John Oliver: Listening to that still, small voice

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature John Oliver. When John joined the CIS support staff in August of this past year as Director of Quality & Evaluation, he became the second John in the downtown office (shout out to John Brandon!), so colleagues began referring to him as “Dr. John.”

John grew up in Lansing, Michigan, graduating from Everett, the same high school that Irving “Magic” Johnson attended. He then moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College. After graduating, he returned to Michigan and entered Marygrove College in Detroit, obtaining a teaching certification and a Masters in Educational Leadership. He taught for seven years at Gardener Middle School, the same building he had attended as a youth.

He then pursued his doctorate in Educational Leadership from Michigan State University. “I wanted to remove barriers,” he says. While there, John worked with his advisor who was the evaluator for a Kellogg project for community change. “That’s where I made the connection between community and the schools needing to work closely together. We looked at eleven different communities across the country and how they were doing change. My doctoral dissertation focused on the power of youth and adult partnerships.”

Around this time John also developed an interest in radio through involvement in “an offshoot” that grew out of his work on the Kellogg project. “We formed this learning exchange, beginning with the original 11 communities we worked with and it eventually grew to 75.” Radio, he says, can be a platform for communities to exchange ideas and can “bring together wisdom of place.”

Last year, after six years as an assistant professor at Texas State University, John, his wife Michele, and their daughter Joelle moved to Michigan to be closer to family.

Alright, Dr. John: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

You mentioned the phrase “wisdom of place” in referencing the radio project you were involved with in Texas. Talk more about that.

In thinking about place-based leadership, it’s important to never take for granted that someone who doesn’t have a title isn’t someone who should also be at the table…Too often it’s the people with credentials making decisions on behalf of those they represent. We miss out on a lot of capacity, on the wisdom of place, and the power of people when this occurs. To really learn and exchange ideas, we must check our credentials at the door. We learn more by asking than just by sharing or telling. That’s always the case when working with children.

You once taught at an African-centered charter school. Can you tell us more about that?

99% of the students were African American. We placed students at the center of their learning, asking them to consider Where am I in this topic? Where are my people in this? So, for example, let’s say students are learning about 1492 in history. What happens in 1492? Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Students would discuss things like, How do you/can you discover some place if people are already there?

Critical consciousness and centering is what we taught alongside each topic and the African-centered approach was embedded within everything and whatever benchmarks we covered. We always posed the question, Okay, where are you in this and how are you centered? We pushed students to get to that base, to consider African diaspora throughout their course work. The experience culminated in the eighth-grade class going on study tour up the Nile. I went with the students. It was an incredible experience.

You’re now the data guy for CIS. How would you describe what you do?

My role, the way I articulate my role to others, is that I’m trying to make sense of what the data says. To be clear, data is more than just numbers, graphs, and charts. It’s also the dialogue, the conversations and the responses with people. It’s about relationships and finding relationships between the numbers. What’s happening between relationships of people, organizations, and the community? What is the story?

Can you tell us one story?

The story I’m trying to understand now is how to ask a new question. The question we’ve struggled with as educators over the years has been how do we assess at-risk or marginalized student populations? To that end, we zero in on incarcerated youth, drop outs, etcetera. However, being here in Kalamazoo and learning how resource-rich this community is, as well as being a Promise community, that’s huge, right? So how do we look at this with fresh eyes, in a new way? When we do, it becomes not so much looking at “at-risk youth,” but looking at what is keeping students from not using the Promise.

CIS is focused on removing barriers that put students at-risk of not using the Promise. I have an appreciation for this multi-layered, multi-faceted approach to student success and am really pleased to be working here in a community invested in the CIS model of integrated student services.

Favorite word?

Positivity. It’s actually one of my top five words.

What are the other four?

Futuristic, adaptability, connectedness, and maximizer.

Are those all words you try to apply to your life?

Yes. Those are my identified strengths within the five domains of the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 that we all took at our CIS orientation launch in the fall. It was both reassuring and a little creepy how accurate it was. But, wow, it really makes sense…I’m in the right place, doing the right things. Everything is aligned.

What are you currently reading?

Start With Why. It’s by Simon Sinek.

Sounds like nonfiction.

It is. I don’t do fiction. If I’m going to read something, I want to learn. I always like to increase my skills set. When I want to be creative, I explore that avenue through music, playing the guitar and listening to music.

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

Lot of things. It’s small but close enough to larger venues and cities. Most importantly, though, it’s a tight, close community.

Any favorite places yet?

The Farmer’s Market. That was a cool discovery!

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My parents, of course. Especially my dad. He passed last year. We got here to Kalamazoo just before he passed. We arrived in September and he passed in December. It wasn’t expected.

What a difficult thing to go through. I imagine your mom must appreciate that you have been here in Michigan during this difficult time.

Yes. It helps to know that we were listening to what the universe was putting out there, listening to that still small voice that said, Get back to Michigan.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

It’s important to follow that still, small voice. Listen and follow.

Thank you, Dr. John, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

John Oliver, Director of Quality & Evaluation (far left) modeling Millie’s mittens (you can read that post here) with CIS staff John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator, Alonzo Demand, Human Resources Coordinator, and Michael Harrison, Associate Director of Site Services.

As 2017 comes to a close…

Thank you to all of you who have made a gift to Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo this year!  Your generous support is giving kids in our community the power of hope and the belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life.

If you are planning a year-end gift to CIS, thank you!  We also want to make sure you know about some important dates to help ensure your gift can be credited to 2017.  Below are some general guidelines.  As always, you should check with your attorney or tax advisor for the most current and accurate information.

  • Checks should be dated and postmarked by December 31, 2017.  (Reminder:  December 31 is a Sunday this year.)
  • Credit card donations should be made online by 11:59 PM on December 31, 2017.
  • If you wish to drop off your gift, please note that the CIS office will be closed from Monday, December 25 – Monday, January 1, 2018.  We will re-open on Tuesday, January 2.

If your employer matches your donations, please be sure to send us any matching gift form to be completed.  You can check our website to see if your employer may offer this benefit.

If you have any questions or need help making your gift, please call (269) 337-1601, ext 205 for more information.

From all of us at CIS, we want to wish you and your family happy holidays. Thank you for investing in kids! 

Calling all Kalamazoo Public Schools teachers, principals, and administrators!

Our 2017-18 grant guide is out and can be found on our website through the link below. This guide contains information on educational grants and scholarships available through CIS. These grants and scholarships are given to:

  • Encourage and support projects in classrooms and schools that directly involve students,
  • Provide professional development and training opportunities to teachers & administrators, or
  • Support students’ participation in community enrichment programs.

All Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) teachers, principals, and administrators are eligible to apply here.

grant-guide-image-no-date

Which Funding Opportunity is Right for You?

You are a principal or a member of a building team that includes a principal.  You have a project that directly involves students and addresses needs in the area of school improvement, including:

  • Academic achievement
  • Classroom management
  • Curriculum enhancement
  • Community & parent involvement

Consider applying for the Clara Harbeck Memorial Fund Grant for Principals.

Application deadline:  5:00 PM on Friday, January 19, 2018

 

You want to bring a performing, visual, or literacy arts program or project into an elementary classroom or school. 

Consider applying for the Jack Hamilton Memorial Fund Grant.

Application deadline:  5:00 PM on Friday, January 19, 2018

 

You are a middle school or high school teacher or administrator who has a project or experience that enhances students’ study of the visual arts.

Consider applying for Kay M. LaBonte Memorial Fund Grant.

Application deadline:  5:00 PM on Friday, January 19, 2018

 

You are a teacher or administrator who wants to pursue professional development that addresses your personal interests, specifically your creative or artistic talents.

Consider applying for a Richard N.  Percy Memorial Fund Grant.

Application deadline:  5:00 PM on Friday, February 3, 2018

 

You have an elementary or middle school student with interest and/or ability in art, science, or math and want to help them secure up to a 100% scholarship to participate in related community programs, classes, or camps. 

Consider nominating them for a Timothy John Cain Memorial Fund scholarship.

Deadline to submit nominations: 

  • Spring classes:  Friday, March 2, 2018
  • Summer classes:  Friday, April 27, 2018

Read the full version of the Grant Guide here.

 

Girls on the Run of Greater Kalamazoo

Congratulations and best wishes to Girls on the Run of Greater Kalamazoo!  After 14+ years, as of October 1st, they are a separate, independent not-for-profit entity and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo will no longer serve as its fiduciary agent.  Thus, effective October 1, 2017 all donations, contributions, and/or funding of any kind to Girls on the Run of Greater Kalamazoo can and should be made directly to Girls on the Run of Greater Kalamazoo.  It’s been gratifying to see Girls on the Run in the Kalamazoo area grow in its capacity to contribute to the development of so many girls in our communities and we wish them continued success.

Kalamazoo College Men’s Baseball Team: A Winning Record With Kids

Today we highlight Kalamazoo College Men’s Baseball Team, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. The team’s Champ award was sponsored by Warner, Norcross & Judd. CIS Board member Darren Timmeney presented the award.

Tommy Lasorda once said, “There are three types of baseball players: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happens.” The young men who make up the Kalamazoo College Baseball Team and choose to volunteer with CIS are the kind who make things happen.

Since January 2013, these players have been stepping up to the plate to support students at Edison Environmental Science Academy, both during the day and as part of the CIS after school program. Students and teachers alike look forward to the players coming each and every week. These young men can be counted on to be present and fully engaged with the students. Step into the school and you might find players serving as tutors, playground friends, and offering classroom support. After school, they might be sharing dinner, conversations, and participating in recess activities with students.

(From left) Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Jake VanAlten, Brent Yelton, Aaron Schwark, Jack Clark, Ian Kobernick, Jack Dynes, Head Coach Mike Ott, and Athletic Director Kristen Smith.

While faithfully serving at Edison, some have gone on to extend support to students at other CIS sites. Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator for Woodward School for Technology and Research, says that the two teammates supporting the Woodward students “show their passion and dedication to the students as much as if they were on the field practicing. They give 110% and the students always love when they come to volunteer.”

Edison’s CIS Site Coordinator Keely Novotny and After School Coordinator Stacy Jackson both say that it’s the team’s on-going commitment to building relationships, to mentoring and tutoring that is making a meaningful impact in the lives of the students.

The team’s head coach, Mike Ott, nurtures that sense of commitment, creating an environment in which the Hornets experience success as a team both on and off the field. Although the players maintain a full school schedule and admirable grade point averages, in addition to their baseball practices and games, they make it a priority in their busy schedules to connect with the KPS students. Some players have been that consistent presence since their freshman year and are now seniors, preparing to graduate.

Both school and CIS staff love how the students eagerly anticipate the arrival of the players. Even before the school bell rings to announce the start of day, it’s not uncommon to spot a first grader seeking out the CIS Site Coordinator and ask, “Mrs. Novotny, is Jack coming today?” Each time, she’ll say, “Yes, he’ll be here” and each time, he and all the other players prove her right.

Kalamazoo College Men’s Baseball Team, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.