Ready for a fresh start

Area schools add classes, change buildings to ready for new year

News Photo by Julie Goldberg The project-based learning classroom at Alpena High School is seen here on Thursday while construction is being completed.

ALPENA — The 2019-20 school year is just a few weeks away, and school districts have worked throughout the summer to have everything ready — including several new programs and classes — when students arrive.

Alpena, Alcona, Hillman, and Atlanta schools all start school on Aug. 26, while Rogers City, Onaway, and Posen schools all start on Sept. 3.

Alpena Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner said having new programs and classes available for students will help them prepare to be career- and college-ready when they graduate.

“If they have skills for their future, they will be prepared for anything,” VanWagoner said.

Here’s a roundup of some of the changes students and families will see this school year:


Alpena Public Schools is expanding programs at its secondary schools, along with making technology available at all times at its elementary schools.

At Thunder Bay Junior High School, VanWagoner said science, technology, engineering, and mathematics opportunities will be expanded, along with the school’s makerspace, where students gather to increase participation in different activities based on the subject they are learning.

VanWagoner said jazz band is a new thing at Alpena High School. Also new at the high school are two project-based learning classes: Science in the Bay and World Perspectives. Project-based learning classes were only taken by freshmen last school year, so the district decided to expand the program and make those classes available for sophomores.

All elementary schools will finally be one-to-one with Chromebook computers, meaning each student will have a Chromebook to use without having to share. VanWagoner said each classroom will have its own cart for students to use.

“We’re excited to have that across our district thanks to money from the Besser Foundation,” VanWagoner said.


Alcona Community Schools has lots of new things in store for its students this upcoming school year, including new classes and upgrades to the schools.

Superintendent Dan O’Connor said a Geometry in Construction course has been added to the high school.

O’Connor said the middle/high school has added a dean of students position to help support students with improving behavior.

“The dean of students really came from within the staff — it was something they wanted,” O’Connor said. “We have an internal candidate who is a middle school teacher, her name is Christie Thomas, and she is going to transition into the dean of students role.”

The district is bringing back marching band after an eight-year hiatus. O’Connor said this upcoming year is year four of the district working to bring its band program back, so the district is ready to expand with a marching band program.

“We have a small band at this point, but they’re excited to get started,” he said.

Alcona replaced the elementary school roof and removed asbestos from floors with sinking fund money supported by a new property tax. O’Connor said sinking fund money will also update those asbestos floors to polished concrete floors.

O’Connor said the district will use a security grant received last fall to upgrade doors, keys, and locks throughout the district.


Atlanta Community Schools will continue reading instruction time with the goal of bettering last school year’s outcomes, Carl Seiter, superintendent of both Atlanta Community Schools and Hillman Community Schools, said.

A new social/emotional learning program will be implemented in Atlanta to help with student success in academics and improving relationships among students.

Students will have one hour in the secondary school that will focus on SAT prep and main concepts in math, Seiter said.


In Hillman, Seiter said the addition of math instructional time at Hillman Elementary School will add to student success.

“Last year, the elementary began a program direct reading instruction time that allowed our entire elementary to break into small groups, identified by data, and focus on … instruction in reading,” Seiter said. “We focused on getting every group exactly what they needed according to the data obtained.”

Seiter said the district is excited about the student outcomes from last year’s standardized tests in reading and is hoping for the same in math, which is why it’s being added this upcoming school year.

This year is the second year of an individual curriculum enrichment period at Hillman Jr./Sr. High School, in which students will focus more on SAT prep and work to improve in their classes.

“It will be more of the same type of procedure, but with more of a focus on math,” Seiter said.

The district is implementing a new school safety and security software, PikMyKid, that will assist with afternoon pick-up. Seiter said it will also help with parent communication for transportation needs.

“This year will be a wonderful year at Hillman Community Schools,” Seiter said.


Rogers City Area Schools is adding new classes that will expand learning opportunities for students.

Some new classes include personal fitness, botany/zoology, life skills and critical thinking, and a psychology/sociology class. Superintendent Nick Hein said adding those classes is possible thanks to teachers who have degrees in multiple subjects.

“We are at our maximum, curriculum-wise, because we have maxed out for personnel,” Hein said.

A new weight room at the district is almost complete, and Hein said the personal fitness class will help students learn about health and fitness. The goal is to have 20 to 30 students taking that class every year.

Hein said the life skills and critical thinking class will work on behavioral issues in the middle school and help students process interactions with people.

Hein, who is also the middle/high school principal, said that, throughout the past three school years, the district’s school day has changed by adding more class periods to maximize curriculum for students.

Hein said Rogers City Elementary School Principal Steve Kowalski has made it possible for each student to have their own Chromebook to use during the school day.

“We’re trying to engage students the best way we can and that’s both having a wide variety of subjects to find that niche for a kid is so important, especially when they’re young,” Hein said.

Posen Community Schools officials could not be reached for comment on this article.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.