Superintendent Taps Energy of Model School
by Sam Tricomo, Birmingham & Bloomfield Eccentric,
October 3, 2004
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A meeting with
the front line troops in West Bloomfield served as an energy
booster for Michigan's head of public schools Monday.
Tom Watkins, state superintendent of public education, spent
most of Monday at the Bloomfield Hills Public School's Model
High School to find out what teachers and students believe is
important in education.
"This is a great way for me to be able to re-energize myself,"
Watkins said. "The students and teachers really provided some
thoughtful and helpful insights and it's just great to be able
to see the kind of enthusiasm and passion for learning in
In recent weeks, headlines regarding public education have
focused on funding and the news hasn't been good.
Even wealthier districts like Bloomfield Hills have had to go to
voters for additional money to pay for things like roof repairs
while still maintaining small class sizes and advanced programs.
That's where Model High School fits in.
In 1989, The Bloomfield Hills Schools Board of Education
released three teachers from their classrooms for one year so
that they could create a school of choice.
This team - Shannon Flumerfelt, Cindy Boughner and Elizabeth
Gibbs - accepted the board's charge to explore how education can
best prepare students of this generation for the future they
In January 1990, the board of education approved the initial
design of MHS and authorized five years of operation. By May, a
faculty was in place. The faculty worked all summer to prepare
to launch the program in the fall of 1990 with ninth- through
Model High School was created with an organizational structure
that put students on a nearly equal level with educators and
created close relationships between the two.
Those close relationships manifest in things like teachers
personalizing educational lessons and goals to individual
students - an element that most students meeting with Watkins
said was priceless.
"Since we are so small, we are able to get a lot of one-on-one
with the teachers," junior Elyse Krausmann said.
The school developed a series of course pairings: Adventure
English (English and ropes course training); Photo, Prints,
Prose Poems (creative writing and art_bookmaking);
Bioregionalism (economics and geography); and Futuring (looking
at the future trends in a particular subject area).
On Wednesday, all classes at Model meet with other classes
meeting on an odd_even scheduling. On off-days, students attend
their home high school.
Krausmann attends Lahser on non-Model days and says the
individual attention teachers are able to give at the choice
school helps her to learn in many ways.
"Teachers have the time to figure out how to address things like
disruptive students. In a larger class everyone might think the
student cracking jokes or throwing paper is just being a jerk,
but here if something like that were to happen it would be
likely the teacher would try to find out what is troubling the
student. They might find out that they are frustrated and need
to be approached in a different manner," Krausmann said.
Model, with its unique curriculum, leaves academic mandates like
standardized tests to the home schools.
For students, that's a relief.
"Standardized tests are important and if a student doesn't do
well on them that's something they have to train themselves to
do, but you also need to go in your own direction," senior
Robert Chandler said. "That's important before you end up in
college. It seems like in education all of your classes prepare
you to go to war, but none of them let you know what you are
Chandler said even simple differences at Model like its layout
and atmosphere help to create a better learning environment than
a typical high school. Things like indirect lighting and a
different use of interior materials like carpeting help to
create a different environment than the institutional one at
most high schools.
Watkins ran his meeting with students and faculty as more of a
casual discussion group and said he was impressed with the level
of candor students exhibited.
Andover senior Kasie Gorosh told Watkins that Model High School
is a good place to find teachers that remain passionate about
"In every school you can find teachers who really shouldn't be
teaching anymore. It seems like most of the teachers here are
really passionate about what they do," Gorosh said.
Still, both Watkins and Bloomfield Hills Supt. Steve Gaynor said
they realized that not all districts can afford to devote
resources and energy to components like Model High School.
"The reality is that other districts have programs they are
proud of, but we can't pretend that money doesn't play a role,"
Gaynor said. "Basically, this district can devote itself to
programs like this and it's really a tragedy that based on where
they live, some students do not have access to something like
Model High School."
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