2018-12-08 / People

Teaching on Mackinac Island Is a ‘Dream Come True’ for Kathy Lisk

By Stephanie Fortino


Kathy Lisk has joined the staff at Mackinac Island Public Schools to teach the Island’s youngest students after working 28 years at Flint Public Schools. Kathy Lisk has joined the staff at Mackinac Island Public Schools to teach the Island’s youngest students after working 28 years at Flint Public Schools. Kathy Lisk started her first year teaching on Mackinac Island this fall, following a whirlwind interview process just a week before the school year began. The veteran educator, who spent the last 28 years teaching at Flint Public Schools, oversees the Island’s youngest students in a combined classroom for the preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. While living and working on the Island requires a transition, she is grateful for the opportunity, she told the Town Crier, and is looking forward to getting more involved in the community.

Mrs. Lisk pursued her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan-Flint. She holds several teaching certifications, including an early childhood endorsement. She has a master’s degree in early childhood education from Oakland University and she completed educational leadership for curriculum and instruction through Concordia University. Mrs. Lisk also achieved her national early childhood development generalist certification, which took her about two years to complete. She pursued the designation because she “wanted to be the best of the best,” she said.

For most of her career, Mrs. Lisk has taught students in second grade or younger. The oldest students she taught were in sixth grade, and she swore she would never do it again.

“Being with little kids is just a natural part of me,” she said. “They love you no matter what.”

She most recently worked at Flint Public Schools, and deciding to leave the city for Mackinac Island was an easy decision, she said, especially because the school board was able to match her salary. Oftentimes school districts don’t want to hire teachers with her extensive experience, she said, because they’d rather higher younger teachers who start at a lower wage.

The Island position remained unfilled until about a week before the school year began, as another candidate who had accepted the job backed out after not being able to find adequate housing quickly. Mrs. Lisk interviewed and began moving to the Island, all in the week before school started.

Her husband Allen has joined her here, and they have moved to an apartment on the Island for the winter. Come May, the couple will have to find someplace new to live, but they are undaunted, Mrs. Lisk said. They hope to secure one of the new townhomes being built by the city.

Mr. Lisk is a retired entertainer who juggled, made balloon art, and worked as a professional clown. They have two grown children, Laura Lisk of Grand Blanc and Sam Lisk, who is in the Air Force.

The Island community has been very supportive and welcoming, she said, offering help whenever possible. Carriage drivers have given her advice about how to calm her dog, Jack, who barks at horses, and other friends have given her extra bikes to borrow until she gets one of her own. She calls school secretary Barb Fisher “my guardian angel,” who offers help and advice constantly.

“I just wish I could have raised my kids in a community like this,” she said.

One of the hardest things to get used to here is how friendly everyone is, she says. People know her as “the new teacher” before she even meets them, which has caught her off guard.

Inside the classroom, she is adjusting to many positive improvements.

“The biggest difference is the class size,” she said. In city districts, “You work so hard to build community and get the kids to support each other.”

The foundation for this connection is already laid at the Island school simply because of the closeknit community.

Mrs. Lisk currently has four first grade students, four kindergarten students, and about a dozen preschoolers, although many moved off the Island when the tourist season ended. Back in Flint, Mrs. Lisk would routinely teach 28 to 32 children in her classroom at a time. Because there was such a shortage of substitute teachers, some days classes would have to be combined, so she would have to teach up to 60 students.

She can also integrate learning into a variety of tasks, including decorating for Halloween, and cater lessons to the interests of the students, which she hasn’t been able to do in the past. The atmosphere at Mackinac Island Public School is also much more relaxed, she continued, and she’s able to get to know her students more, talk with them, and laugh.

That ability to really connect, she said, “just has to have an impact on their learning.”

The Island teachers also receive a lot of financial support from the administration, she observed. While working downstate, she would spend hundreds of dollars on supplies for her classroom each year, everything from books to decorations. Now, she doesn’t have to pay for anything out of pocket.

“That’s just not how my world was before. . .” she said, “but this is a community and a school that puts their money where their mouth is.”

Parents also volunteer and donate to classroom functions, she said, and the entire community supports the school.

“It’s so nice to see people value education so much.”

Another difference between the Island and Flint schools is that children bring their own reusable water bottles with them to class. For the past five years or so in Flint, Mrs. Lisk constantly picked up empty water bottles, as the students couldn’t drink water from drinking fountains because of elevated lead levels there. In recent years, the administration decided to dispense cone-shaped paper cups for water, which would be left all over the school, she recalled.

Living on Mackinac Island, even for just a couple of months, has already improved her quality of life, even though she broke her foot after falling in front of the crowd at a volleyball game. She and her husband are exercising more, and looking forward to what’s next.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “It’s just a dream come true as a teacher and a dream come true as a person.”

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