(The writer is the president of the Lansing School District Board of Education.)
It was almost exactly two years ago when I sat in a Lansing School District Board of Education meeting interviewing candidates to become our next superintendent when then-Superintendent Sam Sinicropi leaned over to me and whispered “Detroit (Public Schools) is closing.”
I couldn’t believe it. None of us could.
We spent the next several weeks — then the next several months — trying to determine when it would be safe to reopen Lansing schools, then putting in place plans for extended virtual learning and all that came with it, and eventually planning for the reopening of schools in the fall of 2021.
Throughout the pandemic, the Lansing School District has distributed more than 10,000 electronic devices (laptops, tablets, and iPads) to students. We became one of the first districts in the state to require staff to either show proof of vaccination or undergo regular testing. We handed out well over 3 million meals to members of our Lansing community. I don’t mean only students; the Lansing School District, along with our food service partner, SodexoMagic, organized over 20 meal distribution sites throughout the city and handed out meals, no questions asked, to anyone who needed one.
We also created and implemented a fourth grade learn-to-swim program at Gardner International Academy. We started a completely virtual K-12 school, called Capital Area K-12 Online, which has drawn students from all over the state, and against all odds has resulted in an increased enrollment number this year districtwide. We started Universal Pre-K, which means that every student in our district, regardless of their family’s income, can attend free, high-quality preschool.
Navigating a critical shortage of bus drivers, we came up with new methods of offering CATA bus passes and gas cards to our families. After suspending our superintendent search for a year, we restarted the process and hired Ben Shuldiner, who became our new superintendent on July 1, 2021.
The Lansing School District has always been a family, and we have always taken care of our community, but that sentiment has never become more salient than during the pandemic. With the support of our community, last month, the board voted to institute a districtwide mask mandate that will remain in place until it is safe to lift.
We know that COVID-19 is a virus that is spread by respiratory droplets, and you do not have to be a doctor to understand how wearing a mask cuts down on the spread of respiratory droplets traveling in the air. My heart breaks for students in other districts, many of them in our surrounding areas, whose parents use them as pawns in their misguided ranting against masks.
To be sure, we have challenges in the Lansing School District, but our community is savvy enough to understand that wearing masks means reduced transmission of the virus, which means that schools stay open.
Throughout it all, we are dealing with a crippling teacher shortage and a lack of respect for the teaching profession. In the words of Quinta Brunson in her sitcom “Abbot Elementary,” a love letter to public schools of Philadelphia, “Jacob and I came in together last year with 20 other teachers. We are two of the three left.”
Here’s how you can help. If you live in the Lansing School District, send your kids to Lansing schools. If you have students in the district, get involved in their education and in their school. Take an active role. Yes, make sure they do their homework, but also volunteer in their class. Be present.
If you live within the boundaries of the Lansing School District, the most important thing you can do is go to the polls and vote YES on the millage on May 3. The funds will allow the district to make extensive improvements to Sexton High School, install air conditioning throughout the entire district and completely tear down and replace four schools: Mt. Hope, Lewton, Willow, and Sheridan Road.
A strong public school district means a strong community. We have an opportunity to reinvest in our school district — in our kids — and there’s no better investment.
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