Superintendent's Corner

August 2021

Dear North Branch School District Families and Community,

The North Branch Board of Education, administrators, teachers, and support staff are ready to welcome our students and families to the start of what will be another great school year.  I say another great school year, because even though we were in the midst of a Pandemic for the entire 2020-2021 school year, I could not be more proud of how our school district tackled all of the challenges we faced last year with state mandated closings, quarantines, and providing in-person and virtual learning opportunities for our students.   We remain committed to providing the best educational experience for all of our students. 

The first day of school for all students will be Monday, August 23.   By now, you should have received specific information from each building.   North Branch Area Schools will not require masks for staff or students; however, the district will respect the choice of those who wish to keep wearing them.   As of this publication, we will require students riding buses to wear a mask as this is federally mandated for all public transportation including school buses.  Water fountains will be turned on and all students will eat breakfast and lunch in their school’s cafeteria.   Vaccinations will not be required for attending school or for participating in sports or other extracurricular activities.  Students choosing to participate in sports will not be required to be tested.   North Branch Area Schools will continue its thorough cleaning practices during and after school in each building.   

As we start the school year, I have received many questions relative to how North Branch Area Schools will utilize the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars received from the federal government.  ESSER I, also the Cares Act, was used to purchase PPE supplies, learning platforms, and hire virtual teachers for the 2020-2021 school year.  Those funds have been depleted.   ESSER II, also the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRFSA Funding) and ESSER III, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA Funding), will be used to update the HVAC system in our almost 30 year old  high school.

Annually, the North Branch Board of Education approves five year plans for Curriculum, Facilities, and Technology.   During the past five years, we have been able to purchase enough devices and we are now a 1:1 district meaning every student will be issued a mobile device (chromebook) when school starts this year.   We have reviewed, purchased, and implemented new textbooks in almost all disciplines in the past five years.  In April, the North Branch Board of Education hired a company to review and inspect the high school HVAC system and present a Conceptual Building Analysis to determine immediate upgrades.   On July 12, the board reviewed the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing high priority needs and arranged a meeting of the Board of Education Facility Committee to recommend board action.   The average life of most HVAC equipment is 20-25 years and the high school is almost 30 years old.   Four high priority areas were determined to have less than 5% of useful life left:   Kitchen Roof Top Units, Water Source Heat Pump Piping, Domestic Hot Water Heating System, and Automated Smart Building Controls while the Boilers were estimated to have about 10% of useful life left.   The Board of Education Facility Committee will unanimously recommend spending the one-time ESSER funds to upgrade those identified high priority areas in lieu of spending general funds dollars that are best used to educate our children.  

Many districts are choosing to utilize these funds in the same manner.  According to an article in the July 23 DA Daily (District Administration Daily 2-minute update for district leaders) “Grand Rapids Public Schools plans to spend $12 million on extensive upgrades of their HVAC systems.”   Why am I using most of my space to share this update with our community?   North Branch Area Schools will spend roughly 80% of its ESSER dollars (close to $3.2 million) to upgrade the HVAC system.  The other 20% of the ESSER funding has been and will continue to be used to minimize learning loss in our district.   This summer we offered several learning opportunities and credit recovery programs for K-12 students. 

Recently, I read a May 21 article in Newsweek titled “Maintaining High Expectations in the Face of Unfinished Learning.”   The authors state “the best way to address the instructional loss resulting from school closings is not to lower expectations, rather we should challenge students to engage in productive struggle.”  The article goes on to discuss equity in schools and concludes “that all students, regardless of their race, gender, class, or anything else, should have the support they need to ensure they can learn.”  Lowering standards is not the answer as we strive to educate our students.   The article concludes by saying “In short, we don’t have to choose between wellness and intellect.”   The number one goal at North Branch Area Schools is to “teach, measure, and continuously improve instruction aligned with state standards for increased student achievement and College and Career readiness.”

As I have stated many times, the strength of North Branch Area Schools is its teaching and support staff.   Our district will continue with its “All In” motto and we are excited to welcome your children back to school on Monday, August 23.   Please feel free to contact my office at 810-688-3570 if I can help you in any way during the upcoming school  year.  

In anticipation of a great school year!


Jim Fish

North Branch Superintendent