#BoltOn: LCS Robotics program quickly becoming one of state’s best

Tony Diodato works alongside members of the Strike Zone, Team 5460, who will compete this month in the FRC World Championships in St. Louis.

Tony Diodato works alongside members of the Strike Zone, Team 5460, who will compete this month in the FRC World Championships in St. Louis.

I hope by now everyone has seen the great coverage of FIRST Robotics in Wednesday’s Lapeer County Press. This has already been an amazing year for the District’s Robotics Program, and we are excited for what’s to come.

Most recently, our brand new Strike Zone crew (Team 5460) won several awards for excellence for a first-year team and earned the right to compete in the World Robotics Competition in St. Louis, MO this month. The team, coached by Tony Diodato (we call him Mr. Roboto), is getting prepped as I write this for what should be an amazing experience for a very young group. Tony last took the Chimeras, Team 1684, to Worlds back in 2013 and he’s done it again, albeit with a bunch of greenhorns.

Alyssa Garcia, LHS junior and member of the Chimeras, will travel to the FRC World Championship after earning the FRC's highest individual award.

Alyssa Garcia, LHS junior and member of the Chimeras, will travel to the FRC World Championships after earning the FRC’s highest individual award.

Speaking of the Chimeras, one member of that team will also travel to St. Louis. Alyssa Garcia, a junior at LHS, earned the highest individual honor for FRC. She is a “Dean’s List” finalist, an award named after the founder of FRC Dean Kamen.

As many of you know, our robotics teams are now housed in the District’s new Center for Innovation. Each team has a dedicated area for all their projects, ample space for testing and simulation. The Chimeras and Strike Zone work together in a repurposed high school metal shop. Our middle school teams, Mechanical Mayhem and Twisted Metal, have transformed old classrooms into fields for practice and, as you may have heard, they’ve done well — really, really well.

Back in January, an alliance comprised of both our middle school teams won the State FTC Championship in Battle Creek and went on to compete in the Super-Regional in Des Moines, Iowa. Mechanical Mayhem, because of their second place finish in that competition, punched its ticket to the World Robotics Competition as well.

Given all this success, I am reminded of how great things can happen when we harness the power of synergy. These students, ranging in age from 11 to 18, all work together in a shared space that was created, in large part, to cultivate opportunities to be better together than we ever could apart —  to find ways to expand our understanding of how students learn. That is what the Center for Innovation is all about.

These groups of young people embody what we are trying to be as a district probably more than anyone else, young or old. These students are supported by an amazing group of community mentors who share their passion for science and engineering with anyone who take a moment to see what they are all about. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to speak to any of the students or mentors involved. I promise you will be impressed.

Here’s one self-evident truth I’ve learned throughout my career in education: Great outcomes are not possible without great people. We are so fortunate to have folks like Tony, like the Malson Family, Elizabeth Lowe, Austin Mullaney, Jon Uren and so many more who pour themselves into the lives of our students. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their record of success only reinforces the District’s renewed focus on STEM and project-based learning.

We wish the best of luck to all our teams and especially those students who will represent Lapeer at the World Championships.



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The cold truth: Lost instructional days costly for students, staff

cold stockAs we suffer through what we hope are the last arctic gasps of winter 2015, I would like to do a little forecasting of my own. Much has been made, in recent weeks, of the strain that winter weather has placed on school districts across Michigan this year and, to a larger degree, last year.

For weeks I’ve been reminded of the reoccurring scene in the movie, “Groundhog Day.” The alarm goes off at 6 a.m., the radio turns on and the DJ says: “It’s cold out there today.” His partner, deflated, responds: “It’s cold out there every day.”

I know how Phil feels.

In light of the excessive amount of cancellations that have accumulated these past two school years, one state lawmaker has proposed an increase in the number of “forgiven” days allotted to districts. Currently districts must make up every lost day beyond six, in order to receive full funding from the state. The bill that was introduced in the State House would increase the number of these free days to nine.

Only they’re not free; there’s a significant cost to every instructional day we lose to weather.

Last month, our students left school on a Wednesday afternoon and didn’t return until Tuesday – and it wasn’t a vacation. Ask a teacher, coach or band director how difficult it is to make up for that lost time. It’s nearly impossible.

Now to the forecast I promised. We don’t know if these prolonged cold snaps (even colder than we’re accustomed to) will become a fixture of winter in our state; but, here’s something we know for absolute certain: for educators, instructional time is our most precious commodity. With each lost day, there’s a 100 percent chance our students fall behind.

Every day has an objective.

In a recent publication, we profiled an important intervention program for struggling first grade readers in the District called Reading Recovery. The goal of the program is to bring students who are behind to their grade level standard. It’s highly technical work that is founded upon daily 30-minute sessions with professional interventionists. Since the sessions build upon one another, success requires time and consistency. This is just one example of many.

When we lose instructional time, our students suffer. Adding minutes to the instructional day or simply writing off the loss is not a fair compromise for lost time.

We don’t have dueling priorities in this district. Student safety and student achievement are both paramount concerns. We can (and do) make concessions in support of both. That said, we couldn’t support anything that would potentially place even more instructional time at risk.

— Matt Wandrie, Superintendent

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Snow days and social media: An open letter to students

It’s hard for my three kids to believe, but I was a teenager once. I wasn’t always a critical thinker; I didn’t always mind my tongue; and yes, I loved snow days as much as the next kid.

Fast forward three decades and now I’m the adult responsible for leading a school district, for making decisions on a range of issues including school cancellations. If social media is any indication, nothing I do as superintendent is as scrutinized as this singular decision.

About six weeks ago, before our first snowstorm of the year, we sent out information about the processes and policies we follow for weather-related school closings. This is a reminder that we will provide to our community every year because, as I learned a long time ago, it’s a hot-button issue – every year.

There are many concerns that are weighed in advance of making the call on days like today. That said, two stand out above the rest:

  • The safety of our students and staff.
  • Staying true to our core function.

The first is obvious: If our people monitoring the roads in the wee hours of the morning do not think the roads are safe, we will cancel. If the wind chill surpasses our acceptable threshold, we will close.

The second is less obvious: Because each and every instructional day is important, we do not make decisions on cancellation in haste. Losing an entire instructional day is nothing to take lightly. There is a cost to every day of instruction our students miss. Believe it or not, I actually get angry communications from parents on days when we DO close for inclement weather. I get them coming and going, open and shut.

Certainly there are days when I don’t want to get out of bed to go to work. Worse yet are the days when I’m up before 5 a.m. to read the first of 50 angry tweets accusing me of everything from trying to “get students killed” to hoping I crash my car into a ditch – and worse. One student, who lives down the road from my mother, threatened to tattle on me (OK, that one was funny).

Many superintendents live in relative anonymity in school districts, at least where students are concerned. Not this one. I enjoy the interaction with students; I encourage students to articulate their concerns to me directly. It’s a great forum. That said, there’s a right way (here’s an example) and a wrong way to use social media. The sooner we understand this, the more instructive our interactions will be.

The bubble of adolescence does not protect you from consequences for bad behavior online. Students, even in our own district, have suffered serious consequences for words posted online without care for how they would be received. There are examples of high school student-athletes who have lost college scholarships because of their activities online. For adults, the effect can be even more serious. People have put their jobs and even their careers in jeopardy with simple words shared via social media.

I encourage all of you to take this opportunity to think about how you are using social media. What are you tweeting for the entire world to see? Is it something you would say to someone in person? Does it reflect a level of respect that you demand for yourself?

Leaders make decisions and we have to live with them, for better or worse. These decisions may impact you directly; they may not. How you react to them says a lot about who you are as a person.

Take a little time to put yourself in my shoes, where doing what is right may not always be popular. Before forming an opinion, take the time to form an understanding; and not just for me, but for your parents, teachers and classmates. Give everyone the respect they deserve, even when you disagree.

Be safe and have a great weekend!



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Kudos: LCS bus driver William Grobbel ‘cleaning up’ awards for service and shine

LCS Bus Driver William

LCS Bus Driver William Grobbel has earned a reputation for maintaining the cleanest bus in the district.

Sometimes it’s the little things that, when taken together, can make a big difference.

William Grobbel has been a bus driver for Lapeer Community Schools since 2012. During his time in Lapeer, he’s earned himself quite a reputation for running a tidy ship. He was the Bus Washer of the Year for the 2012-13 school year and won an award the following year for excellent vehicle maintenance. He has also been commended for his perfect attendance. (He’s likely to continue cleaning up at this year’s awards.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 11.22.05 AMWilliam puts a lot of time and energy into doing his job well, and our students benefit.

“With the weather and roads as muddy and messy as they are, he goes above and beyond with keeping his bus clean inside and out,” said LCS Transportation Director Linda Thompson. “I did his evaluation and I noticed his students stomping their feet on the ground before getting on the bus. When a driver shows respect for the bus like William does, students follow his lead.”

On one occasion, Thompson just happened to see him outside at Lapeer High School with a white rag wiping down the outside of his bus during a short sit time between shuttles.

“You can get on William’s bus at anytime and you would be amazed how nice it is,” she said. “William cleans his bus with a paint brush and a tooth brush to make sure everything is just so. He is an exemplary employee and is very respected by fellow employees.”

Keep up the great work, William!

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Remember the Lightning: Thank you student-athletes, community supporters

sports ad 7I’ll never forget the feeling of pride that nearly overwhelmed me on that frigid Friday night. For many weeks, we had all been witnesses to something we won’t soon forget.

I saw a mixture of eye black and tears trickling down faces, as an exhausted group of players took off their helmets, some for the last time. I couldn’t help but think that no defeat could be big enough to swallow up the accomplishments of Team One. This is the group that will be remembered for going toe to toe with the top football team in the state, and never blinking. This was the team that, perhaps more than any other, brought our community together for the first time in nearly four decades.

They embodied what this community is at its core: resilient.

Just a few moments later, as Lapeer’s football team, our team, took a knee to listen to their coach find the words to describe what we were all feeling, we were enveloped. A large group of community supporters, parents and well-wishers encircled the team close enough to hear words that I’m certain will stay with many of them forever.

Coach Mike Smith didn’t gloss over the pain that every member of his team felt, and that they would feel for some time to come; but, the agony of defeat wasn’t the only certainty that he shared with his team that night. There was something bigger than football those boys-turned-men needed to hear in that moment.

“Team one is a special group; you’re special,” Smith said, fighting back tears. “I know, without a doubt in my mind, that if you guys put as much effort into your life off this field as you put into your life on it, you will succeed.

“If you do that, you cannot fail.”

Remember his words; Remember this team.

It has been said that some of life’s most important lessons are learned between the white lines. Opportunities to be a part of a team, to be coachable, to understand how to win (and lose) are priceless.

I think it’s fair to say that, this Fall, our young people had something to teach all of us. In victory and defeat, our student-athletes shined. They taught us how to adapt to change, to work together toward a common goal and to represent our community with great pride. They played for each other; they played for Lapeer.

We saw this theme play out all over the District, as our boys’ soccer team knocked off undefeated Flint Powers to win the conference championship. We saw it on the volleyball court, as our girls went from unranked and unknown all the way to the Elite Eight in Class A. We saw it on the tennis courts, in the pool, and on the courses, both cross country and golf.

This dynamic played out all season, and at every level. Our student-athletes proved, over and over, that all of us truly are better than any of us.

Most importantly, we saw the teamwork that made our teams succeed carry over into our schools. The anxiety that, for many, accompanied every step in our transition to one high school, is now a thing of the past. Lapeer Community Schools is delivering on its promise to educate all students, to provide more and better choices, and is now taking its place among the most innovative school districts in the state.

Next month it will be my honor to tell our story, the Lapeer Story, at the Innovative Schools Conference in Lansing. This opportunity is proof positive that people across the state have a keen eye toward what we have done and what we’re going to do.

Not long ago, I was struck by a comment that one of our community members posted to our District’s Facebook page. It was in response to a simple question, asked of our thousands of followers, about what they love about our community. Planted between lighthearted comments about Max’s donuts and the laid-back luxuries of country living, were these five words: “I love our new reputation.”

One Lapeer isn’t just another school district among the hundreds; we are one of one. We have become a destination district for students seeking challenge and choice, for parents looking for a small-town feel with a big-city opportunities.

Where success is measured not in points but in prosperity, we remain too committed to fail.

Thank you to all our student-athletes and to a great community that supports them.


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Message to staff: Start with ‘Why’ this year

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 4.00.49 PM

A message to staff from LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie:

For the past three years, we’ve all been through our fair share of meetings, forums, PD sessions, strategic plan presentations and the like. We’ve made decisions, helped craft new policies and programs, and even changed minds — sometimes our own. To do nothing would have been easier, but that was never an option.

You’d be hard pressed to find another district in the state that has done more to reinvent itself, and in less time. Today, we offer more and better opportunities to students than ever before. The hard work was worth it and the future is bright.

We know where we’ve come from as a district; we know where we’ve gone and, I trust, we have a better understanding of where we’re headed.

As an organization, I believe it’s time for us to circle back and pay closer attention to what compelled us to change —  to offer more choices, to re-engage our community and to no longer be content with the status quo.

It’s time we inspire our community with the same spirit that inspired us to educate all kids. Author Simon Sinek calls it “starting with why.”

We fundamentally believe that education is the one and only, tried and true, path to success in this world. The ultimate “why” is the fact that access to education is what transcends poverty, race, class and circumstances beyond our control. It is still the best and most readily-available opportunity for a better life.

We believe that every student deserves a personalized education, and the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to achievement.

Great organizations do not become great without clarity, without knowing why they exist. All of us must begin each day with a clear understanding of why we chose to be educators, why what we do every day makes a difference. We must be able to articulate it, live it and persuade others to want to be a part of it.

Real innovation does not happen without this basic understanding of why.

This is the most important year in the history of Lapeer Community Schools. I am confident that we will succeed where others have failed if we maintain our focus on the why.

On behalf of a grateful community, I thank you for your dedication to the students of Lapeer.

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Writing the first chapter of a story worth reading

ambassadors logoThis guest editorial by Matt Wandrie was featured in Sunday’s Lapeer County Press.

One solution is never enough to bridge the gap between good and great. To simply come together won’t get us where we need to go.

We must work together to forge a new, brighter future for our community.

As we enter the final stretch of our historic unification of East and West High Schools, we are coming to grips with what one banner will mean for the future of Lapeer. From here on out we rally together, we root together and we take the first of many steps toward the restoration of the great tradition of One Lapeer.

This past week, many of our students had the opportunity to meet former Michigan State basketball player Anthony Ianni. To many of our kids, Ianni, at 6-foot-9, is larger than life. His message is even bigger.

Ianni is Autistic. He is the first person with the disorder to accede to the ranks of NCAA basketball. He told a group of students at Murphy Elementary on Wednesday that he was bullied during his elementary years, and even into middle school. He was targeted because he was different. Ianni said he succeeded where others failed because he had friends, teammates, and teachers – all family – looking out for him. It was that sense of the familial and familiar, phenomena we all experience, that changed his life. It was a support system, a community and ultimately individuals choosing to befriend rather than belittle that set his course.

As the community rallies around the banner of One Lapeer, we become people identified by a place, a time and a vision. People who look out for each other in a place that is no longer about “them,” but “us. “

“You are all in the Lightning Family,” he told the students.

Starting now.

As an organization, we believe that a culture of consensus can overcome the anxiety that always accompanies change. If we approach this transition as a family, as stakeholders in the shared future of our community, we will not fail. We won’t always agree on the route, but as a community we must agree on the destination: excellence in all that we do.

We must first demand more of ourselves and, second, expect more from our young people. They are capable of great things. Starting this fall, we will offer more academic opportunities for our students that at any point in our history. More rigor, more support and more (and better) choices.

This transcends a consolidation. This is the year we put our stake in the ground as a community, the year when excellence is an expectation not an outlier. The foundation has been laid, and we are ready to build.

We have a plan for K-12 alignment that we can achieve; we have a structure that is sustainable; and, most importantly, we have a vision that is less about the adults and more about our kids.

We are writing the first chapter of a story worth reading, telling and re-telling.

In the coming months, many of you will encounter members of an intrepid group of volunteers who have been tasked to spill our beans, to ensure that the program we’ve built over the last three years isn’t a secret.

This group of Ambassadors, more than 100 strong, are taking our message to the streets and encouraging anyone who will listen to take a fresh look at Lapeer. But don’t wait for them to come to you. I encourage you to get connected to LCS online (LapeerSchools.org) to learn about all the exciting new initiatives coming this fall.

And don’t just look at what we’re offering our students; consider all that’s new, innovative and exciting.

Lapeer is a great place to live and learn, and we’re confident more and more people will choose the District of Choices.

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Annette Breaux on the anatomy of a great teacher

I read an article on Twitter this morning by Annette Breaux that I thought really highlighted what makes a great teacher. Here are a few of the points she shared:

– At the risk of overstating the obvious, great teachers truly love children. If you don’t love children, you can’t be a great teacher. Period

– Great teachers are masters at classroom management. They understand the importance of structure. Their management plans consist of clearly stated rules that are enforced fairly, calmly and consistently and of procedures that are are practiced until they become routines. No surprises.

– Great teachers are intelligent people who possess a thorough understanding of their subject matter. They are not, however, arrogant in their knowledge. Rather, they use their knowledge to simplify what’s complex and to accommodate their students’ individual abilities and levels of understanding.

– Great teachers (have) enthusiasm that is contagious, and they act as though everything they teach is their favorite. . .

– Great teachers are positive, kind, compassionate, patient people. Though they are as human as anyone else, they do not allow students to push their buttons. They handle even the most challenging situations with composure, thoughtfulness and professionalism. They never compromise a student’s dignity.

– Great teachers are problem solvers. They don’t play the blame game. They identify problems and immediately get to busy finding solutions.

– Great teachers don’t endure change; rather, they ensure it – not simply for the sake of change, but for the betterment of teaching and learning.

– Great teachers have a sense of humor, and they share it daily with their students.

– Great teachers continually strive to make learning fun, relevant, interesting, challenging and engaging. In the classrooms of great teachers, students are encouraged to question, discuss, debate, experiment, invent and make lots of mistakes.

– Great teachers recognize the importance of establishing positive relationships with their students.

– Great teachers have high expectations of all students. . .

– Great teachers are not perfect teachers. When they make mistakes, the act as good role models do, admitting their mistakes. . .

The bottom line is that great teachers are some of the most dedicated and committed people you will ever meet. . .

Read more from this article by visiting the SmartBLog on Education.

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Check out this awesome trailer for Into the Woods

Please watch this video made by East senior Justin McCrory. Shows are March 7-8 and 14-15 at 7 pm in the Lapeer East Auditorium. Tickets are available for purchase in advance at the Lapeer East Office. They are also available at the door.

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Too Committed To Fail: Not hope, expectation

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 1.40.05 PMThis editorial was featured in Sunday’s Lapeer County press. Click here to subscribe.

Earlier this month, after spending an afternoon meeting with policymakers in Lansing, I stopped by the auditorium at Lapeer East High School for one of the District’s Innovation Nights. More than 200 people came out on a snow day to hear from members of our administrative team about one of the exciting new programs coming to Lapeer in the fall — College on Campus.

The concept of high school students earning college credits in our buildings, inside their traditional class schedules, has a lot of parents and students fired up about the future.

For me, the evening embodied what Lapeer Community Schools is all about.

We aren’t sitting idly by waiting for a cure to what is ailing so many school districts across the state. We have a voice in Lansing and attentive ears to changes happening at the state level, but our eyes are fixed on the future. We have solutions right here, in our town, that will be modeled by our neighbors – solutions that are being talked about in Lansing.

Over the last three years, we’ve developed a secondary program for our students that will be unparalled in the region. Don’t take my word for it; come see for yourself at our final Innovation Night at 6 p.m. on Feb. 11 at Zemmer Middle School.

As the largest educational institution in Lapeer County, we shoulder the greater share of responsibility for preparing our young people for the future. I encourage all of you to take a close look at what the future holds for students in Lapeer; that said, even a passing glance is enough to realize what we are aiming for: college and career readiness.

Our youngest students must be prepared for advancement to a middle-level program that will have more opportunities for rigor than ever before: Flexible scheduling for intervention and academic stretch before and after school, implementation of the nation’s leading STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum, the state’s first middle-level year-round program, SpringBoard English curriculum for high school credit and much more.

Similarly, our middle-level students must be prepared for a high school experience that is focused on college readiness. By the time our younger students get to high school, our teachers will build upon a foundation of understanding that started on day one. And when they get there, they won’t know that their experience was never the norm – but their parents will.

Our high school students, as mentioned above, will have opportunities to earn college credits through our College and Campus program and Advanced Placement (AP). Those who take on the challenge will be better prepared for college rigor, and their parents will save thousands in tuition costs.


In the coming weeks, we will introduce you to a high school senior who, thanks to our expanding AP program, will graduate high school with more than 30 college credits. So how will she answer the question, “what’s your diploma worth?”

You’ll meet an enterprising student who started taking college-level math courses with Michigan State University while he was still in middle school.

Since no two students are exactly alike, we strive to reach all students where they are with a multitude of options to suit their needs and interests. We don’t believe in the factory model for our students. If they are ready for more, we’re going to provide them with more.

It doesn’t end there. Flexible scheduling at the middle level will carry over to high school, as we offer transportation for both enrichment and intervention. We will open our Center for Innovation – West Campus (currently West High school) as our home for numerous academic and extracurricular programs including dual enrollment, AP, robotics, alternative education and outdoor athletics. We will start the 2014-15 school year as the only school district in the state to offer AP Capstone, an innovative diploma program that engages students in the rigorous scholarly practice of core academic skills required for success in college.

As we inch closer to the historic consolidation of East and West High Schools, I want to reaffirm my commitment to the families of this school district. This merger will not only have a far-reaching impact on our community, but will open our students up to more opportunities than ever before.

As has been reported in this newspaper in the last week, our local economy is still struggling. Our local jobless rate is back in double digits and the national economy is recovering from recession at a historically slow pace. There are reasons to be uncertain about the future; your local school district is not one them.

Our focus is on the whole child, improving our academic and athletic programs, facilities and, ultimately, becoming a model school district in Michigan. This is an expectation, not a hope.

In this endeavor, we are too committed to fail.

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