New Gwinn super listens

GWINN – Parents, teachers and others in the Gwinn Area Community Schools district had many questions for their interim superintendent during a listening session held Monday evening, but one thing was clear – they desperately want some kind of direction.

“We need to know what the plan is,” said Catherine Quayle, a parent in the district, as she addressed Interim Superintendent Stephen Piereson. “Without a plan, we’re all just kind of waiting.

“Do we go to another school? Do we see if something is going to change? We just all need a direction, and I really hope that you’ll be able to provide that.”

The crowd of roughly 50, seated inside a warm Gwinn High School Library, addressed Piereson for more than an hour, airing concerns many said they felt had been ignored by previous administrations.

Those concerns included the recent closure of Gilbert Elementary School, the move from a seven to a six-hour day at the high school level, the need to positively promote the district and the lack of a long-term financial plan.

Several parents told Piereson they were using school of choice to send their kids outside the district, citing no real plan for the future and “knee-jerk reactions” made by the board of education and administration in response to financial crises as their reasons for leaving.

“We have no two-year plan, three-year plan, five-year plan. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year in this district,” said parent Lynn Osborne, who said she’s pulling her four young kids from Gwinn schools. “You already closed the middle school due to budget crunches. You moved the sixth grade in with the middle school and now you’re closing an elementary school. I guess, what’s next year? What are we closing next year?”

The board of education’s April decision to close Gilbert Elementary School – which many have said came too swiftly and without enough public input – galvanized the community, pitting parents, community members and even board members against each other.

The divisiveness has pervaded almost every public board meeting since the closure, both during board discussion and during public comment, and the closure was once again the underlying issue in many of the concerns addressed by the community Monday night.

Piereson, who has only been on the job for one week after spending nearly 30 years as Ishpeming Public Schools’ superintendent, swiftly handled any threat of arguments breaking out, telling people while he didn’t have answers for them Monday, he would spend the next few months working on the problems raised, and would like to hold another listening session later.

“One of the things I really want to emphasize for everyone here – for all of us – there are a lot of really good things that are going on in these schools,” Piereson said. “We’ve got a lot of good kids here that are going to do good things in the world, so we need to try to stay focused on those positives as we move forward and try to get in harness together, and move forward together.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.