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Local district chief appointed to lead state recovery advisory council

Panel will work to repair academic, mental health impacts of pandemic

Godfrey-Lee, All Districts — Governor Gretchen Whitmer has formed a Student Recovery Advisory Council for the state of Michigan and named Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston to serve as chairperson, the governor’s office announced on Thursday. 

The council will guide the work of helping the state’s education system recover from the traumatic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a goal of ensuring all Michigan students have the tools and resources they need to get back on track. Its recommendations will focus on academic recovery; social, emotional, and mental health of students and educators; physical health and wellbeing; and potential out-of-school academic support. 

“Michigan’s educators have worked tirelessly to teach our children during this pandemic under the most stressful conditions, and we owe them our most sincere gratitude,” Gov. Whitmer said in her executive order on Thursday. “Despite these heroic efforts, we know that many students have struggled with remote learning, resulting in significant learning loss. … With a return to normal in sight, we must plan for recovery.” 

‘Equity has to be woven through everything we do — it won’t sit in a silo.’

— Kevin Polston, Godfrey-Lee superintendent

Polston has had a close working relationship with the governor’s office for the past few years. Last summer, he served on her Return to School Advisory Council, which developed a framework to inform K-12 districts planning for the 2020-2021 school year.  

“I’m certainly humbled and honored” to be named as chairperson,” Polston said. “I’m proud to be a Godfrey-Lee Legend, and for the smallest geographic district in the state to have an opportunity to really work closely with leaders from across the state in this important work is just an honor. It’s a little overwhelming to think about the scope of what we’re trying to do, but it’s the right work, so I’m excited about it.” 

GRCC President Bill Pink

GRCC President Contributing to Effort 

Polston and Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink will represent Kent ISD on the 33-member council. Its statewide membership includes parents and students; other educators and school leaders; experts in the areas of public health, pediatrics and mental health; and four members of the state legislature. Pink is the only member from higher education and will provide input especially on the supports needed for high school students preparing for post-secondary education. 

“Education is vital to our state’s recovery, and collaborations such as this council will help all of Michigan move forward,” Pink said. “The pandemic created some gaps and exposed others. This group will look at what our schools and communities need, not just to get back to where we were, but to where we need to be.” 

The council’s work will begin in about a week; each member has been appointed to a term lasting through the end of December. Polston said their priorities will be to first identify specific focus areas and then find community partners who will help them make student-centered, equitable decisions. 

“Equity has to be woven through everything we do — it won’t sit in a silo,” said Polston. “That’s my job as a leader, to make sure we’re grounded in that. So we’ll really try to build a team that’s representative of the demographics that we serve across the state, to make sure those voices are lifted.”

The council will also take care to build a framework of recommendations on how to move forward, rather than making broad statements, Polston said. He hopes this approach will give local leaders the opportunity to bring their community’s own values and needs into the decisions they make around academic recovery and other supports. 

“We don’t want to say anything as a council that could be construed as, ‘Districts will do 20 extra days of instruction and then we’re good,’” Polston said. “This (recovery process) is going to take multiple years and we really have to spend time looking at our system, because the system that was in place before didn’t serve all students well. So we want to really look at designing something around the needs of our students, instead of forcing students to wrap around a system that’s already in place.” 

With more than a million Michiganders already vaccinated and statewide virus numbers trending in a downward direction, Polston said the council’s creation is a pivotal moment for educators who are starting to see the end of a long tunnel.

“Now I think we can actually look forward a little bit to how we’re going to strategically come out on the other side,” he said. “We’ve got to come out better than what we went in with.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Cedar Springs, Godfrey-Lee, Grandville and Lowell. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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