ESD dedicates new playground in honor of Jim Dittmer

July 9, 2024

West Shore School News is presented by West Shore Educational School District in partnership with Mason County Press and Oceana County Press.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

AMBER TOWNSHIP — The West Shore Educational Service District opened its new playground Tuesday at its main campus at 2130 W. US 10-31. The playground was dedicated to long-time board of education member James Dittmer.

“”This playground will benefit our students in so many ways,” said Lisa Van Drunen, an ESD teacher and playground planning committee member, “Its attractive student-centric design and total accessibility gives students the opportunity to develop important gross motor function, learning practice, socialization, and recreation skills.”

Jim Dittmer, left, with Dr. Jason Jeffrey

“The playground was designed with student focus as the top priority of meeting the unique needs of our students with disabilities,” said Kim Maue, ESD assistant superintendent of special education. “The equipment was selected so that it is accessible to all of our students. This creates an environment in which our students can interact with one another and enjoy all of the activities. This playground is not only a place for childhood memories and fun, it also provides a setting for building skills in sharing, social interaction, taking turns, physical strength, mobility, and more. We’re excited about this opportunity for our students!”

Dittmer has served on the West Shore ESD/Mason-Lake Intermediate School District board of education since 1980. In addition to serving on the ESD board, he served on the Mason County Central Board of Education from 1971 to 2008, including terms as past president and the Michigan Association of School Boards State Association Board from 1976 to 2008.

After graduating from Michigan State University in 1957 he taught at Riverton Township School District and then Mason County Central Schools. He left teaching in 1969 to work full time on his family’s farm in Riverton Township.

“”While our focus must always be on the best interest of our students, their families, and the school staff who serves them, I’m honored and humbled to have the new playground named after me,” Dittmer said, recalling when the property that became the Mason County ISD was purchased in 1974.

“Since then, we’ve seen the ESD’s buildings, programs, services – including those like CTE (career and technical education), instructional services, and business administration support – evolve to keep improving how we serve our area’s school district’s, large and small. This wonderful new playground is one more example.

“I feel blessed to be a part of something that gives teachers, support staff, and parents an additional way to further enrich the lives of our students with disabilities.”


The ESD serves about 8,000 pre-kindergarten through early college students in Mason, Lake, and Oceana counties, along with students in Manistee County as well. Of those, 1,400 are students with disabilities.

Kerri Harrie, ESD assistant superintendent of business services, said the playground sits on the same location as the original 1975 playground, which had minor improvements made in 2000.

“Today’s new playground represents much discussion and planning about how we could create the best possible playground for our students within a set budget,” Harrie said. “A few committee members even took learning trips to see playgrounds at the ISDs in Kent and Ottawa counties, which were very helpful. We tapped into all the expertise and experience we could.”

Dr. Jason Jeffrey, ESD superintendent praised the committee and Dittmer.

“I’m a firm believer that when everyone works together, amazing things are possible,” Jeffrey said. “Obviously, from the leadership legacy of Jim Dittmer to the hard work of our playground planning committee along the talents of our staff and construction skills of our contractors, we’ve seen it all come together on this project. And, if you are a community member reading this, you played an important part in this, also. We’re grateful for the support the WSESD receives from the special education millage. We couldn’t keep striving toward our Every Learner – Every Path – Every Future philosophy with it. Thank you.”

The playground is open to the public during non-school hours.


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