Williamston Community Schools
This article was last updated on: September 26th of 2022
The current logo of Williamston Community Schools.
"The best way to know what makes Williamston so special is to experience it."
- Dr. Adam J. Spina, Superintendent of Williamston Community Schools.
History and Background
Williamston Community Schools is a K-12 school district in Williamston, Michigan, that consists of 4 school buildings. These are Williamston High School, Williamston Middle School, Explorer Elementary, and Discovery Elementary. WCS is a part of the Ingham County Intermediate School District.
It is said that Williamston Community Schools was established in 1874 with the creation of a large two story building near the center of town. This building was known as Williamston Grade School, and along with two school houses, that was Williamston Community Schools for quite some time. The school houses were eventually auctioned off privately in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1929, the grade school recived an expansion. Up until 1961, the grade school building housed grades 7 through 12, and was pretty much the heart of the school district.
Explorer Elementary was completed in 1950. The original building consisted of what is now known as the preschool wing, 3rd grade wing, WCS central offices, and Kids' Corner. At the same time, a gym was added onto the Grade School building and the track and field were moved to the location where they currently sit.
What is now known as Williamston Middle School was completed in 1961. When Williamston Middle School was initially built, it was known as "Williamston High School". This means it held grades 9-12. Williamston Grade School became the middle school. The (now) middle school has been heavily modified since its initial construction, evidenced by yearbook photographs. Around this time, the grade school building received additional renovations as well, including a fallout shelter. There is also a fallout shelter underneath the current middle school, but the entrance is sealed off by carpeting, and there is one under the old offices in the elementary school as well. The “fallout shelter” basement was also used to host some electives.
In 1969, Explorer Elementary received an addition. The addition to Explorer Elementary, called "Riverview Elementary School" when it was built, added the 'roundabout' hallway which houses 4th and 5th grade, a few art rooms, and a new gym and cafeteria, as well as a new main entrance which was where the breezeway between Discovery and Explorer now is, but is now unused and blocked off by a garden behind the school.
A new Williamston High School was completed during the 1990-1991 school year, after a few months of delays. Construction began in 1988. This caused a shift in the structure of Williamston Community Schools. Williamston Middle School finally embraced the role it currently serves today, and the original grade school was no longer used as a school building. The property was at first left abandonded and in disrepair, but was eventually assumed by the City of Williamston (with the exception of the stadium), who used it to host the CADL - Williamston branch, the Williamston Senior Center, and other city programs. The building had been very poorly maintained since its most recent renovations in the 1960s, and would gradually fall into disrepair over the decades, as the city was unwilling allocate additional funds to repair the building. The building remained in this very poorly maintained state until 2016.
In 1996-1998, Williamston Middle School underwent extensive renovations. It was modernized in two steps. The parking lots were dramatically upgraded and expanded. New classrooms were added. The entire front walls, office, and entrance were remade. The media center was added to the school. It is also possible more wings were added onto the building during this time. The school looks completely different from the front and is almost unrecognizable compared to its original state. There is evidence some parts of the building are still very old, due to the fact that the rear parts of the building is still made up of the same old red brick used on Explorer. In other news, Williamston High School gained eight new classrooms in 1996, despite its recent construction.
WHS received an extensive addition at the same time. In 1996, construction began that would result in the creation of 4 large classrooms at the end of the D hall, (possibly) the dome entrance, the band room as well as several surrounding offices and storage rooms, 4 B-hall classrooms, and the community pool. It is unclear why this addition came so soon after the building's initial construction.
The athletic accommodations were greatly expanded during the 1990s and early 2000s. Furthermore, an indoor community pool was completed in 1998 at the high school. The story of the pool project is very interesting. There was previously an outdoor public pool located next to Explorer Elementary School. It is alleged that the pool was filled in after a student of the middle or high school drowned in a nearby gravel pit, and it was decided that an outdoor public pool was unsafe. In fact, there is a plaque dedicating the indoor pool to the memory of a student near the entrance to the pool room. The structure around the old pool was demolished in 2015 or 2016. The locker rooms were demolished between 2018 and 2020. The high school pool is a private pool, and is indoors. The site of the old pool can be found in “Memorial Park”, an abandoned 2007 local park project. You can see the floor of the locker room and an outline in the ground where the pool was. The old tennis courts have not been demolished at the Elementary School, but have not been maintained for quite some time. They are in a horrible state of disrepair, and the school no longer uses them. These additions occurred between 1996 and 2001, and were funded with a 1995 bond also used to construct Discovery Elementary and part of the high school.
Construction of Discovery Elementary began in 1996 and was most likely complete by 1998, but was operational by 1999 at the latest. Discovery is physically connected to Explorer Elementary through a wide hallway and a mutual main entrance, but is considered a separate building. This is because Discovery is much newer than Explorer and contains different grade levels. Discovery Elementary remains the newest building in Williamston Community Schools by far. The construction of Discovery Elementary is a strange subject. Around the school, you can see that the construction of Discovery brought some changes to the basic infrastructure of the school. The elementary schools began using a different power grid than the WMS and WHS, which were all previously using the same power grid. You can also see some other evidence of old structures and various forms of disconnected electrical infrastructure in the field next to Discovery, suggesting that there could have been other purposes for that land before Discovery was constructed. Additionally, the preschool and Kids’ Corner (childcare) were moved out of the original building, as space in Explorer had been freed up due to the construction of Discovery. Discovery houses Kindergarten through 2nd grade, a gym, a cafeteria, a library, and most of the non-grade classrooms. The construction of Discovery Elementary released a lot of strain off of Explorer Elementary, which was previously the only elementary school. Explorer's second gym and cafeteria became underutilized. Strangely, there was also a vote to approve another loan in 2003 to build yet another elementary school for 5th-6th grade. This bond was never approved, and sadly we don't know where the school planned to build this failed third elementary school.
From 2005 to 2007, Granger Construction greatly expanded Williamston High School. The bond for this construction was approved in 2004. First, new road entrances to the school were added. Williamston High School received a new student parking lot in 2006, as the old parking lot behind the school was built over. In its place, a 76,000 square foot expansion to the school, which included a new and larger gymnasium, a public physical fitness center, and the F-hallway. This also created a new commons space and the infamous Math and Science Academy. Aside from this main event, a few other upgrades were made. The library was expanded and renovated, absorbing the nearby classrooms B2 and C1. The local track and stadium were also upgraded. Seating accommodations and the concessions stand were upgraded on the home side. The away side desperately needs renovation. The offices at Explorer Elementary School were updated as well.
Also during 2007, a tornado struck the City of Williamston. Williamston High School suffered minor damage as a result, ironically in the newly constructed areas. Mitchell Road, (one of the roads adjacent to the school), lost multiple residences, and 2 people were killed. McCormick park, as well as the City of Williamston, suffered extensive damage, which you can see in the picture.
The 2007 - 2009 Recession hit Williamston Community Schools and other mid-Michigan schools very hard. During this recession, Williamston Community Schools saw a massive enrollment decline, which lasted a number of subsequent years. This led to serious financial issues for the district. The source of funding for public schools are count days, which is money given based on student count, and so the enrollment decline seriously chipped into this funding. In order to keep the school afloat, the school board made the decision to aggressively spend the district's fund balance, and had to make cuts in several areas including administration. WCS also sought out as much alternative funding as possible, which consisted of many grants and loans. WCS was left with a fund balance of less than 1% at its lowest point. WCS attempted to gain a taxpayer funded Sinking Fund via a ballot measure in order to afford desperately needed renovations, but this failed in both 2012 and 2013. The Sinking Fund would not be established until 2014. Williamston Community Schools did not return to pre 2011-2012 enrollment levels until 2019.
What was formerly known as Williamston Grade School was threatened with demolition in the early 2010s due to the deteriorating state of the building, due to the previously mentioned fact that the City of Williamston refused to spend any serious money to maintain the building. It was still a community center at the time, and so protests by the city's residents prevented the alleged demolition plans. In 2016, Top Flite Financial purchased the Williamston Grade School) for $200,000 from the City, and renamed it to the "Commons of Williamston" or simply "The Commons". From 2016 - 2017, they renovated and repaired the space, but also made an effort to preserve the building, and even kept old class photos from the school. The Commons is currently used to host many small shops. This purchase also prompted CADL - Williamston to leave, the branch then took over Williamston Middle School's technology wing, which included an underfunded and underutilized library. Minor renovations were done to the middle school to accommodate CADL - Williamston and separate it from the rest of the school building.
From 2020 - 2022, Williamston Community Schools dealt with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Seven weeks of the 2019 - 2020 school year were moved online, and the 2020 - 2021 school year was moved fully online for several months. In September of 2020, the school board announced that around 100 students had un-enrolled from the district since the pandemic began, partially due to the decision to move fully online. However, WCS did receive a good chunck of state/federal aid funding, which was spent on implementing safety measures and a hybrid learning system. A hybrid plan was passed and partially implemented in late 2020, but it was derailed until January of 2021 for the high school and middle school students due to a second lock-down and infrastructure delays. Elementary students had been in hybrid learning since November of 2020. The 2021 - 2022 school year began with all students in person, and breakfast and lunches were provided for free to the students due to federal funding. However, a mask mandate was required for much of that school year.
Most of the renovations done to the school buildings in the 2010s and 2020s were funded through the Sinking Fund. Established in 2014, this is a taxpayer funded financial system which the school district uses to afford much needed renovation projects. Most of these have been roof repairs, equipment upgrades, and security upgrades. Although until 2019, the school could not legally use the Sinking Fund for security upgrades. During the summer of 2017, much of Williamston High School's roof was replaced for a cost of over $339,000. During the summer of 2021, the D4 classroom at the high school was heavily upgraded using funds from an anonymous donation in order to be used for MSA Research. From 2019 - 2022, the district focused on improving building security. This included the implementation of keycard access for all buildings, and under the Secure Entrance Project, the main entrance in each building was isolated to better control access.
Williamston Community Schools also currently owns a couple additional properties around town. We call these the Territories of Williamston Community Schools. Since they are rarely talked about, we only know of three properties, but there may be more. The first is a large stretch of farmland on Sherwood Road that the school has owned for decades. As of 2021, the school leases the land to local farmers to generate revenue for the district. The second property consists of a small and rundown house that the school uses to store all sorts of stuff. The third and most recent acquisition is a small house near Explorer Elementary, which the school plans to eventually use the land to make the nearby intersection safer. However, there is no concrete plan in place to accomplish this anytime soon.
Like all public schools, Williamston Community Schools has a school board and a superintendent. However, the building administration is rather limited. For example, there a principal and assistant principal at WHS, but all other buildings lack an assistant principal. This is probably because the school finds it has little reason to have two principals for school buildings with only 400 or less students. You can read about the history of the WCS administration here.
- Superintendent - Dr. Adam Spina (Since 2017)
- High School Principal - Dr. Steve Delp (Since 2018)
- High School Assistant/Vice Principal - Mr. Chris Armour (Since 2020)
- Middle School Principal - Mrs. Debra LaFleur (Since 2020)
- Explorer Principal - Mrs. Kelly Campbell (Since 2015)
- Discovery Principal - Mrs. Cassie Pfander (Since 2020)
The administration considers communicating with parents a high priority. Dr. Spina sends frequent emails, and also sends out a blog known simply as the "Superintendent's Blog". He also stars in the Hornet Hive Podcast, where he and Dr. Christopher Lewis, a member of the school board, discuss the district.
District Programs & Initatives
Sinking Fund Program
The Sinking Fund program began in 2014. WCS had previously attempted to establish the Sinking Fund in two previous ballot measures, but those did not have enough support. In a typical business, a sinking fund is revenue set aside over a long period of time to fund a future expense. This description is largely accurate for Williamston Community Schools, as the WCS Sinking Fund is used to pay for emergency repairs, infrastructure repairs, and school safety improvements when needed via tax payer money. So far, the sinking fund has spent almost 2 million dollars. The majority of this has gone towards roof repairs for Williamston High School and Williamston Middle School. Other major expenses include replacing flooring in the middle school and replacing the elementary heating units. Williamston High School has received the majority of the sinking fund dollars.
Williamston High School under construction, circa 2019.
Williamston High School before the 2006-2007 expansion, circa 1999 and provided by Google Earth.
Math and Science Academy (MSA)
The Math and Science Academy is an advanced math and science program at Williamston High School. It was established when Granger Construction expanded WHS to include the F-Hallway in 2007, which is where the MSA is currently located. The MSA is a three year program that takes up several hours of a school day, replacing traditional classes with more work intensive ones, and provides some high school credit. The main benefit to completing the MSA is a letter of recommendation from Mr. Rasmus, as well as the unique MSA Research Class (WCS does not have AP Research). Students that complete the MSA are also required to do a math class in senior year, like all students.
The worthwhileness of the MSA is often debated amongst the students. On one hand, the MSA is considered worthwhile due to the harder classes, the MSA Research class, and the letter of recommendation. On the other hand, some find it hard to justify the extra work for a college recommendation, and consider other academic opportunities, such as AP Classes, Dual Enrollment, and the Wilson Talent Center a better use of their time. The fact that the MSA takes up half of a students schedule for years can also be very limiting.
School of Choice
Williamston Community Schools has a school of choice program, which allows students outside of the school district to enroll in WCS anyway. This program was heavily supported by the school board from 2011 - 2018 due to the enrollment collapse. It is still supported today, as Williamston Community Schools is always looking for more students. In recent years, the yearly enrollment has been increasing, and some of this increase is due to the school of choice program.
The STEM/STEAM initiative was started around 2017 when Dr. Spina became superintendent. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, STEM is the same but minus the "Arts" part. These terms are generally used interchangeably. This initiative is strongly supported by the school board, and lead to the creation of the WHS First Robotics Team. It also lead to the creation of the innovation labs at the middle school. In short, the STEM initiative all but guarantees that anything related to math, science, or engineering will be supported by the school board. It is still strongly supported today.
Ok2Say is a statewide program that has been implemented in public schools across Michigan. Williamston Community Schools is one of the school districts that has implemented Okay2Say, and did so during 2018. Okay2Say is an anti-bullying initiative that relies on an online reporting system, in which students can report instances of bullying anonymously through the Okay2Say website. Its slogan, "Stop the silence. Help end the violence" refers to the idea that those who don't say anything when bullying occurs are allowing it to continue. There is an Ok2Say assembly every year at Williamston High School.
Following Dr. Spina's lead, Williamston Community Schools originally planned to remain open during the pandemic. However, state governor Gretchen Whitmer forced the closure of all Michigan schools on March 13th of 2020, including WCS. This lead to a string of five contradicting and confusing emails by Dr. Spina and Dr. Delp as they rushed to figure out how to close the school down. March 13th became a half day, and was basically there to allow students to collect their stuff and some homework. Originally, the school district was betting on a return to school in early April, and even considered sacrificing the 2020 Spring Break to reduce the amount of potential makeup days. In the end, school never returned to normal during the 2019 - 2020 school year, and so Williamston students were placed in a poorly Remote Learning Plan for seven weeks, after a five week long "COVID break".
The 2020 - 2021 school year was fully online under the "Return to Learn" plan until November of 2020. This plan was an improved version of the previous Remote Learning Plan. Williamston Community Schools developed a Hybrid Plan in October of 2020, but this was only brefly implemented for elementary grades at first due to infastructure delays and a second lockdown. The hybrid plan was fully introduced for all grades and buildings by the end of January, but Williamston students still had the option to attend school fully online rather than attend the hybrid plan.
The 2021 - 2022 school year began as a normal school year, except that masks were recommended in buildings, and required on school transportation. School lunches and breakfasts were also made available for all students free of charge due to federal funding. From September 7th 2021 - February 18th 2022, masks were required for all students and staff in school buildings due to public health orders.
No COVID-19 measures have been in place for the 2022 - 2023 school year so far.
Little Hornets Preschool and Kids' Corner Childcare
Little Hornets Preschool and Kids' Corner Childcare is directed by Ms. Rebecca Olsen. According to the district website, these programs are licensed by the State of Michigan. Little Hornets offers 2-4 day morning classes, a 4 day afternoon class, and 4-5 full day classes with the option of child care.
The Kids' Corner Childcare is offered for children five years old - 5th grade, and was established in 1985. The program is currently located in the northwest corner of Explorer Elementary School. Kid's Corner offers the following programs:
- Little Hornets for preschool students.
- Little Stingers for young fives and kindergarten students.
- Sunshine Club for 1st and 2nd grade students.
- Hornet Hive for 3rd grade students.
- Kids' Club for 4th and 5th grade students.
Wilson Talent Center (WTC)
The Wilson Talent Center, while not a part of WCS, is heavily promoted by it and as attended by many students of WHS. It provides Career & Technical Education programming for high school students in 11th and 12th grade. Students can recive many benifits from attending, which can include: high school academic credit, free college credit, state certification, or national certification. The downside to this arrangement is that it takes up half of your school day, which may limit your oppertunities at WHS (but that might not be a downside considering the electives offered at WHS).
In 2011, a high school student died because he was crushed by a locker room wall. The situation was investigated, and it was reported that WHS hadn't had a full scale inspection since the school was constructed. In 2008, a different lockeroom wall had actually collapsed due to "horseplay". An architect who contributed to the design of Williamston High School was reportedly surprised at the news and was quoted saying: "I can't imagine what it took to do that." A ceremony for the student was paid for by the WHS freshmen class at the time, and occurred later that school year.
From 2017-2020, there was a lot of controversy revolving around two gender identity policies passed by the Board of Education. The decision was made on November 2nd of 2017, and shortly after a lawsuit began. It demanded that WHS overturn the new policies, and also targeted all of the board members that voted for the policies. In 2018, four members of the Williamston school board who supported the new policies were faced with a recall election. They were Sarah Belanger, Chris Lewis, Nancy Deal, and Greg Talberg. Only Talberg was successfully recalled. This multi-year saga finally came to a conclusion on October 30th of 2020, in which the lawsuit was dismissed.
In 2018, Williamston Middle School introduced two "Innovation Labs".
In October 2018, there was a mold infestation at Discovery Elementary. The students in Explorer and Discovery got a day off school because of it.
Williamston High School, along with other local schools such as Okemos Public Schools, have received a lot of coverage relating to the so called "Vaping Epidemic". During the controversial flavored vape ban in 2019, several staff members were interviewed by local news.
In 2020, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Williamston Community Schools continued to serve food to students/families in need. Other local schools did the same.
During the summer of 2020, a survey by Williamston Community School's was spammed by several people, some who didn't even have students going to the district. This survey was about the decision to return to regular school, hybrid program school, or online school for the first semester of the 2020 - 2021 school year. One person filled out the form at least 30 times and bragged about it on Facebook.
Unsolved Mysteries of the Williamston Continuity
This paragraph contains topics we do not know much about. Before 1874 and until the 1950s, Williamston used a few one-room school houses as elementary schools and middle schools. These were auctioned off to private owners in the 90s and early 2000s. It is also unknown what structures were around Explorer Elementary before Discovery was built. There is evidence of other small buildings, but it is unknown what they were. Houses, possibly? Storage buildings? Sports accommodations? We are also curious about land ownership. We are assuming that the schools bought the current High School land when they bought the current Middle School land because the buildings are almost adjacent except for a swamp in between. There is also a large field behind the elementary schools that students are not allowed to access. It is unclear whether these are school property or not. In 2011, a new playground was added to the Elementary School, and sidewalks were upgraded. Where the funding came from to do this, we are not sure.