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Article of Interest - Michigan State Supt.

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Bridges4Kids LogoState 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 action."

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 will enter.

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 12th-graders.

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 fighting for."

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 their jobs.

"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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