School superintendent presents ‘State of the District’

May 16, 2014
Hart Public Schools Superintendent Mark Platt presents "The State of the District" Thursday evening in the Hart Middle School Auditorium.

Hart Public Schools Superintendent Mark Platt presents “State of the District” Thursday evening in the Hart Middle School Auditorium.

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

HART – Superintendent Mark Platt described the challenges that Hart Public Schools faces, but also the strengths that the Pirates possess during Hart’s first-ever “State of the District” Thursday evening.

Similar to the U.S. Presidents’ “State of the Union Address,” Platt used a much more modern format of a Google Presentation on a gigantic screen in the middle school auditorium in front of an approximate 60-member audience.

“I stole the idea from a friend of mine who is the longest-serving superintendent in the State of Michigan,” Platt said of the “state of the union” style presentation.  He was referring to Dave Peden, long-time the superintendent of the Mona Shores school district. Platt, who began the Hart leadership position last July, served as Mona Shores’ Churchill Elementary School principal for 13 years. Prior to his long-term position at Mona Shores, Platt was an educator at the Oakridge school district for a decade.

With recent high turnovers of superintendents in the Hart district, and in school systems state-wide, the new school leader gave the audience a feeling that he will provide the district much-needed longevity. The new leader said he wants the community to know that he is “visible, approachable and comfortable.”

unnamed-1“We made Mark Platt the captain of our pirate ship to sail through these waters,” said Board of Education President Jeff Gebhart as he introduced the superintendent to the audience, adding that Platt’s family has moved to Hart with a child in the school system.

Platt’s hour-long presentation, incorporating humor, focused on all facets of running a school district, including bus transportation, snow-day makeup formulas, food service privatization, budget, enrollment, social media presence, athletics and buildings.

The transportation department covers 146 square miles, he said. Hart’s buses travel thousands of miles per day and tens of thousands of miles each month, he said, demonstrating that bussing costs are a huge budgetary obstacle for the rural school district.

“Our budget is driven by our agricultural industry,” he said. “We want them to have a good year. Then, we have a good year.”

Hart school’s Hispanic population is 41 percent, and language issues are one of Hart’s key challenges. “Academic challenges are not unique to Hart,” he said. “The bilingual issue kills us, it crushes us. We have kids who can’t read English, because they go to four schools in one year. They can’t help it.”

Despite academic challenges, such as the language issue, Hart has a graduation rate of 90 percent.

A plus side, budget-wise, is that the district has saved thousands of dollars in recent years due to the closures of outlying elementary school buildings, keeping the entire campus on one site, he said.

unnamed-2However, the district is in dire need of a new high school. “I have a high school that is tired,” he said. “It is vintage material. You can see it from the outside and smell it on the inside.” Platt cited several other structural concerns throughout the district, including overcrowding at the Spitler Elementary. “Title I is taking place in the hallway every day,” he said. “There is not going to be a library next year.”

He said the computer server room in the middle school, which contains $200,000 worth of temperature-sensitive equipment, does not have air conditioning.

The high school football stadium is in desperate need of a new track and new lighting. The lighting system is so old that the bulbs can no longer be replaced. The track teams, which have had outstanding success in recent years, could not hold any home meets last season due to the track’s poor condition.

Platt applauded Hart’s track and cross country teams for their success over the years, as well as the cheer program. He said he is proud that his son will be a member of the cross country team next fall. “Schools are judged based on the success of their athletic programs, and that is not fair.”

Hart continuously has had an unsuccessful football program for many years, and there has been discussion of moving the district out of the highly-competitive West Michigan Conference. “I am not sure about this conference thing,” Platt said. “If football fails, they will kick you out.”

Despite the challenges, Hart has many positives. The district passed a non-homestead renewal; created a multi-faceted social media presence; offers a new and improved hot lunch program; and implemented a new educational evaluation system, among many others.

The superintendent plans to have more “State of the District” addresses in the future.