School board invites community to work together

MARQUETTE – Gilbert Elementary School in Gwinn will remain closed this school year, after Gwinn Area Community Schools Interim Superintendent Stephen Piereson offered his opinion on the school’s closure during the Gwinn school board meeting Monday.

Calling the April decision to close the school “controversial,” Piereson said he thought the district should continue operating with only one elementary building – Sawyer Elementary School on the former Air Force base at K.I. Sawyer.

“At this point, I believe the most prudent course of action right now is to move forward with the board decision on the Gilbert school and the Sawyer school,” Piereson said, adding that he did his own research into the board’s decision, visited both schools and took into account comments from the pubic aired during a listening session held last week before coming to a decision.

“One of the things I heard loud and clear at the listening session was – plan. ‘What is our plan? Where are we going? How did this come about? What’s next?’ ” Piereson said.

Piereson said to help alleviate those worries, work will begin on a “long-term development of a strategic vision for the board and the district, so that both the board and community are not again in this kind of position.”

The decision to close Gilbert Elementary caused a rift among many in the district and angered parents and community members who felt they had little to no input into what some board members have called a “knee-jerk reaction” to a financial crisis. Some parents, commenting during public comment at board meetings, have said they are pulling their children from the district because of the decision.

However, the contention between board members appears to have abated as the board calmly discussed how best to move beyond the decision and help steer the district into a more stable future.

The board’s Building and Site Committee – comprised of trustees Bill Nordeen and Joe Boogren and chaired by Secretary Cindy Filizetti – met July 10 to discuss how best to fix the district’s configuration issues and will meet several times in the coming months to continue that discussion.

“We made that decision (to close Gilbert Elementary) without a whole lot of basis and input and obviously I’ve said that before, it’s nothing new, but when we went to the (Building and Site Committee) meeting, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this was a conversation that should have occurred a long time ago,” Nordeen said.

The option of asking voters for a bond issuance or a millage was brought up, as well as possibly reacquiring the district’s old middle school and using it to form one centralized campus in Gwinn.

“I think the community would be more receptive to a bond issue, to a millage, if we use what we have rather than go and ask for $23 million for a grandiose thing,” Nordeen said, referring to an earlier plan to add an elementary school onto the middle/high school complex. “I think that we have the community’s attention at this point. I think if you went to them and said we’ve got to renovate what we have to make it good for into the future, I think we’d stand a very good chance of getting a millage.”

Toward the end of the meeting, board President Gloria Bigelow made a plea to the district’s residents, asking everyone to do what the board said several times throughout the meeting – move forward together.

“I’m asking you – the residents of the community – to support our school district and its wonderful teaching staff,” Bigelow said. “We have been through some very difficult times these last several months, but we need to move forward. We need to work together, the board, the community, and spread the word that we are a top ranking district. The future of our district depends on each and every one of us. You and us.”

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