CADILLAC — Jennifer Brown has been with Cadillac Area Public Schools for 26 years and during that time, the campus of Cadillac High School has always been open.
What that means is Cadillac High School students are allowed to leave campus at lunch. That, however, is going to be changing and in January the CAPS superintendent said the campus will become officially closed, meaning students will no longer be allowed to leave campus at any time during the school day.
“For as long as I can remember there has always been an open campus. One of the reasons the district remained open campus was space in the cafeteria,” she said. “There wasn’t enough room to accommodate the number of students.”
When the district went to its community in 2018 with its bond proposal, Brown said a considerable amount of time was spent talking about how it would improve school safety. That improved school safety included moving to a closed campus at the high school. As she previously stated, before the passage of the 2018 bond proposal it just wasn’t feasible to have a closed campus until upgrades were made to the high school.
She said the biggest reason the switch to a closed campus is being made is safety and in particular increasing security and monitoring of students while they are on campus. It also will allow the high school to increase monitoring and security related to authorized and unauthorized visitors.
Brown said it will limit access points into the school and those access points will be able to be monitored more effectively. If there is an emergency, Brown said the closed campus will allow the district to control them more efficiently, if necessary. The hope is it also will reduce truancy concerns and reduce the risk of students trying to get lunch, eat and return to school within 35 minutes.
She also said the district has conducted two third-party evaluations for the district and recommendations were made to close the campus to improve safety.
Brown said the district believes with its ongoing commitment to safety and security, closing campus is a priority.
Although the school hasn’t had any formal complaints, Brown said they know some students are upset about the decision to close campus. Brown said it is going to be a tough for some of the upperclassmen, the safety of students takes precedence.
“We believe that our improved space and redesign of the cafeteria and common to provide students with a more comfortable space to enjoy lunch will ease that transition,” she said. “In addition, our food service department is working hard to provide new menu options that appeal to high school kids, including a Mongolian BBQ grill and air fryers. I think it is important the kids enjoy the food.”
She said that the process will include the utilization of a nutritionist who will focus on building student menus that improve the taste and quality of the food served. She also said students will have a role in that process.
Earlier this fall, CAPS announced it was receiving a grant for $150,000 to help improve the nutritional quality of school meals. The funds were part of the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, which is part of an allocation of nearly $30 million by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to 264 school districts across 44 states and the District of Columbia.
Each small and/or rural district that receives funding from this grant program to support in improving the nutritional quality of meals and modernizing their operations through efforts including innovative staff training programs, kitchen updates and renovations, redesigning food preparation and service spaces and other school-district-led efforts to support school meals and school nutrition professionals.
At the time the grant award was announced in September, Brown said the funding would be dispersed over three years and would allow the district to hire a dietitian or nutritionist to put in place K-12 programs to address nutrition education, food education and healthy choices. Brown said the person would be a Chartwells Food Service employee who would work within all the district’s buildings.
She also said the idea is to have the dietitian or nutritionist help all the schools within the district with healthy menu creations and have students’ voices heard. She also said there could be test kitchens where students learn about nutrition and help create menu selections for the various CAPS school buildings.
While the change isn’t happening until January after the upcoming holiday/winter break, Brown said there will be a chance for all high school students to check out the new cafeteria in December. The space is designed to accommodate 400 kids but it also creates smaller, more intimate spaces so it’s not as intimidating to students. The idea was to be similar to a college campus.
On Feb. 14, 2022, the CAPS Board of Education held a groundbreaking ceremony that signified the start of the final phase of construction. The bond funding for the construction was passed in 2018 by district voters and was designed to impact all buildings in the district with $65.5 million in renovations, additions and upgrades.
The high school project is expected to be completed in 2024.