SCOTTVILLE — The Mason County Central (MCC) Board of Education had an opportunity to learn more about Gateway to Success Academy (G2S), a new charter school currently under construction in Scottville. During Monday evening’s board meeting, G2S Superintendent/Principal Jamie Bandstra presented the vision for the school with an emphasis on collaboration.
“We’ve been working a lot with the local districts,” said Bandstra. “We’re in the process of clarifying partnerships. We’re moving in a great direction.”
G2S is the result of an effort that began in early 2014, to find a new model for helping students who struggle in school and who are at the highest risk of dropping out. Local superintendents tasked a planning board, which determined a charter school to be the best model to serve all schools within the West Shore Educational Service District (WSESD).
The Pennies from Heaven Foundation joined the project as a major donor, and co-founder John Wilson was introduced at Monday’s meeting.
Wilson said he started working with the schools and learned the hard task of matching budgets with teachers and students.
“I no longer think, ‘Our schools have to do a better job,’” he said. “I now think, ‘We have to help our schools do a better job.’”
Wilson said that a graduation rate of 80 percent for the whole WSESD is a pretty low number. “(G2S) is for the 20 percent who aren’t graduating.”
Bandstra described how the G2S facility has been designed to help those who struggle in a traditional classroom environment. “The building was designed with a purpose,” he said.
“It’s very different,” said Bandstra. “It’s not to be in competition with any other district.”
He said G2S will focus on project-based learning, which means learning through hands-on projects. Ten exemplary ideas from schools all over the country were adapted into the model, and those ideas helped determine the school building’s architecture.
“If you look at the building, you’ll see classrooms with glass garage doors,” said Bandstra. “The idea is that the glass encourages collaboration.” He said the doors are able to be lifted, allowing different subjects to be taught in the context of another.
“Attendance is a huge barrier,” said Bandstra of those struggling to graduate. He said G2S has rooms for “high interest areas of specialty,” or places where students can learn by concentrating on projects and topics that interest them most.
“Let’s create a program in those areas where students go home and think about it,” said Bandstra. “They will want to come back to school the next day.”
Plans also include a common area and a maker-space. He said the goal is for both students and teachers to have access to tools and creative space that will be incorporated into core area content.
He said the school day is also designed around the concept of integrated working. The day will be divided into three “blocks,” giving teachers a block of time to collaborate.
“We are looking to partner with area schools,” said Bandstra. “We each have access to different kinds of resources. We are looking to share in that.”
“Project-based learning has a lot to offer all students,” he said. “The personalization of the learning environment is unlike any other method we’ve found. We can make modifications because of the model.”
“We are sincerely interested in partnering with you,” said Bandstra to the MCC board.
He said there has been discussion about the process of how to identify prospective students. In partnership with area schools, a prospective student identification form has been developed. Enrollment begins mid February.
Questions asked of Bandstra during the presentation:
Will G2S provide special education?
“Just like any other district, we have to provide for special education students,” said Bandstra. He said there are plans to meet the needs of those students, and the details have yet to be finalized.
What are transportation arrangements?
Bandstra said they are looking at working out financial agreements with other districts.
Are graduation requirements the same as other districts, such as MCC or Ludington?
Bandstra said G2S will use the Michigan Merit Curriculum as basis for requirements. He said between 19 and 20 credits may be required by G2S, versus the 25 to 27 credits of other districts that include electives.
Will G2S offer sports/band?
Bandstra said that G2S is not intended to be a school with full co-curriculars. He said in the future, the board may consider adding one sport for each girls and boys, but there are no plans for sports or band at this time.
Will Mason County Family Link and the Department of Health and Human Services be on-site?
“I’ve been in discussion with Lynne Russell (executive director of the Mason County United Way), and we are thinking of how to do that,” said Bandstra. He said there may be an opportunity for Staircase Youth Services to be on-site.
More information about G2S can be found at: www.g2sacademy.net
Gateway to Success Academy
526 North Scottville Road, Scottville