Students Provide Insight to State Education Leader
by Shaun Byron, Bay City Times, October 2, 2004
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Community High School's progress with troubled and challenged
students has caught the attention of the state's top educator.
Tom Watkins, Michigan's superintendent of public instruction,
visited the Essexville school on Friday to ask the students what
has helped them become successful.
"You'll hear some real pearls of wisdom," Watkins said of
talking to the students. "They'll tell you what works and what
Watkins' visit to the school was in part a friendly one and also
to see what new initiatives Community High School Superintendent
Ryan Donlan had been introducing.
Donlan serves as the chairman of the Michigan Department of
Education's High School Reform Team, which has been traveling
across the country to find successful education programs in
other schools. Donlan has been piloting reform programs at the
school that the team has uncovered elsewhere.
The stop was Watkin's chance to meet students and ask them what
they enjoy most about the high school.
The state official shook hands and greeted almost every student
One of the pearls Watkins was looking for came from 16-year-old
Matt Blair, who he sat down with as Blair studied on a computer
for the Michigan Education Assessment Program, or MEAP, test.
"It's much easier," Blair said of the school, located at 1608
Hudson St. "There aren't as many students, and there isn't a
Blair, who enjoys working on computers, said he hasn't failed
one class since coming to the school more than a year ago.
"During my summer vacation, I would rather be here," he said.
"There are no fights. No one thinks they are better than anyone
else. Everybody is on the same level."
So what is it that makes teenagers like Blair enjoy school so
much and has been attracting the attention of Watkins?
"They are trying to infuse relationships," Watkins said. "They
make them them feel like the adult cares."
It's a combination of a hands-on approach with students who have
faced difficult challenges in their lives, and teaching them the
importance of a strong education, said Donlan.
"We put the function back in dysfunctional," Donlan said. "We
have children of the same folks who came here in the '80s."
With smaller classes, in which instructors can spend more time
with students, teachers get to know them as well as help them
work on the skills needed to bring them up to state education
"We pay close attention to state standards of assessment,"
Donlan said. "We value youths, but we hold them to high
Keeping to the high standards will give the youth in Michigan
something more to hope for as they grow older, Watkins said.
"The state that gets its education right will thrive in the 21st
Century," he said.
Staff at the school recognize that and say forming a bond with
the students is apart of getting them to open up and learn.
"If you could look at my past, I was one of these kids, so it's
really easy to relate with them," said Rick Sochacki, technology
director and federal and state programs director for the school.
Sochacki teaches students computer technology. One of his tech
aides is Blair, who had never really worked on computers before
coming to the school. Now, Blair says he enjoys fixing computers
and learning about them.
For Sochacki, the progress made by students like Blair is the
sign of a job well done.
"It's incredible to see kids come up to, or one step above,
their grade level," he said.
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