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.”