Positive momentum fueling new school year in Delton
Delton Kellogg teachers and staff listen to superintendent Kyle Corlett's presentation in the auditorium Wednesday morning.
In spite of financial challenges, enrollment declines and scores on standardized tests that have fallen below statewide averages, Delton Kellogg Schools officials are sounding an upbeat note as they begin a new school year.
Superintendent Kyle Corlett Wednesday welcomed more than 100 teachers and staff members to a kickoff breakfast at the high school cafeteria that was followed by a state-of-the-district presentation in the school auditorium.
Teachers and staff then began two days of training and professional development activities in preparation for the first day of classes next Tuesday.
The district is beginning the school year with some positive momentum, most notably from voter approval in May of a $23.2 million bond issue that will pay for districtwide improvements over the next decade. They include reconstruction of the elementary school, roofing replacements, upgrades and remodeling of restrooms, kitchens and locker rooms, technology devices and infrastructure, new buses, drainage improvements, and installation of artificial turf at the football stadium.
The district has also over the past year instituted a pilot reading program, expanded arts education, added student support specialists at the elementary and middle school levels, and expanded its mental health support services to include counselors from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Barry County Community Mental Health Authority, Corlett said.
Delton Kellogg has experienced a drop in enrollment for six consecutive years, and that trend is expected to continue in 2019-20, he said, with an enrollment projection of 1,207 students this year compared to 1,247 in 2018-19. In 2012-13, the district had 1,500 students enrolled. With state funding tied to enrollment, the loss of students has caused school officials to tighten their belts.
“I think it's impressive that we're managing to get by, even though we've lost so many kids,” Corlett said.
The district began the 2018-19 fiscal year looking at a potential deficit of more than $535,000, but after a series of cost-reduction measures is now looking at a year-end shortfall in the $20,000 to $40,000 range, pending an upcoming audit of the district's finances. With no agreement yet from the Legislature on a funding formula for this school year, the district is projecting a shortfall of nearly $44,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, but Corlett is optimistic that number could be reduced or eliminated depending on how much the state increases its per-pupil funding.
“If we make the right cuts, if the increase per pupil from the state goes up, we'll be in good shape,” Corlett said.
Corlett is encouraged to see improvements in SAT test scores for Delton Kellogg High School students over the past three years, rising from an average score of 973 in 2016-17 to 989 in 2017-18 to 1,013 last school year. But he is concerned about the district's track record on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress standardized test, pointing out that only 20 to 45 percent of district students are meeting proficiency standards, depending on grade level and subject area.
“If the test is in alliance with Common Core standards, if we're teaching standards, [the scores] should be better on the test,” Corlett said.
Corlett said he has confidence in the district's teachers and their ability to help students improve their performance on the MSTEP test.
“We don't need outside people coming in and fixing us,” Corlett said. “If we support each other, we have all the knowledge and all the expertise we need to be successful.”
Being a smaller district, Delton Kellogg may not offer the same range of programs as larger neighboring districts, but Corlett said focusing on what the district does best will be a key to success. He said parents who keep their children in the district stay because they are aware of the attention teachers give to their students.
“We change lives. By the time that kids are done with high school, they are ready for whatever is to come,” Corlett said.
During the breakfast, teachers and staff also heard a presentation by Marsha Bassett, chairwoman of the Delton Kellogg Education Foundation, which is affiliated with the Barry Community Foundation. Bassett said while one of the primary functions of the foundation has been to provide college scholarships to Delton Kellogg graduates, an increased focus this year will be placed on providing classroom grants to teachers.
The foundation has set aside more than $10,000 for classroom grants for teachers, who can apply through the DKEF website, dkef.org.
“We're trying to think about what our donors want us to do with the money they give to us,” Bassett said. “[Some] think, 'They're all about scholarships and careers and getting kids off the ground.' But younger families want to know that their money is going back in to help their kids today in the classroom. We hear that and understand that.”
Now in its fifth year, DKEF has more than $200,000 in the bank, including more than $100,000 of endowed funds, which the foundation keeps invested, with the interest going toward awards and grants. The foundation plans to award $20,000 in scholarships to high school seniors this year, Bassett said.