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Beline Obeid

Notable schools stories of 2013

One of the school system's most exciting news stories of 2013, Grosse Pointe North High School physics and chemistry teacher Gary Abud was named Michigan Teacher of the Year in May.

December 26, 2013
Board members resigned. A former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate's visit stirred national controversy, while a group of parents residing in a particular area of Grosse Pointe Farms has caused a dispute locally. A Grosse Pointe North High School teacher made statewide news for other, more complimentary reasons, and the board approved a technology bond for placement on the February ballot.

There was hardly a dull moment in the Grosse Pointe Public School System in 2013, and several of the events will undoubtedly have repercussions lasting into the new year and beyond.

Here are some of the stories from 2013 that made headlines — locally, statewide and, in that one instance, nationally.

Stepping Down

The year ended just as it started — with a GPPSS Board of Education member resigning from his position. In March, then-treasurer Brendan Walsh unexpectedly resigned, citing "new professional responsibilities" as a contributing factor. Walsh, who notified the other board members via e-mail on the day of his resignation, had served on the board since August 2005.

He said he left believing the district is "better financially positioned than any school district in the state."

At the end of April, remaining board members unanimously approved Brian Summerfield to fill Walsh's vacancy.

Eight months later, the board has another vacancy to fill. Trustee Tom Jakubiec, at the December meeting, the last of the year, announced his intentions to transition off the board heading into 2014.

"Unfortunately, I do need to move on," Jakubiec said. "I reached out to our board president (Joan Dindoffer) last month and communicated that to her through some documentation. My commitment to her was to work with her so that we can transition well moving forward."

Jakubiec has served since 2009 and, if not for new legislation that changed school board elections to even-numbered years, would've concluded his term in November. During the past four years, Jakubiec said he accomplished what he set out to do as an elected member.

"I had a very, very clear scope and focus of what I wanted to accomplish on the board," he said, "and that was to make sure that we had sufficient dialogue on the board, to make sure that some of the directions that seem to be positioning from the board could be influenced from a position of somebody who would take more of a holistic, non-special interest focus, and that's really what I tried to do. I think I can show I've done that through my four years."

The board is currently seeking Jakubiec's replacement.

Chef's Delight

For Imran Mihas, at the time a fourth grader at Maire Elementary School, 2013 was a year to remember.

In May, Mihas was named the Sodexo Future Chefs: Healthy Salad Challenge national winner.

His Tortilla Cup Salad garnered 48 percent of the 26,539 total votes on the competition YouTube channel, besting four other finalists with his vegetarian recipe consisting of garbanzo beans, black beans, cucumber, mango, tomato, corn and cilantro in a tortilla cup.

As the national winner, Mihas received several prizes courtesy of Sodexo, including a laptop; GoPro Camera and juicer. The prizes were awarded to him during an all-school assembly at Maire in June.

It was the Grosse Pointe schools' first time participating in the national program.

The Santorum Challenge

GPPSS made national news in April — albeit for negative reasons — for its handling of former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum's visit to Grosse Pointe South High School. His visit was courtesy of Young Americans for Freedom, which has local chapters at both South and North high schools.

A day after principal Matt Outlaw notified South's staff of Santorum's visit, the district canceled it due to several factors, from district officials' desire to remain neutral and not impose a political position at a school activity during the school day to a denied request to review ahead of time the content of Santorum's speech.

The cancellation led to local and national scrutiny, and district officials quickly overturned their decision, allowing Santorum to visit and give two separate assemblies, one during the school day that was restricted to South students and staff who opted in and another, a community forum open to the public.

Santorum, a Republican and vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, libertarianism and pornography, among other issues, arrived at South April 24, and delivered a 47-minute speech on leadership to a receptive and respectful crowd of students and staff, 1,100-strong.

Another 400 to 500 people attended the community forum, which included a question-and-answer format. Among the questions, one resident asked for Santorum's forgiveness for how the situation was handled.

"I'm required to forgive. I have no choice; I have to forgive," Santorum said in response. "As far as what happened here, my feeling is, as most things in my life have, it's all turned out for the best. I certainly will remember Grosse Pointe South for the rest of my life."

Best Practices

In May, Gary Abud, a chemistry and physics teacher at Grosse Pointe North High School, became only the second teacher from GPPSS since 1952 to be named Michigan Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan officially announced the honor during an all-school assembly May 23.

"(Judges are) looking for outstanding teaching, and frankly, if you get to the five, you've got five winners," Flanagan said. "But they said that Gary just was that much more ahead than the others. His enthusiasm, his ability to connect with kids."

In earning the distinction, Abud received a 2013 Honda CRV from Meemic Insurance, was given a non-voting seat at the state board of education regular monthly meetings and has become an active voice in advancing the district's and state's education systems.

"Working with the students here, working with the educators here and, as well, being a student of this school system has really helped me to be the best professional I can be, and I really want to dedicate this award to all those people in this school system that have helped me to be so successful," Abud said at the time.

Inside the

Technology Bond

Much of the discussion at board meetings and steering committee meetings between August and December focused on a proposed technology bond.

The bond is intended to upgrade and improve antiquated hardware and infrastructure, a network already operating at capacity and safety and security systems.

Initially, administration had pushed for a 10-year, $48 million multi-series proposal for the November ballot. But it failed on a 3-3 vote in August from fear the details weren't developed enough and the community wouldn't support the hefty price tag.

The failed vote delayed any proposal from appearing on the ballot until February.

In the months following the August vote, the district awarded Ehresman Associates, Wright & Hunter and Peter Basso Associates a bid as a consultant, the group's review of which resulted in a recommended 10-year, $50 million bond proposal.

After several weeks of discussions and disagreements, the board approved by a 5-1 vote the $50 million, multi-series bond proposal for the February election.

"I think everybody on this board feels very passionate about the position that they're in ..." secretary Lois Valente said in November. "It's time to let the public decide whether or not this is going to be a tax that they want to, or a debt that they want us to incur."

Sweet Surprise

It started as a small lesson within the context of the social studies curriculum. Students studied state symbols and the process of a bill becoming a law, then wrote a persuasive letter to Sen. Bert Johnson urging him to consider Mackinac Island fudge the official state sweet.

Some time later, to the surprise of Kari Mannino and her 4/5-grade magnet class at Defer Elementary School, Johnson responded, and thus began the students' unexpected and exciting hands-on experience with the legislative process. The experience included a visit from Johnson and representatives from Ryba's Fudge Shops, who hosted a fudge-making demonstration at Defer in December.

It didn't end there. Johnson and staff invited Mannino's class to Lansing to present Senate Bill 571 on the floor of the Senate. There, Hayden Berry, Luke Srebernak and Jake McBride — Johnson chose their letter to spark bill discussion — will speak about the bill as the rest of the class experiences the process of a bill becoming a law.

"As an educator, the whole experience is a dream come true," Mannino said.

Crossing Boundaries

A group of parents residing in a 13-block area of Grosse Pointe Farms, an area zoned for North high school, petitioned the school system to consider rezoning the area and allowing their children to attend South high school with the children's peers.

Because of current zoning procedures, students in this area attend Monteith Elementary School, Brownell Middle School and North high school. The constant shuffling between cities, the "Unite the Farms" parents said, makes it difficult for their children to develop lasting, meaningful relationships with peers.

Additionally, in December, parents cited Brown v. Board of Education in their argument. The 1954 case led to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring "separate but equal" schooling for blacks and whites inherently unjust and paved the way for racial integration in American public schools.

Despite the parents' petition, board members have said publicly they won't consider rezoning district boundaries; rather, the parents must follow the current board policy and submit transfer requests. Transfer decisions are based on space.

South, district officials have said, is at capacity with 1,712 students compared to 1,327 at North.

Other Headlines

"¢ Jeff Nardone and Brian Aulph, two beloved educators from South high school and Parcells Middle School, respectively, passed away in 2013; Nardone in November from T-cell Lymphoma and Aulph in February following complications from heart surgery.

"¢ In February, Kate Murray was named principal at North high school.

"¢ South's Solar Car Team, through extensive fundraising efforts, raised nearly $35,000 to build a solar car to race in the 2013 Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge in Texas.

"¢ Pierce Middle School celebrated its 75th anniversary with a dinner and auction event in November. The school raised money to replace aging seats in its auditorium.

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