2018-09-16 / Editorial

Chatfield performing arts center a boon to entire community

Since its founding in 1997 as a K-6 public charter elementary school by Betty and Jack McCauley with funding from Bob and Lura Myers, The Chatfield School in Lapeer has established a consistent record of innovation and excellence in education.

The school, chartered by Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), added middle school 7th and 8th grades and its Willows Ecology Center in 2008. A year earlier, Chatfield partnered with the City of Lapeer to establish interpretive signs and handicapped accessible trails at the 37.5-acre Prairies and Ponds at Oakdale park located at the eastern edge of the school’s campus.

The Willows has become an example and resource for ecology teaching programs in other schools around Lapeer and Genesee counties, forming partnerships with those schools to introduce and enhance the study of nature for thousands of elementary and middle school students.

In 2013 Chatfield was designated as a School of Excellence by the Michigan Department of Education, which recognized Chatfield as a high-performing school that offers unique learning opportunities and instructional practices. Designation is awarded to charter public schools that exceed state standards. To qualify for that designation, K-8 schools must achieve a three-year average 90-percent proficiency rate on state standardized math and reading tests.

Chatfield Middle School in 2016 earned the designation as a Michigan School to Watch by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. The award and designation are given on the basis of demonstrating evidence in four areas of successful schools: academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and exemplary organizational structures and processes.

In addition to maintaining high standards for academic achievement throughout its history, Chatfield has also emphasized and provided opportunities for students in athletics, music, theatre and other extracurricular activities. As those programs have grown and thrived, Chatfield’s administration and board of directors have sought to find a space beyond the school’s multi-purpose room that currently serves as cafeteria, gymnasium, concert space and theatre.

The City of Lapeer and Chatfield recently announced that the school had purchased 4.58 acres of land located between Chatfield and Mott Community College from the city for $82,440 for the purpose of building a performing arts center on the property.

Matt Young, co-director at Chatfield, told The County Press that development of the actual facility is likely three to five years out and acquisition of the land was the first step in a long process. Tentative plans call for an approximate 16,000-square-foot, single story building that might seat as many as 1,200 people.

Bill Kraly, Chatfield’s other co-director said he pictures the proposed facility as more of a “big gym with a stage” but says he is embracing the performing arts center tag. “The reason for the added space is the success of our athletic and fine arts programs,” Kraly said. The establishment and success of the school’s musical theatre program in particular got the administration and board thinking about expanding Chatfield’s physical footprint.

In addition to the school’s activities, “We see potential for community art classes, community theater and hosting of community events”, Kraly said. “We would like to offer cross-fit and other fitness programs to school-aged children from throughout our community,” he added.

Funding for the facility cannot come from a property tax hike. Charter schools cannot run millage elections like traditional public school districts can. Chatfield will raise money for the proposed facility through other means. Funding options include seeking of grants, selling bonds, purchasing a mortgage and engaging in fundraising efforts.

“Now that the land has been purchased, the board will explore its options. There is already a small fundraising committee,” said Young. When the funding sources have been identified, Chatfield School will publicly announce its plans.

Kraly credits Chatfield’s teachers for the school’s continued success and growth. “It’s really about the teachers and what the teachers are empowered to produce,” he said. Without the teachers’ dedication to their students’ success, Kraly says projects like a performing arts center would never come about.

As with the school’s previous expansions, we expect the planned performing arts center at Chatfield will continue their record of success. It will also strengthen ties to the Lapeer community as a whole as the facility is opened to other groups and organizations. We commend the forward thinking of Chatfield’s administration and board of directors and look forward to their next step in growing their campus. We believe it is a step that will benefit our entire community.

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