J-L student-athletes resume training with seasons flip suggested by Whitmer
JOHANNESBURG — High school sports in Michigan could look a lot different this fall.
During a press conference last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pushed for the Michigan High School Athletic Association to consider moving fall sports like volleyball and football (sports that have a tough time social distancing) to the spring, and sports like tennis, golf, track and perhaps baseball and softball to the spring.
Whitmer, who is, for now, leaving the decision up to the MHSAA, said she expects a final answer between July 20-25.
While decisions are being made in Lansing — with COVID-19 numbers again rising throughout the state and country — Johannesburg-Lewiston student-athletes returned to the practice field last Monday for the first time since the lock-down in March.
The workout schedule, which is posted on the school’s Facebook page, details a four-day-a-week plan for football players and cross-country athletes.
“Monday night was the first night anything happened,” J-L head football coach and athletic director Joe Smokevitch said of training. “We had some girls out there doing some conditioning. We aren’t really sports specific right now.”
Smokevitch admitted the possibility of a season swap has made things more difficult for coaches, players and athletic directors, as they look to get back to a routine.
“It’s so hard not knowing,” he said. “That’s the frustrating part. It’s tough because we were told in early June, with 400 coaches in the state present, that flip-flopping was out of the question. We had a game plan after that, but now we have no clue what’s going on, which is hard.
”We have a lot of athletes out here right now who are just football players, so they might work out here and then not be able to play anything until the spring. That unknown for kids, coaches and me as an AD is very difficult. My August might be rescheduling everything. I’m trying not to get too worked up about it yet, but I think they will go based on (Whitmer’s) recommendation.”
Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Cody Proctor will be coaching either way this fall. As defensive coordinator for the football team, and head coach of the baseball team, Proctor now has to have eyes on both sports. But he felt reassured knowing most student-athletes at J-L play multiple sports and would be ready for whatever awaits them in the fall.
“The kids who are only football specific would be fairly bummed to know they are going to get pushed back to the spring,” Proctor said. “In our school, a lot of football players are involved in another sport, but it would be tough for the football-specific players to have the season moved back, but if that’s the only way they can play football it’s worth the wait.”
For now, football is still scheduled to start at the end of August, setting up a dramatic return to high school sports after the end of winter and the entire spring seasons were cancelled to end the 2019-20 school year due to COVID-19. Despite losing some key pieces from last year’s playoff football team, Smokevitch has the same expectations for this season.
“My expectations never change from a year-to-year basis,” Smokevitch said of his football team. “I want to make the playoffs, win a conference title and win a state championship. I would love to win three straight conference titles.
”I have to replace five offensive lineman. I have a couple good, returning players to build off of, but after that I’m not sure what (the line) is going to look like. We lose (Logan) Finnerty, which will be tough, but we get (Preston) Marlatt and Sheldon (Huff) back.”
Huff has already had an exciting offseason, picking up football offers from Alma, Olivet and Valparaiso University, a rising Division 1 program.
”I think (Huff’s) going to have a a great year. I see more things happening for him. I’m excited for him. I have high expectations. I think it’s going to be a great season.”
Over the last couple months, student-athletes, coaches and anyone involved with high school sports, have proven their resiliency and determination. Those traits could be tested even further this summer and fall, as uncertainty continues to cloud the upcoming school year.
“It’s kind of tough because we are gearing up for football season, but in three weeks I could be throwing up batting cages and working to get the fields ready for baseball,” Proctor said. “It could be an immediate switch in gears. I have a sport to coach no matter what, but it’s a bit of a crazy situation.
“Some of the kids are looking to play summer baseball now, and I think that could be beneficial as we could be playing the season in the fall.”
While Proctor will be excited for whichever sport he’s able to coach in the fall, his heart did seem to lean a certain way.
“Because I coach both sports, I put myself into whichever sport 100 percent,” Proctor said. “I would be excited to have a baseball season, but I would be sad to see football postponed. Fall to me is football season, but I would be excited to get back on the diamond.”
Although COVID-19 numbers have remained relatively low in Northern Michigan, cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids and now even Kalamazoo have had thousands of cases, which are again on the rise. Whatever the MHSAA decides later this month will take the entire state into consideration, making things even more difficult for schools in Northern Michigan.
“I’m certainly aware of what’s going on (down state),” Proctor said. “Because they are going to have to make a decision that is statewide, we as coaches have to pay attention to numbers down state because it will impact us as well. It’s hard to say at this point what will happen.”
The waiting surrounding the potential swap in seasons may seem like a burden now, but flipping some of the non-contact sports to the fall and moving some of the sports that can’t social distance to the spring might ultimately be the best way to ensure three sports seasons in 2020-21.
If football starts this fall and has to be postponed or cancelled due to a steady rise in COVID-19 cases, it could also affect winter sports. Flipping seasons would also allow the baseball, softball and likely the track and field athletes to enjoy a season just months after having their 2019-20 seasons cancelled.
It may not be ideal for summer training and fall planning, but flipping seasons could ultimately make everyone happy throughout the upcoming school year.
Schools edge toward a fall reopening as Whitmer reveals her requirements
GAYLORD — While generally supportive of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s requirements for in-person instruction this fall, superintendents of school districts serving Gaylord and Otsego County said they are working to finalize return-to-school plans that meet their communities’ needs.
Whitmer’s plan, released on Tuesday, has safety protocols which will vary based on the status of the Coronavirus pandemic in a geographic area at the time.
If Northern Michigan remains in Phase 5 of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reopening plan, teachers will likely spend time instructing students on proper hand-washing techniques. It’s recommended that students eat meals in classrooms or outside, as congregating in common areas like the cafeteria has been discouraged. Athletics will be allowed to resume, but crowds at Friday night football games (or other large-scale outdoor stadium events) are strongly recommended to be limited to 250 people. Hygiene products and rigorous cleaning will become part of the daily routine.
At this time the plan, called the MI Safe Schools Return to School Road map, includes a number of restrictions:
“Requiring staff and students to wear masks will certainly be a challenge, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to bring students back to school in a safe and effective manner. Schools are designed to function at their highest level when both students and staff members feel safe. Safety, along with teaching, learning, and social development, will be the foundation of our back-to-school learning plan,” said Brian Pearson, superintendent of the Gaylord Community Schools (GCS).
Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools superintendent Katy Xenakis-Makowski said, “We are fortunate in our region to be in Phase 5 (because) this is optional in Phase 5. In Phase 4, it is a requirement. Based on the information I have today, masks will not be required of teachers and staff at all times. That could change as we develop plans in conjunction with the local health departments and other professionals.”
Surveys in Gaylord and Johannesburg-Lewiston show that a majority of parents are comfortable sending their children into a school building.
“About a month ago we surveyed our parents (and) at that time, about 75 percent said they would be sending their children back to school in the fall. About 20 percent said they were undecided and some had concerns regarding health, safety, and the rules,” said Xenakis-Makowski.
“As our team develops our plan in conjunction with other school districts around the state, we will communicate our plans to our parents and find the best way to meet their family’s needs. Some may want to be online, others may want to wait and see, while others may be ready to return with safety protocols in place. Our district has begun planning for increased sanitizing stations, increased washing of hands, increased disinfecting and cleaning and developing health guidelines for when students should stay home from school,” she added.
In the Gaylord district, “We surveyed parents in June, and the results of that survey indicated that 73 percent of the parents would choose face-to-face instruction, 8 percent would choose online instruction, and 19 percent were undecided,” said Pearson.
“(The) GCS is presently developing three plans for returning to school. Plans one and two will be built on a face-to-face instruction platform. The details of these plans will depend upon the particular phase that is in place. These plans will be developed with input from parents, staff members, and most importantly local public health officials,” he said.
“The third plan includes a K-12 online school that is taught by GCS teachers and aligns with face-to-face instruction. The online platform will be available to all students — regardless of the phase — and run in conjunction with plans one or two (or on its own if the region is designated as Phases 1-3). We expect the plans to be completed in late July and released to the public after board approval,” Pearson added.
The Whitmer school plan recommends, but does not mandate, social distancing. That means that with proper safety protocols in place, kids can ride buses and be in school five days a week.
Whitmer said the state would provide $256 million in new school funding to help offset the costs of COVID-19 relief.
Hello families and Cardinal Community!
Click Here to view the video which explains the bond proposal in more detail.
JOHANNESBURG — In an effort to address current and future student, community and staff needs, Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools is asking voters in the district to consider a bond proposal to renovate buildings and address a parking lot safety issue.
A $21.9 million project is planned to refurbish space in the Lewiston building, remodel space and construct an addition onto the Johannesburg building, and address the parking lot issue at the Johannesburg K-8 grade entrance.
A 2.3-mill sinking fund is coming off the tax rolls in 2020, and a bond measure is proposed as the sinking fund replacement. If approved by voters, the bond is estimated to be a levy of 2.99 mills over 25 years. According to a fact sheet on the proposal, a home in the school district with a taxable value of $55,000 is currently paying $126.50 a year for the sinking fund and would see an increase of $37.95 a year for the bond issue.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, J-L superintendent, said the proposal focuses on space needs, especially for extracurricular activities, in the two school buildings, which both date from the 1950s. She indicated 60 percent of the funding would be spent to renovate current buildings and the K-8 parking lot.
She said 70 percent of the 706 children enrolled in the district participate in after-school programs and sports. This means that because of space limitations, practices are going on before the school day starts and into the evening after classroom time, and also taking place in hallways or with multiple sports at the same time in the gym.
Also, the gym at the Lewiston K-5 building does not have a regulation-size basketball court, thus limiting it for practices for older players.
The district fields sports such as volleyball, football, cross-country, track, basketball, baseball, softball and golf. In addition to sports, the school offers robotics and has 14 Odyssey of the Mind teams competing this year.
Xenakis-Makowski said basically practice for high school students goes from 5:30 a.m. until the school day begins and after school until 8:30 p.m.
The plan to address the practice quandary is the addition of a multi-use field house at the Johannesburg building.
“It would be pre-engineered, with no plumbing, and be less expensive to build,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “There would be enough space to have all practices between 3 and 7 p.m., and could be used by all teams all year long.”
She said plans include an indoor track with four lanes and 1/10 mile in length.
“This gives the track team a place to practice and the community a place to walk,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
The Johannesburg building also would see the addition of a performing arts center and a fitness center.
The school district has a robust music program and the auditorium would feature 100 permanent seats and could handle seating up to 600 with reverse bleachers in place. Xenakis-Makowski sees this space available for future band concerts, plus graduation ceremonies and more.
At the Lewiston school, restrooms are to be updated, especially with 50 percent of them unusable at the moment, new plumbing since there are areas in the school that lack access to water, a fitness center, music and art rooms, and updates to several classrooms and the gym to make it more useful for school and community activities.
Both schools also will get their heating systems replaced to be more energy efficient and reliable. Cafeteria space, technology and buses would also be updated with bond funds.
The parking lot at the K-8 school entrance in Johannesburg is also a big piece of the planned project. It poses a safety issue now, Xenakis-Makowski said, as there is only one way in and out of the lot, no place to turn around to exit easily and often causes traffic to back up on M-32.
The district is working on having a platted roadway north of the parking lot vacated by Otsego County to allow the lot to be expanded to include a loop to flow traffic in and out and add more parking spaces.
The J-L district covers 300 square miles and includes parts of three counties and six townships: Charlton, Chester and Dover in Otsego County; Albert and Vienna in Montmorency County; and Greenwood in Oscoda County.
“The number is big,” Xenakis-Makowski said of the $21.9 million price tag. “But I feel like what we can do with that is very respectful for the students, staff and community. ... It will have a long-term impact and draw more families and students (to the district). It will impact those who don’t have students” by offering the public access to space in the school buildings for exercise and other activities.
The schools “are the largest buildings available” in their respective communities, Xenakis-Makowski said.
“We get a lot of community requests and we can’t service them all,” she said.
Xenakis-Makowski said information on the bond proposal has been or will be given out at multiple meetings, including at townships, the Lewiston Library, Lewiston Lions and Lioness Lions clubs, Lewiston 50 Plus Club and parent-teacher conferences.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston Equestrian team finished up the 3 show District Competition on September 14th as Division C Grand Champions. Going into the competition they trailed Petoskey after the first two shows and were neck and neck with Boyne City for 2nd place.
Johannesburg-Lewiston superintendent highest possible evaluation
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston Area School Board of Education scored its superintendent with the highest possible evaluation Michigan superintendents can receive during the annual process.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, J-L superintendent, was ranked as “highly effective” for the third year in a row.
“The year went well, I am very happy to be a part of the awesome educational community of Johannesburg-Lewiston,” Xenakis-Makowski said in an email. “We have a great team here in Johannesburg-Lewiston. I am very fortunate to play a part in the process of educating the future!”
The board members each conducted an evaluation of Xenakis-Makowski on June 27.
Board President Michael Vogt said in an email that Xenakis-Makowski has the full support of the board.
“Katy continues to do very well as superintendent for JLAS. Her score on the evaluation was 93.4 percent — which is highly effective,” Vogt said. “She does a very good job leading our staff in our educational pursuits, managing our construction projects, and brings new ideas to other areas of our district such as senior exit interviews, school improvement committee leadership, and grants, to name a few.”
Xenakis-Makowski said this school year, she plans to work with the board and community to review accomplishments with the sinking fund to determine the next steps the district needs to take to continue needed updates and growth of facilities.
Xenakis-Makowski said she also wants to work on “partnering with our educators to ensure students’ needs are being met as we all have the ultimate goal of success for every student.”
Xenakis-Makowski also tackled projects such as exit interviews with senior students during the last school year.
“Last year I worked to complete exit interviews with each senior,” she said. “That was a highlight and a welcomed perspective, getting to see schooling and the future from their eyes.”
Xenakis-Makowski said she also worked to get a grant to support the creation of a district leadership team.
“Through the dedication of our administrators and teachers, this team has accomplished so much in their first year,” she said. “I am very proud of the teachers and principals who worked so hard to make the team come together and continue to push the district forward."
Thanks to various grants and flexible teachers, the 7th and 9th-11th grade students had
LEWISTON — Mia spends her days helping students to build confidence with reading skills and as a calming figure students can visit during the school day.
And the students at Lewiston Elementary School know Mia is working when the mostly white canine is wearing her vest.
“When I put her vest on, it’s like she’s a whole different dog. She knows her job is to just go and sit and make (a) kid’s day,” Shari Axford, Title I teacher at Lewiston Elementary School, said.
Title I teachers help students who struggle with disciplines like reading or math and Axford said Mia has been a boon to her students.
“There’s research out there that kids who have a hard time reading, relax when they can read to an animal,” Axford said. “So that was kind of my goal in this to provide another situation that a child could read comfortably and not worry about making mistakes and it’s amazing. These kids just glow when they’re reading to her.”
Mia visits students in class, hallways, at arrival and when students leave for the day.
Axford adopted Mia from the Otsego County Animal Shelter in Gaylord and said her companion is about 4 or 5 years old.
This is Mia’s first year at the school.
“There’s just something about pets that kind of has this calming effect,” Axford said. “There’s even research that having an animal can reduce your heart rate.”
Mia visits students in Axford’s classroom and Lewiston teachers also have the option to recommend students visit Mia throughout the school day in certain situations.
“It produces a calming effect in the hallway because kids will stop and pet her and come and talk to me. Instead, the kids would (otherwise) hurry down the hall and be loud. It’s kind of neat how it affects the kids,” Axford said. “If at any time during the day, like a kid’s having a rough time or something like that, at the teacher’s discretion, they decide if maybe Mia might help them get re-centered.”
Axford said Mia brings a different level of conversation with students as well as parents who stop to visit the dog.
She first approached the Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools Board of Education with Mia by her side.
“They were amazed how whenever I stopped, wherever I’m at, she lays down. I don’t even have to hold the leash. She’s just very laid back and calm,” Axford said. “The superintendent had seen me with her here over the summer and there were construction workers everywhere and she (Mia) wasn’t doing anything. She didn’t care.”
Axford penned a letter that explained Mia’s certification.
“(I) sent a letter out to every single family in the school. And (it) made it clear what her job was, what her role was — and wanted to know if there was any parent that felt they didn’t want their child to have contact with her,” Axford explained. “And I didn’t get a single letter back.”
Axford said she was worried Mia wouldn’t be accepted by parents since she is a pit bull mix.
“Right away, I thought that was going to be a deterrent. But she’s a cute pit mix and she’s petite,” Axford said. “She’s just a ham and she’s been very well received by the community.”
Axford said she knew there was something special about Mia so she looked into getting certified as a therapy team.
Mia and Axford are certified through the national Pet Partners program that focuses on therapy pets and animal-assisted activities.
“Through them, it’s a pretty strenuous process you have to go through,” she said. “I think they’re one of the best therapy organizations because they really make you stick with certain protocol.”
Aside from training Mia, Axford also needed to go through strenuous training in the program.
Then, Mia had to show she could handle a scenario obstacle course.
“They have all these scenarios set up there. They had maybe 20 volunteers there,” Axford said. “And so you have to take your dog through these situations like they had a lady with a walker and she was all dressed up funky and she was really loud and making noise and they wanted to see how your dog is going to react. And they had somebody go up and grab her around the neck and see what the dog would do.”
The process was fairly nerve-wracking for Axford who didn’t know how Mia would handle all the test situations.
“She went through (with) flying colors. She actually (had) the highest rating. She could actually go into psych wards and visit people in psych wards, I was very proud of her,” Axford said.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, J-L superintendent, said in an email that programs like the one Axford is involved with require a lot of training and time.
“This is a very special case as Shari had started this path outside of the school setting and was able to merge it,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “I would not be opposed to expanding the program — it is amazing what can be done.”
Xenakis-Makowski said the district does not have plans at this time to bring a similar therapy or reading dog to the district’s Johannesburg buildings.
Axford said she hopes to bring a chapter of the program to Northern Lower Peninsula since the nearest Pet Partners in the region is based in Marquette.
“But I’ve got to get five other people who want to have their dog certified to actually start an organization here,” she said.
Anyone interested in joining Axford in creating a local regional branch can contact her at email@example.com
Students nominate peers for posters promoting substance abstinence
OTSEGO COUNTY — Local students are popping up on posters displayed at schools around Otsego County as a new Health Department of Northwest Michigan project takes shape.
The poster project started last month and is part of an initiative known as RISE, a collaboration between the department and districts like Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools to showcase high school students who abstain from substance use.
J-L junior Holly Kussrow said she feels proud her friends and other students will see her poster displayed in the cafeteria.
“I think it’s awesome that they look up to me in that way and that I’m able to be a role model to other kids,” Kussrow said. “I know that I have a future to look forward to, and I can have fun in other ways.”
Kussrow’s poster shows a photo of the varsity basketball player mid game with the phrase “I RISE above the influence.”
Kussrow is also involved in cross-country and softball. She said playing the French horn and board game nights with friends are other ways she has fun.
J-L plans to have three posters while Gaylord Community Schools also wants to install three and St. Mary Cathedral School two.
The posters show images of students engaged in activities like robotics, clubs or athletics.
Each student featured on the 20- by 30-inch framed poster was originally nominated by another student, like J-L’s Chloe House, who is part of RISE.
“It sounded like a group that was a good thing to be a part of, just because we see so much of substance use in high school,” House said. “I just liked what they did and what it stood for, so I decided to join.”
House nominated Kussrow.
“A lot of people in school look up to Holly and a lot of people know Holly just from how many sports she’s in and how good of a classmate and teammate she is,” House said. “With her being substance free, that’s just another thing she can be a role model for.”
Sierra Hilt, RISE: Otsego Substance Free Coalition project coordinator, said the project will rotate different posters each season.
“We’re trying to use this poster project to spread the word and help younger people, like middle school students, understand that there are a lot of their high school peers that are substance free and that are people they can look up to,” Hilt said. “It’s nice to have local people that the younger kids can see in the hallway and interact with on a daily basis.”
She said the target audience for the posters at each school is middle school students.
“It’s just an age where they are looking for good influences and they’re very good influences,” Hilt said.
Baseball players team up with elementary students for shopping event
GAYLORD — It was the Friday before Christmas, and Gaylord’s Meijer was a busy place full of shoppers hunting for holiday gifts and groceries.
But as adults wandered the store looking for goodies, the place was also filled with teens donning red, white and black Johannesburg-Lewiston High School (J-L) Cardinals jerseys.
The J-L baseball players were paired with elementary students sent by Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools with the mission to responsibly shop for mostly healthy groceries and stay within a budget.
As first-grader Sylvia Pupava bobbed around in a partially full shopping cart in the produce section, junior varsity baseball player Brock Casselman helped to track down an elusive musk melon.
Casselman said the two started planning for the shopping trip on the bus ride from Johannesburg.
Casselman wore his No. 13 jersey and wove his way through the aisles seeking foods on their list shaped like a plate divided into sections for grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein categories.
“I asked her what her favorite things were, and the first thing she said was ‘pickles,’” he said.
Pupava excitedly talked about her favorite foods and things to do as Christmas music played in the background, and Casselman patiently encouraged her to choose what she liked from the list.
“I’m on the baseball team and so this is one of the things that we do for our school. We’re giving back,” Casselman said.
An animated Pupava shared that she has all the equipment needed to play baseball — a bat and a mitt.
“She said she wanted to play baseball when she got older,” Casselman said.
The baseball players eagerly crouched to the level of the younger students helping them pluck loaves of bread or packages of fresh raspberries from displays.
Players then gathered with carts at a designated checkout register with younger students in tow.
Cody Proctor, J-L baseball coach, furiously tied grocery bags and loaded carts.
He said about 22 players from both the junior varsity and varsity teams participated in the event with roughly the same number of elementary students.
“The elementary (staff) are working with (students) on picking things that may be needed more than wanted, teaching them a little on how the pricing works and just to give them an experience that they don’t normally have,” Proctor said. “This is the first time that we’ve done this (and we’re) hoping that it will be something we continue to do.”
He said the baseball program is “in a good place for the program that we were able to give back” so he and others at the district created the trip with the help of a $500 donation from Meijer and several other donations.
Proctor said the students had a total of $1,200 to work with.
“Over Thanksgiving break, I was just kind of thinking about things to do. I’m just trying to build the program and put our program out there and do things for the community. And I originally came up with doing some kind of toy shopping and then after talking with the elementary, they suggested this,” he said.
Proctor said the aim was to not only give back, but also “to find ways to expose my kids to things, to teach them some things other than baseball.”
Food purchased during the event was sent home with each of the elementary students who participated.
J-L finds silver lining in being victimized by ransom-ware
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — What sounds more like a “Crime Scene Investigation” episode than real-life scenario actually happened to Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS).
JLAS fell prey to what Superintendent Katy Xenakis-Makowski has learned is an all-too common form of hacking, as its servers were recently attacked by “ransom-ware” and the school district extorted for money.
“Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools recently identified a ransom-ware infection that impacted some of its computer systems,” the school said in a statement. “Upon learning of this issue, the district promptly began an investigation, working closely with external cyber security professionals and forensic investigators.”
Fortunately for J-L, its insurance provider covered the ransom amount and the school district was only required to pay a deductible.
“We had to pay a deductible on our insurance for this whole thing and everything is encompassed in that,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
Xenakis-Makowski said she was unaware of what ransom-ware was or that it could affect the school until the infection happened.
“Ransom-ware works by locking up files on an electronic device, making them inaccessible,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “It doesn’t open them, it doesn’t read them, and it doesn’t copy them. It just locks them.”
Basically, any file on an infected server or system is inaccessible, Xenakis-Makowski said of the ransom-ware’s effect.
Approximately one month ago, Xenakis-Makowski was informed by a school technology consultant that something was preventing any file on the district’s servers from being opened.
“Bots out there just throw username and password combinations until something sticks,” she said.
As far as J-L has gathered through its month long investigation, the perpetrators are located somewhere in Germany and sent the ransom-ware virus through four other countries before finding a home in the J-L servers.
“I don’t want to say for certain how it happened because we aren’t even for sure on that yet,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “Somehow someone was able to hack into a server and encrypt files.”
While she was directed to report the incident to the FBI, she said the school isn’t a big enough entity for any further action to be pursued.
“Unfortunately, we’re not big enough for someone to do something about it,” she said. “It’s not like someone in Johannesburg or Michigan did it.”
But the most important aspect of the situation is that no student or staff data was compromised, she said.
Thankfully, the district does not keep its student and staff data on its servers, so the ransom-ware didn’t even have the opportunity to get to those files.
While J-L may have avoided more serious consequences, the impact was significant.
“Our network isn’t completely back up yet,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “It will be about a full month from when it happened until everything is fully functional and working.”
For about a week after the cyber attack, Xenakis-Makowski and other members of J-L’s Board of Education brought in unaffected devices, such as personal MacBooks and tablets, and hooked up to Wi-Fi hotspots on cell phones so they could continue working.
Though the situation has created an inconvenience, to phrase it mildly, Xenakis-Makowski said J-L was been fortunate that people responded right away.
“It happened on a Sunday morning, and Sunday night we already had people working on it,” she said. “Our insurance carrier subcontracts this out to a cyber security insurance group. And then we partnered up with a forensic cyber security firm in New York and have regular contact with them.”
Xenakis-Makowski was adamant the situation isn’t necessarily as bad as it may seem.
In fact, it could be seen as a blessing in disguise if the past month is any indication.
“Now that (ransom-ware) is happening and happened to us, here’s what we need to think about,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
J-L has taken a number of positive steps forward after the incident.
The situation has brought about an increased awareness to the very real threat of cyber attacks and how important cyber security is, even for places as small as Johannesburg and Lewiston.
The district has begun looking into improvements in those areas.
“We are upping our anti-virus,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “We had one that worked on some things but obviously not everything. A better anti-virus may not take care of everything, but it could help.”
Cloud-based storage is also something that Xenakis-Makowski said could prove to be beneficial.
“We’ve already started to shift to it, but if you are using a Google doc system or some kind of storage online, that’s not impacted by something like (ransom-ware) because you’re not saving anything on a server,” she said.
J-L’s servers are over 10 years old, and the district had already been planning on purchasing new ones over the next three years.
“We’ve just said we’re going to start over with a clean system and new servers,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
She also said the district could look at backing up data offsite rather than at the district’s buildings in Johannesburg and Lewiston.
“If you do a backup, you need to do it offsite and then that way if files get encrypted you say ‘fine, you can keep them and we can go back to our backup from the previous week,’” she said.
Xenakis-Makowski said one district within the Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District (COPESD), which includes nine other school districts beside J-L, has been pushing to develop a tech team system at the ESD level that can be replicated in each of the districts.
“They loaned us tech people to come in and help,” she said. “And they have begun piloting a black box system that blocks IP addresses from foreign countries. It’s an additional firewall on top of the security systems already in place.”
She said J-L is very fortunate to have a team of technology support personnel and partners with the COPESD to help when needed.
Perhaps most importantly, Xenakis-Makowski said she can see another career path for some kids now.
“This has kind of opened up my eyes to this whole new vein of job opportunities for these kids,” she said. “It’s a way they could do something with an interest in technology that would be beneficial.”
Xenakis-Makowski said that overall the situation has been a revelation in terms of awareness about cyber attacks and how J-L can take steps to improve cyber security.
“Ransom-ware can happen through multiple means — it can happen by clicking on an email or going to a fake website or it can happen through foreign or domestic attacks (hacks) on a computer or server where a person or system attempt to log in to your system remotely,” she said. “We are now more keenly aware of how many foreign attacks happen on a regular basis and that as we continue to improve technology, we have to ensure we consider layers of cyber security.”
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
GAYLORD — A group of dual-enrollment students from Gaylord High School and Johannesburg-Lewiston High School aim to completely build a Habitat for Humanity home during the school year.
Ayden Lauer, J-L senior, said he feels pretty good that someone is going to live in a house he helped to build.
Class members said they preferred days where they worked on the house as opposed to when they needed to stay inside on days with poor weather and work in the classroom.
“This part right here (is my favorite), this is the foundation and everything of the house,” Lauer said. “Because I never knew how it worked. Now I know how a house is built."
Students work on building four days each week through the Kirtland Community College build program.
Curt Losee, Kirtland Community College instructor, said students started building the house just outside the Kirtland M-TEC building last month.
“As we go on, we will do the drywall inside, we’ll do all the trim work inside,” he said. “We’ll put the kitchen cabinets in, we’re going to do the whole thing. It’s going to get picked up and moved to the site.”
Tish Jankowski, executive director of the Otsego County Habitat for Humanity, said the house is set to be moved to the Pinecrest subdivision area in Hayes Township.
Jankowski said Barry and Nila Fisher and their family of four should be able to move into the finished home in June.
She said she is excited the relationship between Kirtland and the schools allows for students to earn college credit while learning skilled trades and helping a family build a home.
The house in progress is built over a cement slab in the University Center Gaylord/Kirtland M-TEC parking lot on Livingston Boulevard.
Sarah Holecheck, director of public information for Kirtland, said in an email that while students have helped with Habitat for Humanity homes in the past, this is the first house they have built “from the ground up.”
Steven Fosgard, the college’s dean of occupational programs, said in an email the Habitat for Humanity Build Program includes a “series of module classes that take in Core Construction, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning, and electrical.”
He said students in the program earn 13.9 credits through the 28 modular courses.
Fosgard said the home will continue being built on site and will be moved to its permanent location toward the end of the winter semester. He said Habitat determined the home's size and layout.
The three-bedroom, single-family Gaylord home is expected to be complete around the middle of May, but the construction is somewhat dependent on the weather.
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston High School seniors Ali Loren and Courtney Sullivan were pretty surprised by the superhero-themed invite they received at the end of the last school year.
“I felt honored, because there’s a lot of people that could have been chosen to help with that, and I was was one of the people that got in,” Sullivan said.
Both were invited into the school's academic mentorship program where students are paired up to help in high school classrooms.
This is Loren's second year being a mentor. She helps with American history during her off hour as a dual enrollment student.
“When they’re getting help from one of their peers it makes them feel better about it,” Loren said. “And I can relate more to them because I’m (a student).”
Sullivan helps as a high school biology mentor and is also a dual enrollment student with three college classes.
“I feel like it has a good impact on a lot of the students because we’ve been in their shoes at one point, so we know exactly how it feels,” Sullivan said.
Both seniors are scheduled to share details about the school’s academic mentorship program at a leadership conference for students next week.
Curt Chrencik, Johannesburg-Lewiston High School principal, said the academic mentor program invites students who are responsible, academically thriving and come with recommendations from teachers.
“At the end of the school year, we do like a secret invitation to kids, and we usually have a theme,” Chrencik said. “The invitations get delivered to the kids that qualify to be academic mentors.”
Mentors choose subjects they are interested in helping with and are matched up with classes.
“We identify students that are struggling and classes that may benefit from extra support,” Chrencik said.
There are 14 mentors matched with 14 classes at JLHS this year.
Chrencik said the school got the idea from another school that had a similar program and J-L's Student Assistance Team (SAT) crew went to work implementing the program about three years ago.
Teachers Angela Baldwin, Ann Beaver, Amy Harjala, Michelle Kossa, Tammy Myers and Diane Tenbusch have been involved with the team, Chrencik said.
This is the first year where a mentor is helping at Johannesburg-Lewiston Middle School.
“We wanted to get it so that it was running well and we worked out some of the bugs at the high school before we actually allowed them into the middle school,” Chrencik said. “We want to take care of those areas that are needed at the high school before we filter them down into the middle school.”
Chrencik said many of the mentors are dual enrollment students who have college classes later in the day.
Dual enrollment leaves students an hour of flexible time to finish homework or earn volunteer hours through the academic mentor program.
“They can use that hour if they want to be a mentor in a classroom,” he said. “This person (a mentor) is a person that can really help support kids whether it’s a situation where they need to keep kids on task or keep them engaged or foster conversation.”
Mentors help classes by doing things like working one on one with students, leading classroom discussions and helping students to stay on task.
Hall of Fame profile: Former Cardinals' star Moll was a standout in 3 sports
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
Tony Moll probably would have carried on his legacy at the next level had he not decided to serve in the U.S. Army for nine years after high school.
The 1989 Johannesburg-Lewiston graduate, who was recruited by eight different colleges for athletics, will be inducted into the Greater Otsego County Sports Hall of Fame during a special banquet at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Eagles Hall in Gaylord, 515 S. Wisconsin Ave. He's part of a class that features six former athletes, one team and one athletic trainer.
Moll earned 12 varsity letters for the Cardinals from 1985-1989.
He stood out the most on the football field, especially on defense as a safety. He was a two-time all-stater, compiling 337 career tackles, 25 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries, ultimately going on two win the Bay City News Golden Helmet Award twice. Offensively, he ended his career with 3,270 yards rushing and 2,506 yards passing. As a senior, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry, finishing with 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 44.6 yards per punt. J-L named him its MVP for football during his junior and senior years, and as a senior, it awarded him its Athlete of the Year honor.
On the basketball court, Moll was a four-year player on the varsity as a guard. He totaled 1,240 points, 271 rebounds, 346 assists and 266 steals during his career, en route to finishing with all-area and all-state honors. He also guided the Cardinals to a district championship in 1989.
Moll was no slouch as a baseball player either. He won 70 percent of his games as a pitcher, while he also played shortstop and third base, and he batted .429 for his career. As a junior and senior, he led the Cardinals in stolen bases and runs scored. He was all-area as well.
J-L to see about $1.2 million in summer, fall projects
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS) has some of the original bathrooms and fixtures in its Johannesburg building that were created when the school was built in 1959.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, JLAS superintendent, said the old bathrooms are among the roughly $1.2 million in projects taking place this summer and fall.
She said while some projects are covered by the district's sinking fund, others are coming from separate funds like safety and security since certain funds are only allowed for specific projects.
“Our sinking fund is currently bringing in just over $900,000 a year, and we’ve been trying to keep a portion of that so that if something goes wrong during the year, you’ve got a pot to work with if a boiler goes or something like that,” she said. “This summer we really tried to knock out a whole bunch of projects … We took out a few more projects (than) we had initially planned.”
The district replaced hallway carpeting last year, but this summer Xenakis-Makowski said the focus is replacing classroom carpeting at both Johannesburg and Lewiston buildings.
She said the district is also replacing its old fluorescent lights with more efficient LED's.
At its meeting July 9, the board of education approved a measure known as a tax anticipation note so the district can borrow money from a bank and repay it later with sinking fund money.
“It just makes sense because, for example, we have a lighting project that’s costing us about $190,000 up front and that’s to do all the LED lights,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “Instead of putting it off a year or two, we’re doing it now because you get the savings from the electricity use going down, and you get the benefit of the LED lights and you get some grant money back. It costs less to do it now because construction costs are going up over 5 percent a year.”
She said some electricity companies like Great Lakes Energy give grant money to customers who invest in increased efficiency and some local banks will give schools smaller interest rates.
The note is currently out for bid with local banks, she said.
Xenakis-Makowski said the district is also getting digital signage for its Johannesburg and Lewiston locations as well as new security and phone systems.
“The original cameras that were in here were poorer quality and so we’re using some safety and security money to update those cameras and the old ones are running the coax cable cords, the new ones are a different type of cord so we have to have some new lines run,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “And since we’re running new lines, we might as well run lines for phones, too.”
She said the schools will be switching to a digital phone system.
The high school track at Johannesburg is also in line to be resurfaced.
“It’s been 17 years since it was done,” Xenakis-Makowski said, adding that project is not likely to start until September.
The district also is replacing the old exterior insulation finishing on both buildings that was applied in the 1970s.
“We’re sealing the building, we’re making it so that the work that’s being done should easily last another 20 to 25 years," Xenakis-Makowski said.
Aside from the track, Xenakis-Makowski said the projects are expected to be complete before classes resume in September.
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — Students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools will start the 2018-19 school year with more dual enrollment options thanks to a successful pilot program expansion between the school and Alpena Community College (ACC).
At the start of the school year in September, eight J-L students enrolled in a pilot English 111 class through ACC without a commute between the two locations. Under the current pilot program, J-L students show up for class at the high school and their teacher communicates with them via a web cam video conference from Alpena.
But starting in September, the school plans to increase the number of satellite classes offered to high school students.
“(It’s so good for students) because now they don’t have to drive to classes, and they can take them during the school day,” Danica Nowak, J-L High School counselor, said.
She said some students who live in Lewiston would have a long commute to drive to Gaylord for certain dual enrollment classes. Nowak said having the classes during the school day will also be helpful for student athletes and others with after-school activities or employment.
J-L senior PJ Bucy agreed that having the classes during the day would be helpful.
Bucy is enrolled in the pilot program class that started last year and he will be considered a college sophomore once he graduates from high school this summer and said he has plans to attend Ferris State University for its heating, ventilation and air conditioning program.
He said in that first semester of the pilot program his class at Johannesburg was the only class in on the live feed from the instructor, but this semester other schools have joined in the classroom on the Alpena side of the connection.
Nowak said the schools plan to offer intro to criminal justice, English 111, intro to psychology and speech classes for the 2018-19 school year.
She said the school is also planning a meeting after spring break with parents of students looking into dual enrollment classes.
“(We want to) make sure that the parents are aware of all the opportunities because there is so much,” Nowak said. “Right now, we’re in the process of having students choose the classes they want to take next year.”
Students first need to qualify to take dual enrollment classes based on state standard scores in order to be eligible for the college classes.
JOHANNESBURG — On National School Walkout day last week, Johannesburg-Lewiston High School hosted a special assembly that addressed violence in school.
Principal Curt Chrencik said the assembly was not only meant to address school violence, but it was also an opportunity to focus on compassion, tolerance, acceptance and a responsibility to help others.
“We all know that there’s violence in schools....What we need to understand is there’s violence that happens in this school everyday. Every day,” he said to the group of students. “And there are weapons in this school every day. And you know the biggest one? It’s right here.”
Chrencik held up a cell phone to the middle and high school students who sat in the high school gym bleachers.
“It’s one of the biggest weapons that you have that we misuse continuously,” he said. “You want to talk about why people might react violently? (It could be because they’re) isolated, because they feel like they don’t belong, because they’re hurt, because they’re scared. There’s so many ways and so many things that we can do as students of J-L and as people to make sure that people don’t hurt or aren’t hurt.”
Seven teachers and staff as well as a group of character development class students shared stories surrounding the assembly’s themes.
Ann Quay, JLHS science teacher, emphasized love, avoiding drugs and empathy.
She relayed an experience of learning of a shooting earlier this month at Central Michigan University, where her daughter is a student.
“She said ‘mom, you would not believe the texts and the phone calls I got that morning,” Quay said. “And what I said to her was ‘in those down moments where you think nobody cares, in that one day think about how many people texted you.’”
Mark Peppin, high school social studies teacher, told several stories about the importance of words and how they have significant meaning to others.
“Every year, Mrs. Meyers has her seniors write ‘thank you’ notes. Some of you think it’s tedious....I’ve kept every one,” he said. “I’m having a bad day, somebody says something mean, I’ll look at them. I go back and read ‘Thank you for doing this’....It brightens my day every time….It means something.”
Chrencik said the process of having staff members who know J-L students speak from personal experiences was more meaningful than if the school brought in outside guest speakers since the staff would be better able to connect with students.
At the start of the assembly, students pulled names from a box labeled “Pride” in deep red lettering. Students had the chance to win a range of prizes including items like a pass to cut to the front of the lunch line, gift cards or surprises that come from spinning a small prize wheel in the main office.
This is the first school year where students have had the Cardinal Pride Program.
Last month’s theme was "Responsibility."
“What happens is that teachers, staff, anyone really can use their discretion and when they see a student that is showing responsibility above and beyond or whatever the theme is, they get a ticket,” Chrencik said.
Students then bring the ticket to the office and put it in the Pride Box.
“So, then once a month… we go down to the gym and we hype it up a little bit and we talk about the students and what the character trait was and then we do a drawing,” he said.
At the end of each assembly students learn the focus of next month’s pride month.
The current focus through April is on "Academic Pride," where high school students who are passing all of their classes are entered in the drawings.
May’s topic is “Caring for the Community.” Chrencik said students who bring in canned food donations can receive tickets for the drawing as well as students who volunteer.
J-L hires teacher for homeless students, teens at risk
JOHANNESBURG — Homeless high school students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (J-L) now have a support teacher whose specific goal is to support them at school.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, J-L superintendent, said having homeless students is not a new occurrence, but the teaching position for those students is.
“In Johannesburg, we typically have anywhere from 10 to 20 students K-12 each year that are classified as homeless,” she said in an email. “We are just trying to ensure that we give every student whatever we can in order to create an environment where they can be successful.”
At the January meeting, the J-L Board of Education unanimously voted to hire Ann Quay for the district’s homeless support teacher position. Quay is also a high school science teacher and said her role as homeless support teacher exists outside of her contracted teaching hours.
“I hope to create an environment for all students so they are comfortable coming to me when they have a need, and I hope to meet the needs of as many as we can — because ultimately, having basic needs met is a precursor to any learning,” Quay said in an email.
She said she plans to establish quality relationships with students as well as working with them and their teachers “to ensure academic success is a focus for them.”
Quay meets with the students outside of regular classes once a week.
“Basically, some of the needs they have are textbooks for college classes, hygiene products, clothes, food, haircuts etc.,” she said. “We try and make sure they succeed in school by taking the worry out of after-school concerns.”
The homeless support teaching position funding allows for 20 hours per school year.
At risk and after school help
• The board also approved Cody Gascho to fill the district’s at-risk aide position and Tammy Myers was hired as the second after school support teacher.
“(Cody Gascho) is a new hire with an outstanding resume who we believe will be able to connect with our students and help support them,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
Students meet state criteria of being considered at risk through a variety of avenues and schools received funding toward programs to assist those students. The 2017-18 school year State Aid Status Report puts J-L’s at-risk funding at about $290,000 for the school year.
Students who do not meet school and state proficiency standards on tests, victims of child abuse or neglect, students who are frequently absent and students who come from under performing schools each are considered examples of at risk students.
Xenakis-Makowski said there was a need for added support in the district.
Since the beginning of the school year, J-L has offered after school support for students in grades 6-12 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Myers, a high school special education and English teacher, is taking on Monday and Wednesdays as the after school support teacher.
Students can now have after school support Monday through Thursday until 5:45 p.m.
J-L students score higher than state, education district
JOHANNESBURG — Students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS) tested better overall than the state and its education district on nearly every part of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) earlier this year, according to Katy Xenakis-Makowski, the district’s superintendent.
Xenakis-Makowski presented the latest test scores at the district's November board of education meeting.
She said JLAS students tested above the state and Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District average in 18 of the 20 categories measured in M-STEP.
Fourth- and sixth-grade math were the two areas the district scored below the state average.
“In the two areas below either the State or ESD, there was a small percentage difference and the district has identified new resources and additional time for the curricular areas impacted,” reads part of Xenakis-Makowski's presentation to the board.
The test grades students in third- through eighth-grade on subjects like English language arts, math, science and social studies. It also tests 11th-grade students on science and social studies.
This is the third year Michigan schools have used the spring M-STEP after it replaced the fall MEAP test.
Several board members questioned the low proficiency scored in the state's scores. Xenakis-Makowski said the proficiency levels on the test change annually and that the schools don’t know what the cut score is for proficiency.
"When you take a test, what percentage is passing? Some people think 60 percent is passing — some 75 percent, some 80 percent," she said in an email.
"Every year the state determines how many questions must be correct on an M-STEP test (after the test is taken) in order for a student to be considered proficient. Questions, numbers of questions and how many are required to be correct for passing changes annually."
She said another important part of the picture centers on student growth.
"We have been talking about proficiency, but really what we need to make sure we have is growth," she said. "For example, if a student enters the school district in third grade, but assessments demonstrate the student is functioning at a first-grade level, we work hard through interventions and support opportunities as well as best practices in teaching to get that student to grow."
By the end of the school year, that same student might be at a third-grade level, which means they grew two grade levels in a single school year, but they are not seen as proficient by the state since they would need to be at a fourth-grade level by the end of that year.
A new state law addresses reading levels and requirements for students in third grade and Xenakis-Makowski said the reading law "focuses on proficiency, but will hopefully allow examples of growth and intervention to allow for student advancement." More information on the reading law is scheduled to appear in a future Herald Times story.
According to the state’s testing calendar, the next round of M-STEP tests includes about four weeks starting April 2018.
In her closing comments at the board meeting, Xenakis-Makowski said: “(J-L) students are outperforming others near and far due to the dedication of parents, students, teachers and staff. As a district, we know it is the partnership and value placed on quality education that help our students achieve.”
J-L students also scored above state average on the SAT. Last school year's juniors took the spring SAT and had an average score of about 1014 this year, compared with the ESD’s average of 1007 and the state average score of around 990.
In early 2016, Michigan switched from the ACT achievement-style test to the SAT, an aptitude test with questions that increase in difficulty as the test goes on. Scores range from 400 to 1600.
Xenakis-Makowski added that overall, “we have to be careful and balance test scores with the bigger picture of student growth. It can't just be about one test."