chief finds positive things happening in Wayne-Westland
by Sue Mason,
HomeTown Communications Network, January 30, 2003
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Tom Watkins may want to keep a date open on his calendar this
From the looks on Pat Colligan's third-graders, he'll be
buying the pizza for a party for their 100 percent mastering
of multiplication tables through the number nine.
That was the deal the state's top educator made with the
Schweitzer Elementary students during his visit to the
Wayne-Westland Community Schools Monday.
Watkins was in the district to see the "positive things
happening in neighborhood schools."
"Part of my job is to datafy excellence and export it to other
areas," he said. "The teachers I saw today are a testimony to
the high quality of education in this district. They are
touching our future today."
Touching the future was a message he delivered to teachers
throughout his visit which started with lunch, prepared by
Chef Tony Paquette's culinary arts students at the William D.
Ford Career-Technical Center.
Several of Paquette's students as well as representatives of
Steven Paulsen's graphic design and Zachary MacLean's
electronics classes joined Watkins for lunch, sharing their
experiences and reasons for attending the center.
He heard from student chef Becky Baker about preparing 30,000
appetizers and French pastries for the recent North American
International Auto Show charity preview.
"It's great to have small sections and have an instructor for
each," Baker said of the culinary arts program. "You get a lot
With the students and instructors gathered around him, Watkins
praised the food they prepared and its presentation, saying,
"I've been in the finest hotels and this compares with what
I've had. I'm very proud of what you're doing here."
He also quizzed students Donell Hall, Hiram Robinson and David
Dahlberg who, in their red Vocational International Clubs of
America blazers, praised MacLean, and Christina Ensign who
talked about using a computer to create her best in show
digital poster for the auto show.
"Mr. MacLean is like a second father. If you're absent, he
calls you at home to see what's wrong," said Robinson, adding
that "we don't consider this a vo-tech school, it's a fun
Robinson is hoping to parlay his Career-Tech experience into
one of 200 five-year apprenticeships with the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
"It's going to help us more in the job field," said senior
Donell Hall. We'll come out of here with more skills than the
He had thought about taking construction at the center until
electronics "caught my eye," and now the high school senior is
planning to attend Hampton University in Virginia and get a
degree in electrical engineering.
"Vo-tech is the transition between high school and college
where you do what you have a passion for," Watkins told the
At Schweitzer, the district's latest Golden Apple school,
Watkins talked social studies with Colligan's class which was
using computers to study black history.
"I was about your age when I lived in Washington, D.C., there
was a movie theater that allowed only whites in or only white
people," Watkins told the students after they figured out why
Washington, D.C., isn't a state.
Students agreed with the state school superintendent that
their teacher is special.
"She's fun," said Myles Smith. "She reads really funny books
A beaming Colligan pointed out that she and Myles "have a very
"We live on the same street," she said. "If he doesn't do his
homework, I bring it to him and knock on his door."
Watkins also watched fourth-graders do hands-on exploration of
electrical circuits by dismantling VCRs, telephones, mixers
and juice makers and took a seat on the floor with even
younger students as a media information teacher integrated
technology with learning in the school library.
After the visit, Watkins praised the work being done by
teachers, saying that "our neighborhood schools are truly our
statues of liberty in this country."
"I believe education by far is the best investment we can
make," said Watkins. "The smiles on the kids' faces, they're
proud of what they're doing. And the high quality of our
schools is what makes Michigan great."