Robin Greymountain: A Passion for Making Things Work In Schools (and on ships!)

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 Robin Greymountain, now in her fourth year as principal of Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School.

Originally from Fulton, Michigan, Robin and her family moved to Sugar Island when she was in the second grade. She notes that this Michigan island, located in the St. Marie’s river that flows between Michigan and Ontario, used to be considered part of Ontario. “It is part of the Chippewa reservation land and part private land. We lived on land that has been in my family for hundreds of years. My father’s mom was born and raised on Sugar Island. My family historically would come to the land known as Manmade Lake for summer berry picking. The land is still in my family’s name.”

Principal Greymountain holds a bachelor’s in education from Southern Utah University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. Prior to working in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, she served eight years as an elementary principal in Page, Arizona, and previously worked as a teacher and the district’s coordinator for English Language Learners and Gifted and Talented programs. Before pursuing a career in education, she was a diesel mechanic.

Alright, Principal Greymountain: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

I didn’t know you had been a mechanic!

I joined the Coast Guard between my junior and senior year of high school. That’s all I ever wanted to do. My parents signed the waiver the day I turned 17. I got on a plane and went to boot camp. I was in the reserves one year and then went active duty when I graduated from high school.

What made you want to be a mechanic?

All of my uncles and my grandfather were mechanics. My Uncle Butch was truly an artist, I’d watch him weld, make race cars, take apart his van and put it back together. Oh, what he could do with engines! I wanted to do that. And, at some point, sexism came into play. Somebody told me, “You can’t do that because you’re a woman.” Oh, yea? I thought. Watch me! I became a mechanic and I was the only woman in the engine room, supervising 17 men.

As part of the mechanic’s training, I worked inside a ship and had to learn the engine compartment. It was three stories high and twice a wide. The piping was a huge puzzle. I had to figure it out. It was exciting, learning how things worked, drawing all those pipes. I liked this! I held the record for finishing it the fastest. I proved to them that woman are just as good as men.

Or, in this case, better.

I was better.

So how did you move from mechanic to the world of education?

When I got out of the Coast Guard and went to college I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to stay home or close to the reservation and I knew the reservation was always looking for teachers. I started taking education classes. I enjoyed it and loved it. It lit a fire inside me. It’s the kind of job where you have a purpose; it’s fulfilling. I’m a part of shaping something better for the future.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I learned about the Social Justice Book Bowl competition that they have at Western Michigan University with Kalamazoo Public Schools. It’s part of the annual MLK Celebration.

We just blogged about that a few weeks ago! [Post may be read here.]

Until this year, I didn’t understand the greatness of this event. I was missing this for the last four years? The speakers were moving—Mr. Sidney Ellis was so good. I enjoyed the poem the student read aloud, the book bowl competition, the celebration, just everything about the whole event was wonderful. I only happened to go this year because my daughter participated in the Social Justice Art Competition. (Anja Greymountain, a seventh grader at Maple Street Magnet School was one of the top three finalists. Her work, “Multi-War Bonnet,” took top prize.)

I’m so glad I went to the celebration. The books the students read in advance of the Book Bowl give them courage to have context to have meaningful discussions, to share provocative thoughts, and have the ability to have the hard conversations.

… As a school and as educators, we have to teach about diversity and instill an appreciation and a respect for all the cultures and demographics our students come from.

What are you currently reading?

Decisive, a book by Chip and Dale Heath. I have a couple of their other books. Made to Stick and Switch. They write about how people and systems work and what you can do to make systems more effective. Made to Stick is about emotions, how people run off of emotions and how the emotional part of the brain leads people to do certain things. When you work with people, you want to create buy in, not have teachers do something because “I told you to do it” but rather they do something because you can show them this will work and how doing this is the best thing for children. Their book I’m reading now, Decisive, goes into how you make those changes in education to make the system better overall for kids.

Favorite word?

Fricative. That is the sound of letters when they blend together or come out of your mouth. There are 44 sounds in the English language. Some kids, when you ask them to sound something out, if they haven’t heard that specific sound from birth to four—that pure sound—they can’t differentiate and sound out that short /e/, or short /i/ sound; but they can feel it in their mouth.

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

The diversity of Kalamazoo. I love being able to experience different cultures. There is so much opportunity here. You can meet people in a variety of settings and be surrounded with different social groups and it doesn’t matter what your background may be. I can interact and learn their stories…Of all the places I have been, Kalamazoo, more than any other place, appreciates diversity.

And there is always something going on in Kalamazoo. That’s another thing I love. You can’t say you’re bored or don’t know what to do. You just have to choose from the many things, the diverse celebrations happening throughout the year.

As a principal, what was the transition like for you, coming from Arizona to Kalamazoo? Did you experience a cultural shift of any kind?

The transition part, culturally, wasn’t difficult for me. The students of my school were 75% Native American from the Navajo Nation…Coming to Kalamazoo, it was more about learning the culture of the system. What are the policies? What are the procedures I need to learn? Also, I came from a smaller school district, and went from a district with two elementary schools to 17. So, while the overall the size of the district was an adjustment, the school size of the elementary building I had been principal is comparable. I had a school of 600 kids and I have 588 students here.

What does it mean to you, as principal of Parkwood Upjohn to have CIS in your building? Do you see CIS as value-added to the school environment and the work you do here?

Yes! CIS is a crucial element to our school and needs to be in all schools for children. For instance, when a student’s basic needs aren’t met, learning can be compromised. CIS works to get those basic needs met. Student needs can range from emotional, to behavioral, attendance, health, and whatever it is, CIS works to connect the right resources to the child. If CIS doesn’t have a specific person or resource, they provide direction for how to find something for that child.

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

Different people have been that caring adult at different points in my life. Whether they’ve come from the community, the church, the neighborhood, they’ve had an influence on me.

My mother, she was and still is my caring adult. I still hear her voice…telling me to do something or not do something. She had cancer, she was in Hospice and I was flying back and forth from Arizona to Michigan. Each visit I told her, I don’t know if I can make it to see you again. She said, Go live your life. I’m at peace with my life; you need to live your life…

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

Shout Out To Secretaries

Here’s a not so well-kept secret: secretaries make the world go ‘round. If you are a parent, volunteer, or partner with us you know that the secretary is often the first face you encounter upon entering a school building. The role of the secretary is key not only to the overall functioning of a school, but to the success of our community partnerships and volunteer efforts. To all administrative professionals sprinkled throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, thank you for all you do. You help us surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Given that Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day in the United States, we thought we’d share what a few of our CIS staff have to say about their schools’ secretaries:

Angie Boyd and Karen Brooks provide me with prompt and accurate information whenever I need it, have a great sense of humor, communicate with me when they notice students in need of services, and always do what they can to support the services offered through Communities In Schools.

Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary

 

Our secretaries are amazing! Mrs. Zook and Mrs. Vandyke are thoroughly committed to our students and they take every opportunity to connect them to CIS and other resources. We couldn’t do it without them.

Emily Demorest, CIS After School Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

 

Spring Valley’s secretary, Mrs. Prevo, is very supportive of CIS and we appreciate all of her assistance.

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator & Jay Gross, CIS After School Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration

 

A special shout out to Gail Bunschoten:  Northglade Montessori Magnet Elementary has a very caring secretary. She delivers superior customer service and always has a smile on her face. She’s a fantastic caregiver for the students who visit! Thank you.

Brenda Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA, on behalf of CIS Site Team at Northglade Montessori

 

Julie Davis is a lot of things to students, staff, and parents, at Arcadia. When it comes to CIS, she is there for whenever and whatever we need. When we seek her wisdom, she always offers her full attention. She provides proof-reading skills to notes we send home to parents. She is always helpful. We can’t help but leave her office laughing and feeling lighter. Thank you, Julie, for all things tangible as well as invisible that you provide!

Gulnar Husain, CIS Site Coordinator and Calli Carpenter, CIS After School Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School

 

Pam Storher and Joy Vandepol are amazing at their jobs and all the in between. During our massive all-building move they were instrumental in keeping everyone on track with information that we needed to know. Once in the new building they worked hard to make students and parents feel welcomed and reassured about the changes. Pam and Joy are always willing to put their work on hold to hear what we need and are always on top of getting us the information quickly. Our day to day lives would not run as smoothly or efficiently without their help. We appreciate their tireless work to help our students, families and staff be successful!

Elisabeth Finch, CIS Site Coordinator and Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

 

A special shout out to Ann Campbell and Sheri Ferrari: Parkwood Upjohn Elementary has the best “Dynamic Duo” in the world. They demonstrate compassion and deliver superior customer service to everyone who comes through the front doors. They greet everyone with a warm smile and have a warm approach to whoever graces their presence. They always carry themselves in a professional way. Thank you both.

Brenda Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA on behalf of Parkwood CIS Site Team

 

Mrs. Carol and Mrs. Peggy of Edison elementary

You know the names of 386 kids by face
teachers, staff, volunteers and all others who’ve tread
the path from silver door button to sign in sheet.
You answer an endless amount of questions with a smile.
Those you know not are looked into honestly
and you lend your aid without batting an eye.

Any parent or disgruntled child can be calmed,
any hungry late-comers fed from your secret goodie drawer,
any creature loved, even our therapy dogs,
any phone calls taken, made or transferred,
any accident or problem solved.

Mrs. Peggy, dear, you’ll be missed.
To stay, we wish you could be convinced.
From your colleagues and kids
we love you and will never forget you, even off the grid.
Our own Edison awesome, always remembered, our best.

To the two on the front lines—
both dearly beloved, one nearly retired—
thank you both for being amazing.
Shout out to you two, our favorite secretaries.
You both have caring hearts, positivity, and give of your time.
You’re both truly cherished and inspire our lives.

Nick Baxter, VISTA, took the sentiments of his CIS Site Team at Edison Environmental Science Academy Gerald Brown, CIS Site Coordinator & Stacy Salter, CIS After School Coordinator and wrote the above poem. 

These (photo below) are the secretaries that we adore at Woods Lake. We could never navigate a day without them. XXOO

Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator and Donielle Hetrick, CIS After School Coordinator at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

Fabulous-Secretaries

One Fabulous CIS Cheerleader

Today, we highlight the work of KPS Principal Carol Steiner.  She was recently honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. Retired Judge and CIS Board President, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

 

Carol SteinerCIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema describes this Champ’s presence as “positively contagious.” Carol Steiner’s enthusiasm, zest for life, and positive leadership set the tone at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School for students, parents, and staff alike. As the school’s principal, Carol embraces EVERY opportunity to reinforce a college going culture. Whether in the hallway, on the playground, or before a large school assembly, she will remind the children and their parents that because they are in theKalamazoo Public Schools, each child has the, now what is it? She’ll cup her ear and smile as the crowd shouts out: THE KALAMAZOO PROMISE!

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being at Parkwood during the morning announcements, you will hear this Principal reminding everyone to “Choose to make it a good day!” Carol is one of those rare creatures who heeds her own advice. For the past 29 years, Carol has chosen to make every day a good day as she serves well the children in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the last ten of those as principal and chief cheerleader at Parkwood Upjohn. In a school of 530 students, she knows practically everybody’s name. Rain or shine, she is out greeting the children, welcoming them or sending them home safely.

Carol “gets” CIS. She is the cheerleader for integrated student services. Because she knows what her kids need, she takes full advantage of the community resources CIS leverages for the school. When parents reach out to Carol for support and she sees that their need for their child can be addressed through CIS—such as therapy, tutoring, basic needs—she links that parent to the CIS Site Coordinator. Principals are busy people. Yet, she makes a point of welcoming volunteers and partners so that they feel a part of the school family.

Because of the high standards she sets, the model she upholds, Carol Steiner inspires us all not only to do the work needed for our kids, but to do it better. Call her unconventional, a free spirit, these are parts of Carol we love and cherish. You may be retiring, Carol, but you have taught us well. Like you, we choose to make it a good day for all our kids.

Carol Steiner, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Carol Steiner

Champs Among Us

(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell
(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell

Upon leaving our seventh annual Champ Celebration, held last week at Cityscape, one of our almost 200 guests said, “Everybody in town should experience Champs!”

We agree. Our CIS board and staff had a great time hosting the event and we want to share with everyone what these nine individuals and organizations are doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

So, in the weeks and months to come we’ll introduce you to each of them. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools
Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools

And, because we’ve had numerous requests to publish the speech given by our youngest Champ ever—fifth grader Kawyie Cooper—we’ll post her speech next Tuesday. According to Kathy Jennings, editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave, Kawyie “stole the show with her words of what being named a Champ meant to her.” You can read the entire article here. And, if we can convince some of our other Champs to guest blog for us, we’ll publish their reflections here as well.

Today, though, we’ll leave you with a list of our award winners. And then, take a moment to click on the “Dear Kalamazoo” video below that first aired during the event. This video was created because throughout the 19 KPS schools that CIS is currently in, we have a number of grateful students (not to mention parents and teachers) who wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks and give shouts out to their own Champs.

Special thanks to all of our CIS Site Coordinators and CIS Site Team members (Assistant Site Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns) who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work with Communities In Schools and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Our 2014 Champs:

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Terri Aman, KPS Executive Supervisor for Transportation

RSVP through Senior Services Southwest Michigan, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Jay Gross, KPS Home School Community Liaison, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

Consumers Credit Union, CIS Nonprofit Business Partner

Rosalie Novara, CIS Volunteer Tutor, King-Westwood Elementary School

Radiant Church, CIS Emerging Faith-Based Partner

Kawyie Cooper, CIS Student, King-Westwood Elementary School

Carol Steiner, KPS Principal, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

And this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award:

Barbara Witzak, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools

So, please, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board
Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board

A Dynamic Duo

_DSC0793Today we highlight the work of Joyce and Doyle Crow. These CIS volunteers were honored this past spring at the sixth annual Champ Celebration.  (This is the seventh installment of a nine part series.)

Joyce and Doyle Crow: a dynamic duo if there ever was one. For the past six years, CIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema has been turning to them to help tutor children in both math and reading at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Trust, she points out, is vital to empowering children to open up and change. The Crow’s establish trust early on by showing up on time each week, committing to working with the same children year after year. When one of Doyle’s student recently changed schools Doyle followed the child to Arcadia Elementary where he continues to support the student and was convinced by Arcadia’s CIS Site Coordinator, Gulnar Husain, to pick up an additional child in need.

The Crows unleash their powers upon children, showering them with abundant kindness, caring, patience, and love. Under their tutelage, children who are struggling academically, behaviorally, or emotionally, blossom.

When Jody recently called a parent to find out how she felt the tutoring with Mr. Crow was going for her son, the mother was stunned by the changes she was seeing in her child. Once disengaged with learning, her son was opening up at home, his attitude towards school improving along with his academics. “He can’t stop talking about Mr. Crow,” she said. Her son, realizing whom his mother was talking about, shouted out, “He’s amazing!”

_DSC0544Last year, one of Joyce’s students suggested that Joyce change her tutoring schedule so that she could come earlier in the week. This would give the student a chance to practice the skills she was learning from Mrs. Crow throughout the week. Joyce didn’t hesitate to rearrange her schedule. And when summer arrived and the student worried that she would lose the gains made, Joyce arranged to tutor her throughout the summer. This past fall, this young lady received her first ever ‘A’ in math.

Between them both, they have helped more than a dozen kids. Kids are smart. They know that Joyce and Doyle Crow, caring and committed adults are part of the secret to their growing success.

Joyce and Doyle Crow, we thank you for helping students stay in school and achieve in life.

A Shout Out To Secretaries

Secretaries make the world go ‘round. If you are a parent, volunteer, or partner with us you know that the secretary is often the first face you encounter upon entering a school building. The role of the secretary is key not only to the overall functioning of a school, but to the success of our community partnerships and volunteer efforts. Toall administrative professionals sprinkled throughout theKalamazoo Public Schools, thank you for all you do. You help us surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Given that Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day in the United States, here are what a few of our Site Coordinators have to say about their schools’ secretaries:

A huge thank you to Clar Pillsbury and Cherie Buell, two women who work tirelessly for all of us at Lincoln International Studies School. Their job position and responsibilities are enormous. I appreciate all of their hard work and sacrifices they make for me and the rest of the staff here. Thanks so much for what you have done and continue to do for staff, students, and families!!!!

-Bonnie Terrentine, CIS Site Coordinator, Lincoln International Studies School

Julie Davis is kind, compassionate and her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control. She is an invaluable asset to Arcadia and my job as a Site Coordinator.

-Gulnar Husain, CIS Site Coordinator,  Arcadia Elementary School

Pam Storher knows everybody and everything. She is sweet, caring and loves the kids. She goes above and beyond. The same can be said for Joy VandePol, my   go-to-person for attendance. She and Pam are always busy but they never make me feel like I’m bothering them.

-Larry Manley, Jr. CIS Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

At Edison Environmental Science Academy, Mrs. Carol Stoeffler is the glue that holds us all together! She works compassionately in serving not only the students at Edison but the staff also! She is AMAZING in dealing with parents and students! Mrs. Carol is an AWESOME representation of all the staff at Edison and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to know and work with her!

-Stacy Salters, CIS Site Coordinator ot Edison Environmental Science Academy

Yvonne Steffler is so wonderful and patient with the students at Milwood. She takes care of business and always has a smile for the kids! We want to thank Yvonne for all of her hard work!

-Abigail Nappier, CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Elementary School

Sheri Ferrari and Ann Campbell not only keep this building running smoothly, but they greet our volunteers, partners, and children with a smile. I can depend on them to funnel new volunteers to me.  Their support of CIS helps make Parkwood a more caring community.

Jody Sikkema, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School 

 

Putting The Super In Intendent

Communities In Schools and our host of partners could not do the work we do without the support, vision and leadership of Dr. Michael F. Rice. As both the Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools and as a board member of CIS, Dr. Rice helps us align our community resources with KPS to increase our collective impact on children. Superintendents have one of the most challenging jobs in the world and yet, as CIS founder Bill Milliken has said, “Superintendents are under siege in this nation.” If someone you know doesn’t agree with that statement, my guess is they are probably living under a rock. Or, maybe even throwing one.

Speaking of superintendents, I want to relay a conversation I had a few weeks ago with some of Ms. Furney’s second grade students at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Before I start my volunteer work with one of two reading groups, Ms. Furney always reviews the day’s schedule with the class. On this day, she shared that their Superintendent, Dr. Michael F. Rice, would be visiting Parkwood that day to visit third grade classrooms, as he does throughout the district, to talk college with them.

As I passed out the books we were going to read, one of the children asked me what a Superintendent was.

“Who can answer that question?” I asked the students.

One little girl immediately thrust her hand in the air. “They like to read. Superintendents go to the library. That’s where I met Dr. Rice. We had a really long talk. He is the NICEST man EVER…I hope I see him today because my mom said I could go up and talk to him next time I saw him. We’re not strangers anymore, you know.”

“I’ve seen Dr. Rice lots of times at the library,” another kid piped up.

Another offered, “Superintendents are basketball players. Ours is really good. I’ve seen him play at Hoopla.”

“Dr. Rice is in charge of all of the Kalamazoo Public Schools, right?” asked another girl. “He’s like the boss?”

“That’s correct.”

“But not Loy Norrix,” a boy said. “Right?”

“Loy Norrix High School, too,” I replied.

“No way!” he said, mouth hanging open, obviously impressed. This, for him, was the pièce de résistance.

As we all got on with the business of reading, their excitement lingered. It was clear to them that their superintendent walks* his talk when it comes to the importance of hard work, reading, and preparing for college. These second graders can’t wait to be about the business of being third graders. That means they will get to talk college with the nicest man in the world—a seasoned reader, basketball player, and Superintendent of Loy Norrix. “Read louder!” one of the children instructed. “We want him to hear what good readers we are.”

*and sometimes even hoops it up!