MDE officials visit U.P. school

WINONA – Michigan Department of Education officials are visiting schools across the state as part of an ongoing initiative led by State Superintendent Brian J. Whiston.

While Whiston visited some Upper Peninsula schools himself, last week a trio of other MDE leaders stopped by Elm River Township School in Winona, having toured Jeffers High School in Painesdale earlier in the day.

“The idea is to know what’s going on in our districts,” MDE Director Leah Breen said.

“The kids are excited about that,” said administrator and teacher, Bruce Mattson. “It means a lot to the kids. One thing I’ve learned is you bring best practices.”

Paraprofessionals Benjamin Naasko, who is the father of many of the students, and Christine Laitala help Mattson bring those practices to Elm River’s dozen elementary students – all at their own grade levels and sometimes in the same room – which is expected to impress at the MDE.

“It’s different,” said Krista Ried, MDE supervisor, Office of Professional Preparation Services. “They can’t fathom a one-room schoolhouse. This could be a school of choice.”

While districts can choose to not accept students who live outside district lines, Elm River, like most other Michigan school districts, welcome outsiders to increase their student bodies and budgets.

“Uniqueness,” Breen said. “We thought that would be interesting in a 12-student school. We do feel lucky to have the opportunity (to visit). This is a unique school.”

The women were joined in the visits by Victor Bugni, MDE formative assessment consultant of the Office of Education Improvement and Innovation.

In addition to responding to district concerns, MDE plans to develop a website showing promising practices witnessed during school visits.

“The idea is he could help,” Breen said of Whiston’s interest in the initiative.

Michigan school officials can request a visit to their districts by emailing mde-communications@michigan.gov.