Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack

This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by an anonymous friend of CIS, has been awarded to Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, CIS board member and Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema presented this prestigious award to Dr. Schlack who has served as the president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College for more than three decades, becoming Michigan’s first female community college president in 1982.

When I found out that Marilyn Schlack started out as a middle school English teacher in Saginaw, it all made sense. She learned early in her career about growth spurts and rapid changes. She learned to tolerate awkward and clumsy and to understand that blemishes aren’t forever. She learned what all parents of young adolescents must learn—stay positive, keep the lines of communication open and set limits that are firm and fair. It sounds like a formula for a successful community leader. And that is what Marilyn Schlack is.

Marilyn is a builder. If you look at the number of college and community buildings that have been erected because of Marilyn’s initiative, your conclusion has to be that she is a successful builder of buildings, of places—doubling the Oshtemo campus, building the Arcadia campus, creating the culinary arts center. But the core interest in construction for Marilyn Schlack, is in helping to build lives, build talent, build futures. The scores of young people just starting their independence journey and the countless number of older workers who started over after down-sizing, right-sizing and outsourcing, can point to the career building opportunities born of Marilyn’s creativity, her commitment to evidence and her genuine interest in stronger families, stronger communities.

Some see a certain irony in giving the Diether Haenicke Award, named for the late President of Western Michigan University, to another higher education president in the same community. Both of these individuals share several traits, in addition to their commitment to excellence and their belief in education as a means to better lives. One person suggested that Marilyn Schlack is “no-nonsense”—if Marilyn is involved, there just won’t be any nonsense. You might think you have the most compelling idea around, but if you want Marilyn’s endorsement, you better be prepared with the evidence. Innovative—how many wind turbine education programs are there in the country that can boast 100% employment for their graduates? Excellence, no-nonsense, evidence, innovative—all words that Diether Haenicke would approve of.

Bob Jorth, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise, sums it up best: “Marilyn desires to improve this community—no one exemplifies that more. She is smart and knows how to get things done. Compared to what she has accomplished, her ego is small. She is driven by her desire to improve things for students and for families.”

As a CIS Board member and as the City Manager for the City of Kalamazoo, which has benefitted greatly from your selfless and inspired leadership, it is my great honor to present you with the 2018 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.

Dreon (left) and Tyresse (right) hold up quilt for all to see. Billie Gunderson created the stunning quilt.

Marilyn, this hand-sewn quilt was selected for you as an apt symbol of the many, many unique pieces you have stitched together over the years to make this a stronger community for those who live here, work here and go to school here. Thank you for your service and for your love of Kalamazoo.

Please join with me in congratulating Dr. Marilyn Schlack, this year’s recipients of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence.

Dr. Marilyn Schlack and Jim Ritsema

Every Site Coordinator Needs A Site Coordinator

Today, we highlight the work of Jay Gross.  Jay was honored this past May at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jim Ritsema, along with Derek Miller, CIS Site Coordinator at Northglade Montessori Magnet School, presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7627We’ll let you in on a saying we have at CIS. Every Site Coordinator needs a Site Coordinator. And Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, has hers in this next Champ.

“We wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we have out at Maple Street if it wasn’t for Jay Gross,” she says. “Last year, when I was a new Site Coordinator, he took me under his wing. He oriented me to the building, took time he didn’t have to help me learn who was who, who did what, and suggested the best avenues for getting things done.”

As the Home School Community Liaison for Kalamazoo Public Schools at Maple Street, Jay embodies the spirit of collaboration, showing what we can accomplish when we work together. So when Communities In Schools proposed doing a College Night last year as a way to promote a College Going Culture at the middle school—it was Jay who was one of the first to step up, supporting not just with words, but actions. “If Jay had not been in the picture,” points out Emily, “this event would not have been the success it was, nor would we have considered doing it again this year. Both times, Jay helped handle communications, advertising and promotion of the event internally and externally.” It took CIS and KPS, working in concert, to host the sixteen representatives from higher learning institutions.

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From Left: Jim Ritsema, Derek Miller, Jay Gross

Jay’s low key and calm-under-pressure approach can be counted on when it comes to our kids. When a student reached out to the Site Coordinator and she realized immediate care was required and that, for safety reasons, it would take more than one adult, Emily did not hesitate to turn to Jay. He jumped into action, providing the transportation necessary, allowing the CIS Site Coordinator to focus her attention fully on the student.

Jay can be counted on, whether it is as an ambassador for CIS, successfully implementing a college night, or joining with us in a student’s moment of need.

Jay Gross, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.