2017-08-10 / Views

New super, new beginning at district

Some times when the wheels come off the cart, they all come at once. That’s the impression we’re left with after the abrupt departure of three-year Suttons Bay Public School superintendent Chris Nelson, whose professional journey seemed without road bumps one week.

The next week it crashed.

The good news is that the cart itself remains in tact and full of potential.

Suttons Bay teachers seem to be circling the wagon, which will make ongoing contract talks easier for the district.

And the staff has been dedicated. A few years ago, some made donations from their personal accounts to keep the district afloat. Some have spent their whole careers under the rain clouds of budget cuts and layoffs, yet each September return through the same doors.

The school district’s new driver will be interim superintendent Michael Carmean, who could officially begin work after the Board of Education’s finance committee finalizes a contract. Hopefully, that contract will be ready for approval at the School Board’s regular meeting Monday.

From what we’ve heard of Mr. Carmean, we fully expect that he’s already been wandering the halls of Suttons Bay Public School and digging into its finances. When conducting background, School Board trustee Steve Hall asked two downstate sources if they would hire their retired superintendent again if given the chance.

“Heavens yes,” was the identical response given by both.

Mr. Carmean brings a distinguished 39-year career in education to Suttons Bay, his chosen retirement community. Most recently he served as superintendent of Sandusky Community Schools, which felt the pain of a severe drop in enrollment in 2014.

Sound familiar? Suttons Bay’s enrollment has been steadily dropping for 15 or so years, partially due to a lack of students in the area but just as importantly due to choices made by parents to drive their children elsewhere.

Addressing the exodus head-on will be crucial to the survival of the district. We’ve always considered Suttons Bay’s emphasis on virtual schooling as a stop-gap measure at best. With competition for education dollars heating up in the cyber world, the district’s top priority should be addressing the reasons parents within the district find it worthwhile to enroll their children elsewhere.

Mr. Nelson closed doors within the community before walking away. His pursuit of an $18 million pool and recreation center sent Leelanau Christian Neighbors and the Montessori School scurrying for new homes. LCN spent more than $800,000 to move Lake Leelanau, and the Montessori parents are looking to do the same.

Meanwhile, the rec center dream will be just that forever.

But those were not the reasons Mr. Nelson resigned so suddenly. Something else happened, we just can’t verify what that was.

Kudos to the Board of Education for refusing to provide compensation on his five-year contract. Doing so would have caused an uprising within the community and among the school staff.

Stories provided by teachers after his resignation painted a hollow relationship with staff.

Let’s just suffice it to say Mr. Nelson’s tenure at Suttons Bay could be considered the “lost years.”

The scenario might of empower staff members and the Board of Education to lead the district forward.

With school set to open in about three weeks, there’s no time to spare.

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