Administrators of new school make presentation to BCS board

SCOTTVILLE — Representatives of Gateway to Success Academy, a charter school which will open next year in Scottville, met with the Baldwin Community School Board this week to present details regarding the new school.

The building which will house Gateway to Success is currently under construction, but classes are on schedule to begin in September of 2016. The school will essentially function as its own school district and be funded in the same manner as other public schools. It will have room for 200 students in grades six through 12, and will have a 12:1 student to teacher ratio.

The administrators of Gateway to Success have said they want a strong relationship with the other school districts in the area.

"A partnership was formed with the nearby school districts to help kids get the resources they need to achieve," said Jamie Bandstra, one of the Gateway to Success administrators. "We want to emphasize we're not competing with other public schools. We want to offer kids an alternative option to the traditional public school environment and give a more hands-on education."

Many in the Baldwin Community School District are pleased a new charter school will be opening in the area, including Superintendent Stiles Simmons.

"I support the idea of opening a new charter school nearby," said Simmons. "I think the students and parents deserve more choice and opportunities in education and I strongly believe Gateway to Success will meet needs traditional public schools are having a difficult time reaching."

Gateway to Success will implement a project-based learning model of teaching, as opposed to the more traditional education model. Project-based learning focuses more on working on hands-on projects in a group so students receive more context with what they are learning.

Students will even be working together to design the school's mascot as a multi-class project during their first year at the school.

"It's been designed for kids who struggle with the traditional model," said Bandstra. "Studies show there are 20 percent of students in the West Shore Educational School District — which includes Lake, Mason and Oceana counties — who aren't graduating. We're thinking there are other students where the traditional model just doesn't work as well for them and we feel project-based learning will enhance their chances for success. With project-based learning, a student shouldn't ever ask 'when will I ever use this?'"

Project-based learning is catching on in some districts across the country, but some educators are dubious if it should be implemented on a wider scale.

"I support project-based learning, but it is unproven," remarked Simmons. "When you look at it against standardized testing results, the two methods are difficult to compare which makes some educators unsure of its effectiveness."

Gateway to Success was created by several area educators when a previous charter school, Journey High School, was shut down at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

"Journey was a cooperative program with the responsibility split between two different school districts and the Ludington School District overseeing financial responsibility," explained Bandstra. "It was shut down after they did not have an occupancy permit and it could no longer be used for education without updating a lot of the building, which would have cost the districts a lot of money."

The superintendents who managed Journey knew it was not a sustainable option even prior to the occupancy permit issue, which is why they started planning Gateway to Success in early 2014.

"We are planning an open enrollment in early 2016," said Bandstra. "There's no specific dates set yet, but it will probably run mid-January to mid-February. We don't expect to exceed our maximum amount of students, but if for some reason we did it would go down to a lottery."

Those interested in applying to Gateway to Success can go to its website, g2sacademy.net, or pick up paperwork at the current office in Ludington.

"We're excited for the way this will play out," remarked Bandstra. "I know because it's something new and people are a little unsure about it, but we really think this will provide new avenues for students in the area."