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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

January 21, 2019

The Detroit News. January 16, 2019

Grading schools shouldn’t be this hard

We were pleased to see the Legislature finally step up and pass a common-sense school accountability bill last month. And while some resistance was expected to the new A-F school grading model, it is disappointing such lame excuses are coming from the Michigan Department of Education.

As soon as Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill, the MDE starting plotting how it would fight the straight-forward legislation to give parents an honest and transparent assessment of how their child’s school is doing, based on a number of factors. The department currently rates schools with a “dashboard.”

That’s an improvement over the odd color-coded model the MDE used for a long time, but it’s still not as clear as a letter-grading system.

The office began the year by stating it would seek the opinion of new state Attorney General Dana Nessel, as well as that of the U.S. Department of Education, since the MDE claims the new law violates part of the federal law overseeing public education.

Interim Superintendent Sheila Alles wrote a letter in December to state senators, highlighting her concerns with the A-F bill. She pointed to how the legislation could conflict with federal guidelines related to special education. Yet these seem more like technicalities that the state could work out with the federal government.

It would be helpful if U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stepped in to chide the MDE, given the Michigan native is a strong proponent of school accountability, including A-F models.

It’s also worth noting that Alles took over from Superintendent Brian Whiston after he died last spring. Whiston had been a supporter of an A-F system, and he’d included that in original draft language in the state’s 2017 plan to be submitted to the federal government under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The accountability plan is required for states to receive federal school funding.

But pressure from the State Board of Education caused Whiston to back away from that plan — which was supported by Snyder — and include a bizarre three-pronged approach. Two of the three options still included a version of the A-F model. But the third was the dashboard, which was to take effect by default if the Legislature didn’t step in.

Since lawmakers didn’t act in time, the state ended up with the dashboard.

So Alles is well aware that Whiston supported the A-F model, and she should be more open to putting the new law in place.

It’s unclear what will happen now. If the MDE refuses to follow the law, Nessel is unlikely to enforce it. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is beholden to the teachers unions, which oppose most accountability measures, especially A-F.

It shouldn’t be this hard for parents to have a meaningful school grading system.

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The Mining journal (Marquette). January 15, 2019

Free home energy assessments are available in region

Upper Peninsula residents heat their homes in a wide variety of ways. Most common, perhaps, is the use of natural gas but propane, fuel oil, electricity and even wood make up most of the rest.

And if residents use different fuels to provide heat, one thing certainly all have in common is a desire to reduce heating and electrical costs. That’s where a program from the Superior Watershed Partnership, in conjunction with the Michigan Energy Assistance Program, the Upper Peninsula Power Co. and Semco Energy Gas Co., can help.

The Energy Conservation Corp. is in its second year this year. Principally directed at lower income residents, the program sees energy assessments completed on homes, free of charge.

In the first year of operation, 250 home energy assessments were done across the Upper Peninsula. This year, organizers are at 500 assessments.

A Mining Journal story on the matter detailed that the assessments cover a wide range of energy efficiency and weatherization strategies for homeowners and renters alike. Energy conservation crews start the assessments by talking with households and finding out areas of concern, such as drafty areas or appliances that may not be working efficiently. Then, the crew does a walk through of the home to identify further areas that could be targeted for efficiency improvements.

“We’ll do basic measures, change out to LED lighting, caulk around windows, doors or any draft sealants that need to be done, we’ll use spray foam, insulation where there’s visibly an air leak coming through, and put in door sweeps, (and) pipe wrap insulation,” said Emily Leach, program manager at the Superior Watershed Partnership. Workers will also help households with general cleaning and maintenance of appliances, such as cleaning coils beneath refrigerators and replacing furnace filters on a monthly basis, she said.

Interested? If you are, apply as soon as possible. Visit the SWP’s Energy Office at Lakeview Arena in Marquette or call the office at 906-273-2742 or visit http://www.superiorwatersheds.org/energy-conservation for more information.

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Lansing State Journal. January 18, 2019

MSU must become a collective force for good

The journey has been arduous and awful, but Michigan State University may finally be on a path toward a much overdue change in culture.

Signs were evident at the special Board of Trustees meeting Thursday during which controversial interim President John Engler was shown the door - along with a unanimous vote to accept his resignation immediately, a week earlier than his preferred date.

The selection of Satish Udpa, a well-regarded administrator and distinguished professor, as acting president reflects a keen understanding of the need for a temporary leader who will lead by displaying respect for the community he serves.

Also encouraging were the comments trustees made after their vote.

Seven of the eight elected leaders were present (Trustee Melanie Foster, an Engler backer, was not). Six of them spoke, offering their varied perspectives on the crisis MSU has faced over Larry Nassar, the 20-year campus physician who was in fact a serial sexual predator whose victims numbered in the hundreds.

More: AG Nessel wants investigators to interview ex-Michigan State interim President John Engler

Board Chair Dianne Byrum noted that leadership matters and said Engler’s repeated hurtful comments about survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse (most recently saying that some were “enjoying the spotlight”) detracted from the changes Engler put in place.

Vice Chair Dan Kelly suggested political partisanship has no place in steering the university’s future and observed that the most concerning aspect of Engler’s intemperate remarks was the underlying suggestion that the crisis is over and it’s time for the university to move on.

“It’s not over and it will never be over,” he said, adding that it would be a mistake to suggest to an incoming permanent president that the work needed to heal and change the university’s culture is complete.

More: Editorial: The search for MSU’s next president should include the public

And there was an emotional apology from new Trustee Kelly Tebay, who acknowledged “it took too long” for the board to reach this point.

Their collective remarks included pledges to support leadership that reflects the university’s values, to continue working together, to listen to the university community and to support Nassar survivors.

It was a powerful moment, hearing from almost every trustee the depth of their concern and their pledge to improve. The three newest trustees, at only their second meeting, showed compassion and insight. All who spoke acknowledged the need for more change.

The only silent voice was the most veteran trustee, Joel Ferguson, an Engler supporter who nevertheless voted to end his employment. That silence, though, may be a sign of learning from past mistakes as Ferguson, too, has made intemperate remarks about the Nassar crisis. Perhaps his silence was, in its way, a sign that he sees the need for the change.

A year ago, when trustees picked the former Republican governor as the university’s temporary leader, circumstances were far different than they are today.

In the throes of the sentencing hearings, many people were realizing for the first time the depth of Nassar’s depravity and the immense failures at MSU that allowed it to happen. There was not yet a $500 million settlement with hundreds of victims who had sued the university.

Former Dean William Strampel had yet to face charges tied to sexual misconduct, including his own sexual abuse of female medical students, and with mishandling a 2014 complaint against Nassar.

Former president Lou Anna Simon and former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages had not yet been charged with lying to investigators about their knowledge of Nassar’s conduct.

The Attorney General’s special prosecutor brought in to review what happened at MSU had not yet given his report saying that MSU put its reputation before making things right on its campus.

The board has lived through those things. The university community has lived through those things. Everyone is wiser now, perhaps realizing in ways they didn’t previously understand just how much has not changed at MSU and how much work is left to be done.

Simon’s failing as president was her inability to acknowledge that the culture at MSU was deeply flawed.

Engler understood there was a problem, but he didn’t understand that culture isn’t altered by changing structure and process alone.

All the committees, new offices, new initiatives, new policies and improvements will not fix campus culture. Decreeing that it’s time to move forward will not vanquish the underlying problem.

Culture is about people and their attitudes and behavior. People who lead by example.

In his remarks at the meeting, Trustee Brian Mosallam recalled a letter that new acting President Satish Udpa wrote a year ago. In it, Udpa acknowledged the anguish of the Nassar survivors. He also urged the campus community forward with a challenge that Mosallam quoted: “Our collective will to be a force of good must prevail.”

For the first time since the Nassar scandal became public, the majority of MSU’s elected leaders individually displayed an understanding of the problem yet to be solved and took responsibility for it.

That’s a giant and essential first step on the path toward fixing it.

While they continue the work, may they live up to Udpa’s words and become a force of good that prevails.

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