, paintbrush in hand.  She got ready to pour herself out, expressing the subjects nearest to her heart.  With the first stroke of her paint brush, Menge started a conflict that she couldn’t have seen coming.

“I was told to paint a mural that meant something to me, something that I cared about, and that’s just what I did,” Menge said.

Murals have lined the walls of the school for years.  They are created as a part of the “Drawing and Painting” class taught by art teacher Autumn Campbell.  Student artists like Menge take this as an opportunity to share their artwork in a public space with the rest of the school.

Before the designs are finalized and painted, they are sent to Principal Kit Moran, who ultimately approves or denies them.  Moran said he has not turned down a single mural idea.

“As long as the content doesn’t make a personal attack on a certain group or student or causes a disturbance to the school day, then I generally will allow it,” he said.

But sometimes self-expression, though deemed not offensive by administration, can cause problems with the beliefs of other students or faculty.

But with thousands of students passing through the school each year, it’s inevitable that some controversial mural ideas would collide with the views and beliefs of certain students, even if they are principal-approved.

Last year, Menge themed her murals around the subject of transgenderism.

“It’s really the idea that most people don’t recognize the struggles of transgenderism,” Menge said.

Her mural features characters with word bubbles surrounding their heads containing words such as “who,” “him,” “she,” “it” and “her,” etc.–making a statement about the characters’ sexuality.

But almost as soon as these murals appeared a concerned student contacted Principal Kit Moran, outraged.  This student agreed to be interviewed for the story only if The Squall didn’t use her name.

“It is my personal belief that the mural showing a transgender’s struggle is not appropriate for the walls of our school,” she said. “In general, I enjoy the art murals in the school. However, I believe that they should not have any subject matter that promotes certain views one way or another.”

She said that although she knows public schools aren’t allowed to promote religious beliefs, she thinks that schools also shouldn’t be able to promote ideas that oppose these religious beliefs either.

But for Menge, the murals weren’t about promoting a certain idea. Instead, she was focused on educating people.

“I did not foresee people being upset about the mural,” she said. “I’m not trying to influence anyone to think a certain way, but rather to shed light on a subject that is generally ignored.”

Several meetings were held between the concerned student and Moran, but in the end, Moran made the decision to leave the murals up.

“The student has a right to express themselves,” Moran said. “All murals are signed and dated. The content does not necessarily express the school’s views, but rather the views of the artist. We have to learn to respect that other people have different views and opinions.”

 

Freshman house changes frustrate teachers

Freshmen house was created four years ago to make an 8th grader’s transition to high school a little bit easier.  Now a senior, Sarah Griffith said she still remembers her freshman experience and how Freshman House helped her.

“I really liked that we had the same teachers all year long,” she said.  “And what I remember most is the freshman house war we had between two teams.”

Creating a smooth transition socially as well as academically was a goal of the freshmen house.  Team bonding– like the team “war” Griffith experienced– allows for freshmen to get familiar with their peers and not feel intimidated entering a school with twice the number of students compared to middle school.

The academic component is vital according to Principal Kit Moran.

“Our goal for high school is for you to graduate 12th grade ready to go to Harvard,”  Moran said.

But due to a smaller freshman class and budget cuts, there are fewer freshmen house teachers this year, meaning there aren’t well defined “teams” like there have been previous years, leading to frustration among freshman house teachers.

“The changes made this year were due to a very small freshman population,” freshmen house Earth Science teacher Beau Kimmey said.  “One of the teams had to be reduced down to three teachers, and it ended up messing up the American Studies blocks.”

The first year freshmen house was implemented, there were three teams of four teachers with two math teachers shared among the three teams.  This year the block sessions like the American Studies block which includes English and social studies, have been broken apart.  Now freshmen also travel between teams for science as well as math.

For example, teachers Ryan Baese and Andrew Parker used to work together by opening up the walls between their classrooms and having a two-hour, or “blocked” class period.  Now the American Studies block session is replaced by two separate classes, one English and one American History.

This changed the whole premise of freshmen house–of belonging to a smaller community within the big high school.

“The idea of freshman house where you belong to a certain team has fallen apart this year,” Kimmey said.

And this new version of freshmen house may result in lower freshman academic success according to Moran.

He said students who are failing classes during high school fail most in freshman year.  The concept of the original freshmen house was to prepare these students better and intervene early to avoid such failures.

“A lot of kids come in and they’re not ready. They don’t do homework. They’re not organized. They don’t see the value of it,” he said.

And the house concept seemed to work, according to Kimmey.

The class of 2014 was the first class that went through the freshmen house, and they had some of the highest standardized test scores on record for Dexter.

“We know that the freshman house at least helped a little bit because the class of ‘14 had the highest MME scores in science Dexter’s ever had,” Kimmey said.  “Something that was going on caused the scores to be higher.”

So despite the changes to the house and potential to impact student learning, Moran said he and other administrators will still work to make the transition into high school a positive one.

“We are bringing you in, 9th grade, from middle school and there is a big change that needs to happen between the first day of 9th grade and the last day of 12th grade, we have to deal with that 9th grade,” he said.  “Ninth grade is the most important grade–behind senior year of course.”

Local car wash makes its return

When Dexter was hit by a tornado on March 12, 2012, hundreds of homes and businesses were left damaged, and the town was scarred by the disaster but ultimately thankful for minimal injuries and no casualties.

A little more than a year later, much of the damage has been restored as many businesses and families have gotten back on their feet. One of the testimonies to this recovery is the reconstruction of the village car wash.

At the corner of Second Street and Central Street, the Village Car Wash and Laundry owns three separate buildings, including a car wash, laundromat and a small management building. Each of these buildings together have served as a landmark in the Dexter area since 1970, the year that the company was founded.

Its long history, however, was threatened when the winds from the EF-3 tornado struck. During the windstorm, the car wash served as a protective hiding place for several stranded travelers, but the structure itself did not fare as well as its inhabitants.

According to owner Pete Caffrey, “The tornado descended upon (the car wash) and blew certain portions of the roof off and one of the walls caved in. All three of the buildings were totaled.”

Despite this natural disaster, Pete and his wife Cheryl did not lose hope in their business. Wanting to rebuild from the ground up, the Caffreys sought insurance to recover their losses.

“We wish they had (covered everything), but we had to fight them tooth and nail for them to cover about two thirds of the costs,” Pete said.

Now, as the business has been completely rebuilt and refurbished with new equipment, the owners have a great outlook on the business. The owners hope that this will lead to better business and said that the reconstruction is a symbol of the town’s recovery from the tornado that hit a little more than a year ago.“We’re definitely excited, it’s all brand new, easier to keep up,” Pete said. “The car wash has much better lighting, the equipment has all been revamped and is better for the customers to use.”

Cornerstone gym closes, others provide alternate

As Dexter grows it gains more businesses that allow it to transform from a village to a city. And as the demand for exercise grows the exercise businesses in town do too. Many citizens in Dexter have memberships to SNAP fitness and the Dexter Wellness Center, both of which have their own positives and negatives said frequent members.

The newest of the three is the Dexter Wellness Center. The Wellness Center which opened June 1 has many forms of fitness to offer.

In the gym there is an indoor walking/running track, ellipticals, treadmills, bikes, and other cardiovascular machines, free-weight training equipment, a lap swimming pool, warm water therapy pool, a basketball court, an outdoor sand volleyball court and locker rooms with showers and saunas.

Along with the new equipment, the Dexter Wellness Center offers classes for those who prefer to work in groups. Some of the classes it offers include aquatics, yoga and pilates, private swim lessons and group exercises. It also offers massage therapy.

Another benefit to the Dexter Wellness Center is the childcare they offer for those parents who need someone to take care of their kid while they focus on a strong workout for themselves. The gym offers a variety of memberships for individuals, seniors, couples and families.

Although the gym has a lot to offer, it can be pricey and not everyone can afford the luxury of the new Wellness center says senior Evan Morrison who was a member at the Wellness Center.

“I love how extravagant the Wellness Center is, but I just didn’t use my membership enough for the cost. Maybe if I went more it would have been worth it,” he said.

Another facility for working out is Snap Fitness. Located in the heart of Dexter,  it’s open 24/7 so a person can access the gym when it suits them best. With similar workout equipment to the Wellness Center, Snap also has its positives and negatives says senior Garret Weng a member at Snap.

Snap Fitness always being open is convenient, but that’s not always a good thing. During late hours there isn’t a consultant or trainer there to help Weng said.

Senior Katherine D’Angelo said sees both places as having their niche.

She said, “They’re both good because Snap is open all the time, and The Wellness Center has a lot of options. They’re both convenient depending on your situation.”

New superintendent comes from Adrian

He smiled, shook hands with the Board of Education, embraced his wife. He had been offered–and had accepted immediately–the career opportunity that he felt he could work until retirement.

On June 12, the Dexter Community Schools hired Dr. Chris Timmis as the new district superintendent.

The position was vacated after Mary Marshall, Dexter’s superintendent of three years, left for a job at Pentwater Public Schools. Dennis Desmarais then filled in as interim superintendent until the Board of Education hired Timmis.

“I was extremely excited and continue to be quite excited by this new opportunity,” Timmis said.

Timmis, who worked as the superintendent for Adrian Public Schools before coming to Dexter, said he was drawn to the district because of its huge potential.

“There are opportunities here to take a really outstanding school district and make it one of the best school districts in the country,” he said. “This is a school district that could do it.”

Timmis said he was confident in Dexter’s ability to become the best because of the success he had at Adrian.

Much of this success was oriented around establishing programs for the students. From an interactive virtual school–which allows students to work from anywhere at anytime–to sending students to sister schools Japan and Germany to learn about the culture, Timmis said he has tried to expand the learning environment of students.

These achievements have inspired Timmis concerning Dexter’s future.

“I look at what we were able to do at Adrian, and I think about what the potential here at Dexter is,” he said. “There isn’t a ceiling for what can happen.”

And the first step for Timmis is to create a strategic plan for the district, something that will determine what direction Dexter’s future is heading.

To do this, he said he will spend the first 120 days of school meeting with different groups to get their opinions on the condition of the district, culminating in Timmis releasing a “State of the District” sometime in January.

And the most important part of his job is paying attention to the needs of the community, according to Timmis.

“There is an infinite amount of things you can do in a school system to make it an even more attractive school system to students and parents, and it just has to be whatever the community wants it to be,” he said. “As soon as you get that bold vision, that plan, my job is to get us there.”