Former Gov. John Engler on hand to celebrate CSA’s 20th anniversary

Chuck Stockwell, Mary Kay Shields (now CS Partners president), and Gov. John Engler all pioneered school choice in Michigan in the 1990s.
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In 1996, then-Michigan Governor John Engler revolutionized the state’s public school system with the introduction of school choice which led to a new phenomenon in education known as “charter schools.”

Twenty years later, as keynote speaker at the Charyl Stockwell Academy (CSA) District’s 20th anniversary celebration, Engler had the chance to witness the fruit of his labor so long ago. And what he witnessed impressed him.

CSA “is more than delivering on the promise we had hoped was possible,” Engler told an enthusiastic audience of about 150 at the Charyl Stockwell Preparatory Academy (CSPA) in Brighton last week.

“Our message” with school choice “is that we ought to have an opportunity … to create and maintain these choices that work so well for so many students and so many families,” Engler said. “We need to have success and you’re getting it right. You’re a model. What you’ve done, your vision here, has given us an opportunity to see what this is all about. We’re grateful.”

Engler’s speech capped a joyous celebration at CSPA that was the signature 20th anniversary event. The CSA District has hosted a number of events and activities to celebrate its 20th year. Students, teachers, staff, parents and visitors roamed throughout the school enjoying exhibits such as old yearbooks and photos, student musicians and singing groups and a generous buffet, complete with 20th anniversary-decorated frosted cookies.

Having the governor who pioneered school choice in Michigan anchor this big anniversary for one of the state’s first charter schools was particularly exciting said CSA founder Chuck Stockwell.

“We were delighted and honored Gov. Engler could be with us today,” Stockwell said. “He has been this state’s school choice champion since the beginning, so his perspective after 20 years is so important.”

The day felt more like a family reunion, which was especially evident by the remarks of a few others who spoke prior to Engler.

First was Matt Miller, a CSPA alumnus who was in CSPA’s first graduating class in 2012. Miller, now a broadcast journalist in Ishpeming, Mich., credited his alma mater with giving him the education and skills he needed to succeed.

“I learned so much, especially the value of working hard,” he said. “Each career has its own challenge….” The school’s philosophy taught him that “you have to push hard, strive to do better…. What I learned here has helped me my entire life.”

Deborah Skolnik, director of education services, has been with CSA since its inception. Her three children all attended the school. She said when she first spoke with Stockwell in 1996 about this new charter school he wanted to establish, she had been looking for “a new school that shared my beliefs about teaching and learning.” She immediately came aboard and has stayed ever since.

“CSA puts students first,” she said. “I’ve always considered myself very fortunate to have found this opportunity. I am quite certain there is no other school like CSA.”

Dawn Marshall, chief compliance officer, has been at CSA since 2003. She also has three children who are CSPA graduates. She spoke about the growth of CSA and CSPA.

“My kids took advantage of all the ‘firsts’ that CSPA had to offer: AP classes, the Honors program, student government, robotics, athletics, chess, NHS, even every school dance and activity,” she said. “CSPA gave them everything they needed to become well-rounded individuals and to create resumes necessary for entry into top-tier universities.”

Chuck Stockwell, introduced by CSPA Principal Steven Beyer, thanked Gov. Engler for coming to CSA.

“You are a hero of the school choice movement and we thank you for the enormous contribution you made to our state and country,” Stockwell said. “Without that contribution, we would not be here today.”

Stockwell added that though he is called the “founder” of CSA, there were many “co-founders,” including Skolnik, Marshall and Maria Dockins, chief executive officer of CS Partners, a school management firm in the CSA family.

“Last but not least” among these co-founders was his wife, Shelley Stockwell, he added.

“She stood with me from the beginning and has, for the last 12 years, directed the educational orchestra as chief administrative leader of our school.”

Mary Kay Shields, president of CS Partners, worked with various state agencies in the Michigan Legislature on behalf of school choice during those early years of the Engler administration. She introduced Engler.

Lisa Pick, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, also announced that CSPA has been approved as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, a prestigious and difficult to obtain designation.

Engler noted that in his speech along with the banners of colleges CSPA alumni now attend and the school’s “very, very high GPA.”

CSA was originally chartered in 1996 by Central Michigan University. It was originally named the Livingston Developmental Academy and was later renamed after the Stockwells’ daughter, Charyl.

Starting with just 296 students in a re-purposed office building, CSA has grown from a grades 1-5 school into a K-12 district serving nearly 1,200 students and offering a full array of academic, athletic and extracurricular programs. The schools’ students consistently score high on achievement tests, GPA averages and other measures.

It was, indeed, as Engler said, “a great day to celebrate.”

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