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Williamston Community Schools

Out of Date

This article was last updated on: April 19th of 2021

The current logo of Williamston Community Schools.

"The best way to know what makes Williamston so special is to experience it."

- Dr. Adam J. Spina, Superintendent of Williamston Community Schools.

History and Background

Disclaimer: Due to the fact that there is very little information regarding the foundation of Williamston Community Schools on the offical WCS district website, our information may be somewhat incorrect. We have the done the best we can to get specific dates and accurate information using a variety of sources, including public records, past yearbooks, and satalite footage.

Williamston Community Schools is a K-12 school district in Williamston, Michigan, that consists of 4 school buildings. These are Williamston High School, Williamston Middle School, Explorer Elementary, and Discovery Elementary. WCS is a part of the Ingham County Intermediate School District.

It is said that Williamston Community Schools was established in 1874 as a series of school houses. In the 1920s, a large two story building was constructed near the center of town. This building was known as Williamston Grade School, and along with two school houses, that was Williamston Community Schools for quite some time. The school houses were auctioned off privately in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1929, the high school recived an expansion. Up until 1961, the grade school building housed grades 7 through 12.

What is now known as Williamston Middle School was completed in time for the 1961 to 1962 school year. Explorer Elementary was built around the same time. When Williamston Middle School was initially built, it was known as "Williamston High School". This means it held grades 9-12. Explorer Elementary was presumably used as a middle school at the time, which left Williamston Grade School as an elementary school. The middle school has been heavily modified since its initial construction, evidenced by yearbook photographs. The grade school building received additional renovations as well, including a fallout shelter. There is also a fallout shelter underneath the current middle school, but the entrance is sealed off, and there is most likely one under the elementary school as well. The “fallout shelter” basement was also used to host some electives.

A new Williamston High School was completed in time for the 1990-1991 school year. Construction began in 1988. This caused a shift in the structure of Williamston Community Schools. Williamston Middle School finally embraced the role it currently serves today, and the original grade school was no longer used as a school building. The property was assumed by the City of Williamston (with the exception of the stadium), who used it to host the CADL - Williamston branch, the Williamston Senior Center, and other city programs. The building had been very poorly maintained since its most recent renovations in the 1960s, and would gradually fall into disrepair over the decades. The building remained in this very poorly maintained state until 2016. Furthermore, it is assumed that during this time Explorer recived an additional gym and cafeteria, which are sadly no longer used as the primary gym and cafeteria.

Sometime after the construction of WHS, Williamston Middle School underwent extensive renovations. It was modernized in two steps. The parking lots were dramatically upgraded and expanded. New classrooms were added. The entire front walls, office, and entrance were remade. It is also possible more wings were added onto the building during this time, but it's really hard to tell from the photographs we have. The school looks completely different from the front and is almost unrecognizable compared to its original state. There is evidence some parts of the building are still very old, due to the fact that the rear parts of the building is still made up of the same old red brick used on Explorer. In other news, Williamston High School gained eight new classrooms in 1996, despite its recent construction. These included four larger rooms at the end of the B-hallway, as well as four large rooms at the end of the D-hallway, two of which are computer labs.

The athletic accommodations were greatly expanded during the 1990s and early 2000s. Furthermore, an indoor community pool was completed in 1998 at the high school. The story of the pool project is very interesting. There was previously an outdoor public pool located next to Explorer Elementary School. It is alleged that the pool was filled in after a student of the middle or high school drowned in it. In fact, there is a plaque dedicating the indoor pool to the memory of a student near the entrance to the pool room. The structure around the old pool was demolished in 2015 or 2016. The locker rooms were demolished between 2018 and 2020. The high school pool is a private pool, and is indoors. The site of the old pool can be found in “Memorial Park”, an abandoned 2007 local park project. You can see the floor of the locker room and an outline in the ground where the pool was. The old tennis courts have not been demolished at the Elementary School, but have not been maintained for quite some time. They are in a horrible state of disrepair, and the school no longer uses them. These additions occurred between 1996 and 2001, and were funded with a 1995 bond also used to construct Discovery Elementary.

Construction of Discovery Elementary began in 1996 and was most likely complete by 1998, but was operational by 1999 at the latest. Discovery is physically connected to Explorer Elementary through a wide hallway and a mutual main entrance, but is considered a separate building. This is because Discovery is much newer than Explorer and contains different grade levels. Discovery Elementary remains the newest building in Williamston Community Schools by far. The construction of Discovery Elementary is a strange subject. Around the school, you can see that the construction of Discovery brought some changes to the basic infrastructure of the school. The elementary schools began using a different power grid than the WMS and WHS, which were all previously using the same power grid. You can also see some other evidence of old structures and various forms of disconnected electrical infrastructure in the field next to Discovery, suggesting that there could have been other purposes for that land before Discovery was constructed. Additionally, the preschool and Kids’ Corner (childcare) were moved out of the original building, as space in Explorer had been freed up due to the construction of Discovery. Discovery houses Kindergarten through 2nd grade, a gym, a cafeteria, a library, and most of the non-grade classrooms. The construction of Discovery Elementary released a lot of strain off of Explorer Elementary, which was previously the only elementary school. Explorer's second gym and cafeteria became underutilized. Strangely, there was also a vote to approve another loan in 2003 to build yet another elementary school for 5th-6th grade. This bond was never approved, and sadly we don't know where the school planned to build this failed third elementary school.

From 2006 to 2007, Granger Construction greatly expanded Williamston High School. The bond for this construction was approved in 2004. First, new road entrances to the school were added. Williamston High School received a new student parking lot in 2006, as the old parking lot behind the school was built over. In its place, a 76,000 square foot expansion to the school, which included a new and larger gymnasium, a public physical fitness center, and the F-hallway. This also created a new commons space and the infamous Math and Science Academy. Aside from this main event, a few other upgrades were made. The library was expanded and renovated, absorbing the nearby classrooms B2 and C1. The local track and stadium were also upgraded. Seating accommodations and the concessions stand were upgraded on the home side. The offices at Explorer Elementary School were updated as well.

Also during 2007, a tornado struck the City of Williamston. Williamston High School suffered minor damage as a result, ironically in the newly constructed areas. Mitchell Road, (one of the roads adjacent to the school), lost multiple residences, and 2 people were killed. McCormick park, as well as the City of Williamston, suffered extensive damage, which you can see in the picture.

The 2007 - 2009 Recession hit Williamston Community Schools and other mid-Michigan schools very hard. During this recession, Williamston Community Schools saw a massive enrollment decline, which lasted a number of subsequent years. This led to serious financial issues for the distric. The source of funding for public schools are count days, which is money given based on student count, and so the enrollment decline seriously chipped into this funding. In order to keep the school afloat, the school board made the decision to aggressively spend the district's fund balance, and had to make cuts in several areas including administration. WCS also sought out as much alternative funding as possible, which consisted of many grants and loans. WCS was left with a fund balance of less than 1% at its lowest point. WCS attempted to gain a taxpayer funded Sinking Fund via a ballot measure in order to afford desperately needed renovations, but this failed in both 2012 and 2013. The Sinking Fund would not be established until 2014. Williamston Community Schools did not return to pre 2011-2012 enrollment levels until 2019.

Williamston Grade School was threatened with demolition in the early 2010s due to the deteriorating state of the building, as the City of Williamston was reluctant to continue paying upkeep costs. It was still a community center at the time, and so protests by the city's residents prevented a change in the status-quo. In 2016, Top Flite Financial purchased the Williamston Grade Schoo) for $200,000 from the City, and renamed it to the "Commons of Williamston" or simply "The Commons". From 2016 - 2017, they renovated and repaired the space, but also made an effort to preserve the building, and even kept old class photos from the school. The Commons is currently used to host many small shops. This purchase also prompted CADL - Williamston to leave, the branch took over Williamston Middle School's technology wing, which included an underfunded and underutilized library. Minor renovations were done to the middle school to accommodate CADL - Williamston and seperate it from the rest of the school building.

Today, Williamston Community Schools is currently dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Seven weeks of the 2019 - 2020 school year were moved online, and the 2020 - 2021 school year was moved fully online for several months. In September of 2020, the school board made it known that around 100 students had unenrolled from the district. The school district suffered a financial loss due to that. However, the school did recive hundreds of thousands of dollars in state/federal aid funding, but much of this was spent on implementing saftey measures and implementing a hybrid learning system. A hybrid plan was passed and partially implemented, but it was derailed until January of 2021 for high school and middle school students due to a second lockdown and infastructure delays. Elementary students have been in hybrid learning since November of 2020.

Williamston Community Schools also currently owns a couple additional properties around town. We call these the Territories of Williamston Community Schools. Since they are rarely talked about, we only know of two properties, but there may be more. The first is a large stretch of farmland on Sherwood Road that the school has owned for decades. It was recently placed in a bidding lease that concluded on February 16th of 2021. The second is a small house near Explorer Elementary, which the school plans to eventually use the land to make the nearby intersection safer. However, there is no concrete plan in place to accomplish this anytime soon.


Administration

Like all public schools, Williamston Community Schools has a school board and a superintendent. However, the building administration is rather limited. For example, there a principal and assistant principal at WHS, but all other buildings lack an assistant principal. This is probably because the school finds it has little reason to have two principals for a school building of only ~400 students. You can read about the history of the WCS administration here.

The administration considers communicating with parents a high priority. Dr. Spina sends frequent emails, and also sends out a blog known simply as the "Superintendent's Blog". He also stars in the Hornet Hive Podcast, where he and Dr. Christopher Lewis, a member of the school board, discuss the district. However, the administration does not reach out to students very often, and typically relies on the parents to pass the information. While understandable, this has created a lot of confusion in the past.


District Programs & Initatives

Sinking Fund Program

The Sinking Fund program began in 2014. WCS had previously attempted to establish the Sinking Fund in 2013, but this was a ballot measure that did not have enough support. In a typical business, a sinking fund is revenue set aside over a long period of time to fund a future expense. This description is largely accurate for Williamston Community Schools, as the WCS Sinking Fund is used to pay for emergency repairs, infastructure repairs, and school saftey improvements when needed via tax payer money. So far, the sinking fund has spent almost ~2 million dollars. The majority of this has gone towards roof repairs for Williamston High School and Williamston Middle School. Other major expenses include replacing flooring in the middle school and replacing the elementary heating units. Williamston High School has recived the majority of the sinking fund dollars.

Williamston High School under construction, circa 2019.

Williamston High School before the 2006-2007 expansion, circa 1999 and provided by Google Earth.

Math and Science Academy (MSA)

The Math and Science Academy is an advanced math and science program at Williamston High School. It was established when Granger Construction expanded WHS to include the F-Hallway in 2007, which is where the MSA is currently located. The MSA is a three year program that takes up several hours of a school day, replacing traditional classes with more work intensive ones, and provides some high school credit. The main benifit to completing the MSA is a letter of recommendation from WCS.

The MSA is quite controversal. On one hand, the MSA is considered worthwhile due to the harder classes, the MSA Research class, and the letter of recommendation. On the other hand, some find it hard to justify the extra work for a college recommendation, and consider other academic opportunities, such as AP Classes, Dual Enrollment, and the Wilson Talent Center a better use of their time.

School of Choice

Williamston Community Schools has a school of choice program, which allows students outside of the school district to enroll in WCS anyway. This program was heavily supported by the school board from 2011 - 2018 due to the enrollment collapse. It is still supported today, as Williamston Community Schools is always looking for more students. In recent years, the yearly enrollment has been increasing, and some of this increase is due to the school of choice program.

STEM/STEAM Initiative

The STEM/STEAM initiative was started around 2017 when Dr. Spina became superintendent. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, STEM is the same but minus the "Arts" part. These terms are generally used interchangeably. This initiative is strongly supported by the school board, and lead to the creation of the WHS First Robotics Team. It also lead to the creation of the innovation labs at the middle school. In short, the STEM initiative all but guarantees that anything related to math, science, or engineering will be supported by the school board. It is still strongly supported today.

Okay2Say

Main article: Okay2Say

Okay2Say is a statewide program that can be implemented in public schools across Michigan. Williamston Community Schools is one of those school districts that implemented Okay2Say, and did so during 2018. Okay2Say is an anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying initiative that relies on an online reporting system, in which students report instances of bullying. Its slogan, "Stop the silence. Help end the violence" refers to the idea that those who don't say anything when bullying occurs are allowing it to continue. There is an Ok2Say assembly every year at Williamston High School.


COVID-19 Response

Main article: Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Willemstan and WHS

Following Dr. Spina's lead, Williamston Community Schools originally planned to remain open during the pandemic. However, state governor Gretchen Whitmer forced the closure of all Michigan schools on March 13th of 2020, including WCS. This lead to a string of five contradicting and confusing emails by Dr. Spina and Dr. Delp as they rushed to figure out how to close the school down. March 13th became a half day, and was basically there to allow students to collect their stuff and some homework. Orignally, the school district was betting on a return to school in early April, and even considered using the 2020 Spring Break as a barganing chip to reduce the amount of potential makeup days. In the end, school never returned to normal during the 2019 - 2020 school year, and so Williamston students were placed in a rushed Remote Learning Plan for seven weeks.

The 2020 - 2021 school year was fully online under the "Return to Learn" plan until November of 2020. This plan was an improved version of the previous Remote Learning Plan. Williamston Community Schools developed a Hybrid Plan in October of 2020, but this was only brefly implemented for elementary grades at first due to infastructure delays and a second lockdown. The hybrid plan is set to be fully introduced for all grades and buildings by the end of January, but things may be subject to change if the lockdown continues for much longer. Williamston students still have the option to attend school fully online rather than attend the hybrid plan.


Williamston High School (WHS)

Main article: Williamston High School

Williamston High School was established between 1990 - 1991. WHS is currently a 9th - 12th grade school with 632 students. In 2019, WHS recived a 98.75% score on the Michigan School Data Overall Index. Williamston High School made the top highschools list for Newsweek Magazine for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Williamston High School isn't even a mile away from Williamston Middle School.

A picture of Williamston High School.


Williamston Middle School (WMS)

Main article: Williamston Middle School

Williamston Middle School was built during the late 1950s and early 1960s. WMS is currently a 6th - 8th grade with 414 students, but has also served as a high school in the past.

A picture of Williamston Middle School.


Explorer Elementary (Explorer)

Main article: Explorer Elementary

Explorer Elementary was also built during the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is adjacent to Discovery Elementary. Explorer is currently a 3rd - 5th grade school with 535 students, but has previously served as the sole elementary school.

A picture of Explorer Elementary School.


Discovery Elementary (Discovery)

Main article: Discovery Elementary

Discovery Elementary was constructed around the year 2000. Discovery is a K - 2nd grade school with 425 students, and is the newest building in WCS.

A picture of Discovery Elementary School.


Other Buildings/Schools/Facilities

Little Hornets Preschool and Kids' Corner Childcare

Little Hornets Preschool and Kids' Corner Childcare is directed by Ms. Rebecca Olsen. According to the district website, these programs are licensed by the State of Michigan. Little Hornets offers 2-4 day morning classes, a 4 day afternoon class, and 4-5 full day classes with the option of child care.

The Kids' Corner Childcare is offered for children five years old - 5th grade, and was established in 1985. The program is currently located in the northwest corner of Explorer Elementary School. Kid's Corner offers the following programs:

Wilson Talent Center (WTC)

The Wilson Talent Center, while not a part of WCS, is heavily promoted by it and as attended by many students of WHS. It provides Career & Technical Education programming for high school students in 11th and 12th grade. Students can recive many benifits from attending, which can include: high school academic credit, free college credit, state certification, or national certification. The downside to this arrangement is that it takes up half of your school day, which may limit your oppertunities at WHS (but that might not be a downside considering the electives offered at WHS).


Unsolved Mysteries of the Williamston Continuity

This paragraph contains topics we do not know much about. Before 1874 and until the 1950s, Williamston used a few one-room school houses as elementary schools and middle schools. These were auctioned off to private owners in the 90s and early 2000s. There is a house that is next to the Elementary Schools and in a horrible state of disrepair which is owned by the schools. They use the lot for storage and parking. How or when the school purchased this lot and why they don’t just bulldoze it is unclear. It is also unknown what structures were around Explorer Elementary before Discovery was built. There is evidence of other small buildings, but it is unknown what they were. Houses, possibly? Storage buildings? Sports accommodations? We are also curious about land ownership. We are assuming that the schools bought the current High School land when they bought the current Middle School land because the buildings are almost adjacent except for a swamp. There is also a large field behind the elementary schools that students are not allowed to access. It is unclear whether these are school property or not. In 2011 a new playground was added to the Elementary School, and sidewalks were upgraded. Where the funding came from to do this, we are not sure.


Sources

1. MSU Spartan Newsroom - Williamston’s Community Center remains a gathering place for the city 2. Michigan History - WILLIAMSTON WRECKED 3. Project Presenter: Granger Construction - Williamston High School
4. Hornet Hive Podcast - Episode Six 5. Hornet Hive Podcast - Episode Seven 6. Hornet Hive Podcast - Episode Fourteen
7. Williamston Community Schools Website - Williamston Return to Learn Board Presentation 8. Williamston Community Schools Website - Administration Page 9. Great Schools - Discovery Elementary
10. Great Schools - Explorer Elementary 11. Williamston Community Schools Website - Williamston High School 2019-20 Profile Document 12. Great Schools - Williamston Middle School
13. Williamston Community Schools Website - PRESCHOOL AND CHILD CARE 14. Williamston Community Schools Website - Preschool Programs 15. Williamston Community Schools Website - KIDS' CORNER CHILD CARE
16. Wilson Talent Center Website - About WTC 17. VLAC Website - About VLAC 18. VLAC Website - Frequently Asked Questions
19. Williamston Community Schools Website - MATH AND SCIENCE ACADEMY 20. Hornet Hive Podcast - Episode Eight 21. Okay2Say.org - About Us Page
22. City of Williamston, Michigan - Comprehensive Plan (page 86) 23. American Legal Publishing Corporation - OCTOBER 1, 1996 24. American Legal Publishing Corporation - JUNE 3, 1997
25. American Legal Publishing Corporation - FIRE BOARD REPORT - Walter Keilholtz 26. American Legal Publishing Corporation - NOVEMBER 4, 1997 27. American Legal Publishing Corporation - JANUARY 6, 1998
28. American Legal Publishing Corporation - MAY 12, 1998 29. American Legal Publishing Corporation - JUNE 2, 1998 30. American Legal Publishing Corporation - September 11, 2007
31. Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc. (1995) - Community Use of Schools: Facility Design Perspectives 32. Williamston Community Schools Website - FINANCIAL STATEMENTS - June 30th, 2008 33. Williamston Community Schools Website - FINANCIAL STATEMENTS - June 30th, 2007
34. Michigan State University School of Journalism - Death prompts structural review of school 35. Williamston Community Schools Website - Finance and Enrollment Update 36. American Legal Publishing Corporation - November 9th, 2004
37. treas-secure.state.mi.us - STATE QUALIFIED SCHOOL BOND ELECTION RESULTS 38. Capital Area District Libraries - Hornet 2007 39. Williamston Community Schools Website - Finance and Enrollment Update