By Tom Tolen /

The Brighton Board of Education met Wednesday evening in the first workshop session since Matthew Outlaw was hired to be the new superintendent, following the departure of Superintendent Greg Gray and interim stewardship of Laura Surrey.

Workshops generally are viewed as a chance for a board to roll up its sleeves and discuss matters that are not pressing in the immediate sense, but lean more toward general topics such as the overall educational program, visioning and long-term planning — something the board wouldn’t have time to deal with at regular meetings. The meeting also gave the board a chance to engage with the new superintendent in a more informal setting and learn the subtle differences between his leadership style and that of former superintendent Gray. At Wednesday night’s meeting, the board primarily discussed short-and-long-term goals, along with the need for a strategic action plan, the STEAM program and other matters.

Short-term goals brought to the table by Superintendent Outlaw include garnering continued feedback from students, staff and parents; refining contingency plans for COVID-19 pandemic education, developing a strategic plan, reviewing programming, planning for the 2020-21 school year, implementing the $59 million bond issue passed last year, and initiating a communication and marketing plan. Outlaw said that in his previous district they hired a professional marketing company to promote the district at a cost of $2,000 per month. Board President Andy Burchfield agreed, saying that Brighton needs a director of communication and marketing.

Hawkins teacher Christa Sinz, who was in the online audience, commented that since money is short right now, marketing could be added to an existing program at the high school and a marketing course offered to students. The students, after some training, could then do the marketing themselves at no cost to the district as part of their class assignments.

Long-term goals as delineated by Outlaw include scoring in the top 5% in the state in all tested areas, 90% or more of graduating seniors being accepted into post-secondary educational programs, successful completion of post-secondary programs by Brighton graduates, increasing career preparation within the K-12 curriculum, STEAM education vision K-12, expansion of well-rounded experiences for students, and being recognized as one of the elite K-12 educational programs — both in Michigan and the nation.

Board Secretary Roger Myers said the district, in his words, “can’t be complacent, we can’t rest on our laurels.” Rather, Myers said, the district must strive to continually improve academically and in other areas.

Outlaw said a key area Brighton needs to address is in communicating its successes and selling itself to the world. Board Vice President Alicia Reid agreed that the district needs “a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to communication.”

In the public comments portion of the meeting, parent Jennifer Ballou of Silver Lake Road cited a problem with the virtual program vs. in-school classes. She said after her daughter returned to school following her first quarantine she had to make up six tests. Ballou said her daughter missed very little of the online instruction while quarantined but, regardless, fell far behind. She said it became painfully clear to her that the classroom setting is superior to learning online.

The importance of STEAM education was also stressed at all grade levels, from elementary through high school. On that note, bids will be taken in the near future on a major aspect of the $59 million bond issue passed one year ago — the new STEAM center to be constructed next to the high school.

The next Brighton Board of Education meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 23, at 7 p.m., with in-person attendance by board members and public access restricted to online participation.