A Peek into the History of CIS of Kalamazoo

Every wondered how Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo came to be?

It began with imagining. The City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and the local Chamber of Commerce imagined a more just and healthy community, one in which every child had a chance to finish school and be ready for college and the workforce. Collectively, they determined that the Communities In Schools (CIS) model of integrated student services was the most powerful vehicle through which the community could work to empower students to stay in school and achieve in life.

The seeds of this model were planted back in the 1970s when CIS founder Bill Milliken, a youth advocate in New York City, developed the idea of bringing community resources to students within public schools where they could be accessible, coordinated, and accountable. The CIS model is a community’s way of saying, “We need to do something differently for our children. Let’s join forces with our schools and assure that resources and supports are available to students so they can stay in school and be prepared to learn all they can from their teachers.” Over a span of decades, Communities In Schools, Inc. bloomed into the nation’s largest and most effective organization in addressing the dropout crisis.

In 1999, Pam Kingery was chosen to create the Kalamazoo affiliate of the national organization to help overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. 

In 2003, two other organizations merged with CIS: Kalamazoo Public Education Foundation (KPEF) and Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program, also known as KAAAP. (KAAAP was initiated in 1992 by the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce and matched elementary students to a mentor committed to seeing the young person through high school graduation.)

Under Kingery’s leadership, the organization steadily grew: from three employees to over 140, from serving three schools to 20, from touching the lives of a handful of students to reaching over 1,300 students with 175,000 coordinated hours of serve and over 9,700 students receiving at least one service through community partnerships coordinated by CIS.

In 2019, when Pam Kingery retired, Kalamazoo Public Schools alumnus James Devers was chosen to lead the community nonprofit. Less than a year into his tenure, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Kalamazoo Public Schools, like much of the nation, closed its doors. With student learning remotely, the community literally couldn’t support students in the schools. During this challenging time, the organization, under Devers’ leadership, remained nimble and responsive to students and families. CIS site teams, working in concert with volunteers and school and community partners, were able to support students and achieve program goals even in the midst of a pandemic. All because this community had the foresight to create the CIS integrated system of support that surrounds our children.

And while we aren’t fortune tellers, we know that whatever the future holds, thanks to imagination and hard work of this community working together, more and more of our kids will succeed in school and life.