Vicksburg Community Schools – Kalamazoo County, Michigan

February 19, 2024

Vicksburg Community Schools

Putting Students on the Path to Success


Boasting a top-tier educational experience in Kalamazoo County, Michigan

In the rural community of Vicksburg, Michigan, Vicksburg Community Schools (VCS) is a shining example of a school district that puts students first, emphasizing a holistic approach to education that focuses on future-readiness and success. Serving students from preschool to twelfth grade, the district is guided by the motto “Traditions in Excellence,” providing rich opportunities in the realm of traditional academic programs, alternative education options, athletics, and fine arts.

With a vision that states, “All students will graduate college and career-ready,” Vicksburg Community Schools is dedicated to realizing this goal by ensuring learners reach their maximum potential. Another core value includes the statement, ‘All Means All.” Superintendent Keevin O’Neill shares, “What that means is that every single student, every single day, is our priority. We’ll do everything that we can to ensure that every student has an outstanding opportunity to succeed and be the best they can be.”


Keevin O’Neill with school board president Virgil Skip Knowles

It Takes a Village

Local engagement is a priority for Vicksburg Community Schools, and the district encourages community involvement and input at every opportunity. “Our community is very proud of our schools, and we want to uphold that tradition,” O’Neill affirms. “The schools are a huge part of this village. We are the biggest employer in town. As far as the community goes, we’re only as successful as how we involve our community and how involved they are with us and what we do.”

VCS organizes various events throughout the year, including the annual community tailgate which brings 1000s of community members out to enjoy an afternoon together before a big football game. O’Neill points to the efforts of groups such as Rotary, Lions Club, various booster clubs, the ministerial alliance, Generous Hands, and South County Community Services, saying, “They all provide support for our kids, especially our needy kids. Our community spends a great deal of time reaching out to us, asking how they can contribute to our success.”

In addition, the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, under the umbrella of the Vicksburg Foundation, provides an endowment of $3 million to the district. “Those dollars support us in so many different ways,” O’Neill says. “It’s just a fantastic pot of money, that is outside the general fund. They are very, very important as far as the community engagement and how we operate as a school district within the community.”

Curriculum and Opportunities

For students of VCS, the path to college and career readiness begins early. “When students enter middle school, they start to find their strengths,” acknowledges O’Neill. “We don’t track the kids, but it’s a college-bound path. We also have a CTE path for career and technical education. And we also have a very, very robust fine arts program through high school. We want our middle school kids ready so that they want to push themselves.”

At the high school level, Vicksburg Community Schools maintains a strong Advanced Placement (AP) Program with 18 courses, consistently earning recognition on the College Board AP School Honor Roll. Jessica Wheeler-Ponton, Communications Director, conveys, “We are known for those AP classes and the arts, in the entire county and beyond.”

VCS’s AP Capstone program is unique in the West Michigan Region and helps to further set the district apart. Developed by the College Board, the program comprises two year-long courses, AP Seminar and AP Research, leading to an AP Capstone Diploma upon successful completion.

The district is also committed to providing a range of work-based learning opportunities, as O’Neill expands, “We have a very strong dual enrollment program with the local colleges, as well as an early middle college program, which is a five-year program where kids can do exactly what everybody else is doing in school, but they’re also going to college. When they’re done, they can receive an associate’s degree.”

VCS’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program provides diverse opportunities, allowing students to attend off-site courses or choose from offerings within the school. He admits, “Because we are so strong in advanced placement, most of our kids do that track. But we do have a lot of kids that expose themselves to the dual enrollment piece, while they’re doing AP, just so they’re college ready.”

Gail VanDaff, the Director of Curriculum Instruction at Vicksburg Community Schools, highlights the collaboration with Project Lead the Way, a national initiative aimed at integrating more STEM education into schools.

“We have classes at our middle school and high school that focus on the STEM principles,” she depicts. The district offers another distinctive feature at the elementary level, as VanDaff shares, “We have our Outdoor Education Center. And we have a staff member whose job it is to partner with the classroom teachers and bring our BK through 5th grade classrooms out there up to twice a year to facilitate outdoor education and place-based education.”

Steve Goss, Assistant Superintendent adds that VCS has access to the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC), which provides accelerated instruction and learning initiatives, through a partnership with the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA). He mentions that the district also has a robust and growing robotics program that spans the elementary and high school levels.

Professional Development and Methodology

Vicksburg Community Schools has initiated a five-year strategic plan with a focus on staff retention and a focus on professional development through cohort-based instructional skills courses “What those classes are designed to do is calibrate our teaching, our assessment, our instruction, all of that, so that all our teachers are speaking the same language,” O’Neill explains.

The district’s methodology aims for consistency, ensuring all students receive the same quality education. “That falls within the framework and the principles of a professional learning community, looking at ensuring that all students learn, collaborative culture, and results orientation, where we’re using data to inform what we do,” maintains VanDaff.

A balanced assessment system is also key, with formative assessment information guiding the next steps of instruction. Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) ensure that students’ academic needs are met, as well as extending beyond academics to address social-emotional needs, demonstrating a commitment to overall student well-being.



Infrastructure and Safety Initiatives

With district funding predominantly determined based on pupil count, Goss admits that most of these dollars are used to fund the daily operations of the district, leaving little leftover for infrastructure improvements. “Like most districts in the state of Michigan, we will go to the public periodically, for voter-approved bond issues that are repaid through property taxes, specifically earmarked for debt issues,” he recounts.

“What we have tried to do is use a little bit of a different strategy. We’re trying to go for slightly smaller bond issues, over slightly shorter durations, but going back to our voters regularly.” These funds address stopgap needs, with a focus on efficient improvements. In the most recent bond issue, Vicksburg Community Schools has prioritized upgrading HVAC systems, specifically adding air conditioning to all buildings, in line with an effort to create conducive learning environments.

On the safety side, VCS has invested in physical security measures such as electronic access controls, new window units, and extensive camera systems. “We have a very close relationship with our local police department, and we have a school resource officer in partnership with the village,” portrays Goss.

“In our mind, a lot of the benefit of that is for our students, to have access to police officers and to build positive relationships between kids and law enforcement, and also provide that degree of security.” Utilizing a state grant, the district is finalizing maps of its facilities, which will aid first responders in various emergencies. Staff is also given behavioral threat assessment instruction regularly.

“The physical security measures are important, and we understand that, but that’s not the only important thing to take a look at. We’re trying to look at ways to prevent problems before they happen,” Goss asserts.

Looking Ahead

With an eye to the future, Wheeler-Ponton underscores the district’s vision of preparing all students for both careers and college, emphasizing inclusivity and ensuring every student has a clear path forward.

With this in mind, O’Neill says his top priority remains building strong relationships with staff, the community, and students. He concludes, “I want to develop and strengthen those relationships, so we can continue to be innovative, and continue to be responsive to the needs of all. We want to be seen as one of the top school districts in the region, we want people to recognize Vicksburg because of the innovation, the relationships, and along with that, continuing to build and support our amazing staff.”

“We know when people are happy, and they feel valued, and they feel like they can provide input, the organization will just thrive.”

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Vicksburg Community Schools

What: A thriving school district with a holistic approach to education

Where: Kalamazoo County, Michigan



Frederick Construction, Inc. –

Frederick Construction has extensive experience in General Contracting, Construction Management, (CMA/CMC), and Design/Build. We work with clients in K-12, Higher Education, Industrial, Private, and Governmental organizations. As a diverse company that has the ability to handle an array of projects with unique challenges, we are proud of our long track record of building trust and relationships that last long after a project is complete.

Our Company has received several awards for past projects, including the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Award of Excellence, the Award of Excellence for the New Green Roof at the U.S. Land Port of Entry Border Station in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency Outstanding Commitment to Customer Satisfaction Award.

Frederick Construction is the Construction Manager for the Vicksburg Community Schools Bond, coordinating and supervising district-wide projects in line with the expectations and needs of the School Board and community. We value our strong relationship with the District in our hometown. Some completed projects include the installation of over 300 plasma air ionizers across the District for increased air quality, stadium track and field improvements, new fire alarm systems, and electrical updates. Ongoing and scheduled projects will continue through 2025.

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February 2024

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