By Haley Jones
MASA Marketing & Digital Media Specialist
Since Jason Kennedy became the superintendent of Ludington Area School District (LASD) four years ago, he has led the district’s effort to pass a $100 million bond, build two new education complexes, and create a Mason County Promise Program.
He is leading the work on creating a 21st-century learning model in the district from new physical buildings, to culture, to instruction and assessment, and implementing community resources for all of Ludington and its neighbors.
But this isn’t just a spotlight on Jason Kennedy, although it’s clear he played a huge role in making things happen.
“It’s the team that is way more important,” Kennedy said. “This is about all kids. We are truly focused on creating a learning environment that helps all kids be successful in what they do here at school.”
“We are focused on all. How can this bond project enhance all that we do for all people in our community?”
Kennedy was hired into the superintendency in 2017 when LASD was three years into a five-year strategic plan. One goal remained to be tackled and it focused on the district’s infrastructure, most of which was upwards of 50 years old.
The facilities did not reflect the high-quality instruction and learning happening in the classrooms inside, Kennedy said. So, the district’s leadership did a cost analysis of building new or renovating the existing buildings. Kennedy didn’t want to build new just for the sake of it, and he knew that he couldn’t just throw a big initiative on the ballot and expect the voters to approve it – he wanted to give them a say in the matter and turn these new educational complexes into a true resource for the community.
As a whole community, Ludington analyzed current and innovative teaching practices, state–of–the–art work facilities, and trends to see where education and learning were heading in relation to the labor force. Kennedy ultimately wanted to answer the question, “How do we transform what teaching and learning look like?”
“It can’t be about me as the superintendent and what I as the superintendent wants,” Kennedy said. “It has to be – how do you take best practice and research and weave that into creating ownership and agency and create individuals who become passionate about this work and how this gets done.”
More than 1,000 community members attended forums, site visits, tours of other school districts and universities, read books on space design and innovative teaching practices, as well as 21st Century Learning, and worked with architects and engineers to see what could be possible. See the district’s facilities assessment.
Feedback provided identified the need to build new facilities with a price tag of a $100.9 million bond. And the community passed it with 55% voting yes.
“The community trusted in us and placed confidence in us and a lot of that had to do with educating our s on space design, and the use of redesigned spaces that support teaching and learning in the 21st Century,” Kennedy said.
A quick glance at the LASD website will show you just how transparent Kennedy and his school board have been throughout the process. There are pictures, drone footage, a copy of the district’s strategic plan, site recommendations, land survey results, and so much more.
The new elementary complex is about 50 percent complete, and a new middle and high school complex will be built in about three years, he said.
The new elementary space will include a 200-acre forest that will offer outdoor classroom spaces, an observation deck, and community hiking/biking trails, a disc golf course, and more. The district has also worked with the Friends of Ludington State Park to install a universally accessible kayak launch in the state park that will allow every community member equitable access to the water.
The new school buildings are also being built with COVID-19 in mind, Kennedy said. The complexes will include top-of-the-line filtration systems, mental health clinics for students and staff, space to allow for social distancing, and other health and wellbeing measures that have been brought to light during the pandemic.
The current school buildings will further community development as well, Kennedy said. Two of the elementary buildings will transform into housing complexes, and the community is looking into developing another building into a recreation and senior center.
“This is way more than just teaching and learning, we are developing a community that supports education and has the ability to support all citizens and provide the opportunity to grow,” Kennedy said.
Steve Carlson, LASD Board of Education president, said the work that is underway now in the district will transform and modernize the learning, recreation, and foodservice spaces across the entire district.
“The quality of the schools in a community is a reflection of many factors and I am proud to live in a community that decided to make a major investment in the district,” Carlson said. “In addition to providing inspiring and safe spaces for our students, new schools also help attract and retain families that want to move to our community but want to give their child every educational advantage they can along the way.”
While construction has been underway, Kennedy also spearheaded the work to create a Promise Zone for all the schools in Mason County with the help of local community partners. Kennedy served as Chair of the Mason County Promise Zone Authority Board during the first year. He currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Board. The Mason County Promise Zone will provide two years of free community college to all graduates of Mason County Schools who earned a 2.0 GPA or higher – about 90 percent of graduates, Kennedy said.
“Superintendent Kennedy has also worked really hard at developing trusting relationships between educators, staff, and community leaders,” Carlson said. “He is passionate about teaching and learning and his hard work and dedication to our district is certainly a huge reason we were able to dream big in Ludington.”
The community is working to put Ludington on the map as a destination, for residents and visitors alike. This month, Forbes Magazine listed Ludington as one of five U.S. destinations to visit during the off-season. It was the only city from the Midwest listed, which Kennedy proudly shared on his active Twitter profile.
“This is not about Jason Kennedy this is a story about a community that has come together to recognize the value and importance of education,” Kennedy said. “It truly has been all hands on deck and I am humbled and honored to be a part of it.”