North Branch Area Schools – North Branch, Michigan

May 30, 2024

North Branch Area Schools

Nurturing Excellence While Embracing Innovation and Progress

 

Encouraging student success and meeting the news of the community

North Branch Area Schools (NBAS) stands at the center of a close-knit rural community brimming with warmth and a welcoming spirit. The district’s philosophy is simple- putting academics and student success first. This approach has made North Branch a district of choice, as Superintendent Jim Fish boasts, “We have 2,400 students in our district, and about 1/3 of them are school of choice students from outside of our boundaries. Those parents choose to send their children here, because of what we offer in the classroom.”

A Holistic Approach

Recognizing that true excellence encompasses more than academic achievement, NBAS has dedicated resources towards a holistic education, engaging the services of social workers and counselors to support student mental health.

A well-rounded approach is taken to student development, and the district has hired a College and Career Readiness Counselor to help guide high school students to their next pathway. “You have to look at all the needs of the child, and I’m going to always focus on why we’re in existence in the first place, which is to give our students opportunities,” notes Fish.

 

Theresa Rae, Principal at North Branch Elementary School talks about the student-centric approach in the district, where success for every student is the goal, and technology is integrated as a tool rather than a focal point.

“Our philosophy at the elementary school is about exposing them to a variety of learning techniques, learning styles, and tools. We offer creative movement, which reaches our kinesthetic learners. We offer STEM and SmartLab, which both focus on the engineering design process, and we also offer music and art. Our approach is to reach the whole child,” she conveys.

 

Embracing Innovation

At NBAS, innovation isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life. This is evident through the district’s commitment to providing unparalleled opportunities, such as the SmartLab studios which have been made available for elementary and middle school students.

Austin James, a passionate teacher at Ruth Fox Middle School, elaborates, “The district has graciously provided us with a space where students can explore different technology. It’s led to a lot of creativity, critical thinking, and development of leadership skills. The goal of it is to expose students to technology, not for technology’s sake, but so that they can use the technology and leverage it to create amazing outcomes that benefit the students at our school.” From digital newsletters to hands-on projects, students explore and experiment, building on foundational skills while becoming proficient with current technology.

As a one-to-one district, each student is equipped with a device, and North Branch uses Google Suite, further enhancing the capabilities of learners. “I think a lot of our students speak Google before they speak anything else,” quips James. “Learning how to talk to the computers is such an important skill set, besides all of those soft skills that are still going to be incredibly important moving into the future.”

Amber White, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, emphasizes the vital role of AI in education, stressing the importance of preparing staff and students to utilize these tools effectively.

She notes that a district-wide technology committee is exploring AI integration into the curriculum, sharing, “I do feel we’re on the precipice of a new shift in education. I truly believe that if we’re not preparing our staff and our students to work alongside these AI tools that we’re using every day, they’re going to be at a deficit.” Suggesting that artificial intelligence can be used as a “thought partner” for students, instead of a generative tool, White mentions platforms like Khanmigo, offered through Khan Academy, which provides personalized learning experiences.

She adds that AI also serves as a valuable research partner, offering alternatives to traditional search engines. “There’s some caution and we have to have the skill to be able to decipher where that data is being aggregated from, but I think that’s another way that our kids need to be very savvy.”

Moreover, White highlights the creative applications, and how they can be utilized to create purposeful solutions. She recounts, “You don’t have to learn how to code as much anymore, everybody can be a programmer now.  We’re living in a very progressive time. Our kids can’t do those broader areas, they’re not going to be well prepared for the future.”

Valued Partnerships

White acknowledges the parent community as “the first teachers at home.” We are thankful for the continuous support of our parents and community as they are integral to the success of the educational initiatives at NBAS.

“We’ve worked diligently to provide a lot of unique opportunities,” conveys White. “One point of pride that we have in our district is the North Branch Early College where our students can earn up to 61 credits. We also have dual enrollment and partnerships with the University of Michigan-Flint, where  students can go if they’re interested in engineering or medical.”

White underscores the longstanding collaboration with Michigan State University, specifically Dr. Doug Hartman, whose partnership with the district has facilitated valuable exchanges. “When you talk about digital tools and technology, he has brought in his Educational Psychology and Educational Technology students for the last 15 years. He has invited Turkish scholars to work with us the past few weeks.  “ That partnership has been very symbiotic for both of us.“

The L&L Educational Foundation, established by the global automotive distributor L&L Products, has been instrumental in supporting NBAS, enhancing various initiatives aimed at enriching the student experience. White emphasizes their exceptional generosity, stating, “Their business has done exceptionally well, and they wanted to give back. For the last three years, the foundation has given  generous dollars in the name of digital innovation to the district.”

This support has enabled the implementation of several projects, including StudioLabs, 3D printers, and the development of an eSports program. Superintendent Fish also mentions Schneider Electric as a valuable partner to NBAS. “They’ve been instrumental. They came in and identified some HVAC issues that we had that were quite serious, and we were able to get those resolved with ESSER funds and through that company.”

 

in Infrastructure and People

Along with the ongoing commitment to innovation, North Branch Area Schools is also focused on maintaining its existing infrastructure to support its students and the community. “We have excellent facilities in this district. “We are always striving to maintain and improve our learning environment and facilities,” says Fish.One recent investment includes a $750,000 upgrade to an eight-lane track.

With over 300 employees, North Branch Schools is the largest employer in the region and a hub of the rural community. Describing a strongly engaged population, Fish maintains, “Our parents are invested in our schools, and we’re very fortunate. They have financially supported us, never failed a bond issue, and never failed a millage renewal. If we have an elementary event, you have to get there early, because you cannot find a parking spot.Our parents are unbelievably supportive.”

When it comes to staff, NBAS looks for those who share the forward-thinking vision, often seeking out former students and graduates in education who may want to return to their hometown. Showcasing the phenomenal staff in the district, Fish says, “Our teachers take risks, and sometimes they’ll fail; however, we see that as progress. You cannot just play it safe anymore. We want innovative teachers.”

Moving Forward with Purpose

Behind the success of North Branch Area Schools are the foundations of innovation, collaboration, and strategic planning. Looking ahead, the district will continue with this forward-thinking approach, prioritizing initiatives across facilities, curriculum, technology, and athletics.

As Superintendent Fish aptly relays, “We’re always looking to the future and we’re looking for partnerships with companies or individuals that want to be part of the great things that we’re doing here at North Branch.” With a progressive attitude, key partnerships, and a dedicated team, NBAS is poised for limitless opportunities to uphold its legacy of excellence.

AT A GLANCE

North Branch Area Schools

What: A progressive rural school district

Where: North Branch, Michigan

Website: www.nbbroncos.net

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