Traverse City News and Events

A New Chapter Set To Begin At Old Mission School

By Craig Manning | Aug. 13, 2018

It took three years of surveys, public meetings and negotiations – not to mention stacks of paperwork, the involvement of more than 500 community members, and a $1.1 million property acquisition – but the new Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS) is finally ready to open its doors.
 
According to Dena Schweitzer, director of academics for OMPS, the school’s board and the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation (OMPEF) have been working to prepare for the arrival of students. Last week, Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) announced a new public bus route on Old Mission Peninsula, intended in part for transporting students to and from the new school.
 
In the midst of all the preparation, Schweitzer says the school is still getting new student enrollments daily. She says OMPS is “on target” to hit its goal for student numbers – something critics of the school had previously called into question.
 
“We were somewhat surprised,” says Jen Coleman, vice president and treasurer of the OMPS Board of Trustees. “The message we were being told was, ‘You’ve got an aging population [on the Peninsula]. There aren’t enough families out there.’ But we’re actually starting to see families moving out here. The number of families who are new to the area and enrolling here has surprised me.”
 
Another crucial point, Schweitzer says, is that OMPS is open to families who live anywhere in the area, not just residents of Old Mission Peninsula. She thinks this welcoming mentality – paired with the school’s large scenic property, small class sizes, and the EL Education curriculum it will be using – is attracting families who might not have considered it when it was affiliated with Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS).
 
Up until the end of the 2017-18 school year, the school was owned and operated by TCAPS. When TCAPS decided to close the school for financial reasons, a group of community members formed a foundation to save it. The foundation negotiated with TCAPS to purchase the building and property. Going forward, the school will operate as a charter school independent of TCAPS.
 
OMPS’s charter is provided by Grand Valley State University (GVSU). Schweitzer says only about 10 percent of schools that apply for charters get approval. Because of factors like the unique OMPS property and positive survey responses from community members, though, the school was able to sail through the approval process.
 
“We purposely looked to GVSU because they are very engaged with their charters,” Coleman says. “Their charter portfolio is well-managed. We have somebody [from GVSU] here at every one of our board meetings. We have support from their staff in so many ways. So it’s a very engaged relationship. I look at charters as having that extra layer of supervision, because not only do we have to meet state requirements, but we also have to meet authorizer requirements from GVSU.”
 
One GVSU stipulation for OMPS was to establish a conservative budget. Though the OMPS charter allows the school to have a maximum of 190 students per year, the school has a budget for this year based off a 130-student body. The school will reassess and revise the budget following the first count day in November, but Coleman says she is confident that OMPS will be financially sound no matter what.
 
OMPS will have 12 teachers, including early childhood and special education instructors. The school has two class sections for each lower grade (kindergarten through third grade) and one apiece for fourth through sixth. Schweitzer declined to reveal student numbers, but says that the most popular grades—first and third—are almost full.
 
All grades will follow the EL Education curriculum, a module-based model established in 1991 by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound USA. Under the curriculum, students study a specific subject in depth for eight or nine weeks at a time. Module subjects include frogs, trees, tools, birds, and more, but each module folds in competencies like science, language arts, social studies, and building/engineering.
 
“There’s a lot of student interaction in one-to-one pairings, small groups, and then teacher-directed as well," Schweitzer says of the EL curriculum.
 
OMPS will hold a public campus tour night from 5-7pm on Tuesday, August 14. All teachers will be present, as will be representatives from BATA.

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