James Devers: The Conversation Continues

James Devers

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 Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s New Executive Director James Devers. When the CIS board selected James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we introduced him briefly to you back in June with this post. And if you read our most recent back to school issue of CIS Connections, you know even more about James, such as what book changed his life. Here’s some of our conversation that, due to space issues, didn’t make it into the newsletter.

Alright, James Devers: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is a question you often ask yourself? Or perhaps it’s a question you’ve only been recently asking yourself?

I’ve been gone from Kalamazoo for 23 years. Since coming back in September of 2017, in processing the reality of my journey, I’ve been thinking about this play on the question, Why me? I’ve been thinking about how skill, talent, ability, and circumstances don’t always line up. The reality is that, where I’m at now and the place that I’m going as executive director is a result of something bigger than me. I believe I’ve been preparing for this journey all along even though I didn’t know it was coming.

…I come from a family of laborers. I was not introduced to the corporate world or much of any of the experiences I have encountered. All of it is a discovery. I’m grateful and humbled by the journey and where I now find myself.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I was at the Douglass Community Association recently and noticed the “1919” imprint on the corner of the building. It’s a good reminder that the black community has had a presence in Kalamazoo, and it goes far back. For instance, in 1968 Judge Pratt, a native of Kalamazoo became the first African American judge in Kalamazoo County. And, of course, Douglass Community Association is celebrating its 100th birthday!

What are you currently reading?

The Bible. That’s my go-to book….I like that the stories illustrate the human experience and show the flaws of people as well as their triumphs. Despite their flaws—despite our flaws—we can do great work.

Do you have a pet peeve?

The thing that bothers me most is when people are mean to other people. That really gets me.

Can you tell us about a person who opened a door for you and impacted you as a leader?

I was planning to obtain my Masters in social work. While working at Ohio State, I had just finished my first year working towards that degree and contemplating taking a year off to complete the second year (clinical work). A Ms. Rivers reached out and invited me to talk with her. I thought I was just going to meet with her for a conversation, not realizing it was an interview, at the end of which she offered me the principal position within the school that she had helped to found. I really had to think about that. Here I was, working for The Ohio State University and did I want to give that up and risk doing something I’d never done before, working as a principal in a small school? I’m so glad I accepted her offer to be principal. Even though I was working in the field of education, Ms. Rivers brought me into the public school sector in a deeper way, and it changed the trajectory of my life.

I appreciated working under somebody who had her passion. She was a former school counselor—had served in that role for 30 some years before “retiring.” She had so much energy and passion at that stage of her life. She could have chosen to ride off into the sunset, but she didn’t. And though she was in her mid to late 60s, I had a hard time keeping up with her!

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

My mother has always been that caring adult for me, but I must say that I did not come to appreciate the significance of her influence until a lot later in life.

While there have been a number of caring adults along my path, those relationships were not so much a sustained and consistent over time. Rather, it was moments of influence from different caring adults that helped shape my thinking and my actions. During my childhood we did lots of moving around. I went to a number of different KPS schools: Woodward, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School [the school is gone now, replaced with the Wilson Recreation Area, an open field and playground on Coy Avenue], Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Washington Writers’ Academy. After that it was Milwood and Hillside Middle Schools. Even when I attended Kalamazoo Central High School and KAMSC [Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center], we still moved around.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s not so much a word as an expression, I consider myself a made-man versus a self-made man. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” …I, like anybody else, had no control over my family that I was born into. I’ve had my share of crazy experiences as well as opportunities that have been presented along the way. So that expression is an acknowledgement that there lot of things are bigger than me, and that I don’t necessarily deserve the credit for who I am or what I have accomplished to this point in life.

For instance, my mother didn’t have experience in a lot of the areas I was going to walk into when it came to high school and college. She had dropped out of high school at age 16 [she later went back to school and earned her GED]. But she gave me responsibilities that, in looking back on it, shaped me. In her own way, she guided me. I was the oldest of five and would often be in charge of caring for them. Also, we were always moving around and going to different schools and thus found ourselves being around different people. Those childhood experiences made me and helped me become who I am today.

Thank you, James Devers, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Be on the lookout for the CIS newsletter to learn more about CIS Executive Director James Devers. Also, James was recently interviewed by Encore Editor Marie Lee for the September issue of the magazine. Pick up a copy at one of these locations or read it on-line here.

Thank you, Dr. Rice!

Dr. Michael F. Rice speaking to crowd at a CIS event.

The 2019/2020 school year has officially begun. Gary Start is serving as Interim Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools after Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice was named Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In August 2007, when Dr. Rice became superintendent, he also became an active board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), championing the CIS model of integrated student services. [More on the CIS model here.] His leadership as an administrator and educator, combined with his passion for social justice propelled CIS and our community to more closely align our resources with the school district to increase our collective impact on children.

The result of this collective response? Every major indicator in the district improved over the years: reading, writing, math, and science state test results; Advanced Placement participation; graduation rates; college-going rates; and college-completion rates.

During his twelve years as superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Dr. Rice has been a relentless force, working hard to create a literacy community and a college-going culture for our children. He created meaningful change by spearheading innovative and sound reforms, like parent education classes, including education for parents of newborns, expanding and overhauling preschool to restructuring the middle and high school schedules to give students more time in core subjects. To combat summer slide, every fourth, fifth and sixth-grader in the district is mailed books over the summer. He made it possible for all first grade students to visit our invaluable partner, the Kalamazoo Public Library and obtain public library cards. Every year, he visited every third grade class throughout the district, talking with students about college and poetry and making our kids feel special. [More on what was accomplished in the district during his tenure, here.]

As superintendent of a diverse district, he championed all KPS families, the underserved, the affluent, and the middle class. He remembered our names. He reminded us that, as much as we have already accomplished, much work remains.

Dr. Rice often said, “We [KPS] can’t do it alone,” because he knows transformational change does not occur in isolation but is birthed and fed only by the community working together. “Let us remember that every time a child learns to read, every time a child learns to write, every time that all members of a family can read well, every time a student graduates from high school, first in his or her family to do so, every time a young man or woman goes to college, first in his or her family to do so, every time a tutor tutors, a mentor mentors, a church, temple, or mosque steps up to serve children, every time a person comes out of retirement to help a child rise up, we get one step closer to a community culture, a college-going culture, a literacy community, which we will be proud to leave to and for our children.”

We are thankful for Dr. Rice’s leadership and we’re excited that all of Michigan’s children will now have Dr. Michael F. Rice advocating for public education on the state level.

Continue reading “Thank you, Dr. Rice!”

James Devers Selected to Lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

James Devers

CIS of Kalamazoo Board of Directors have announced that they have selected James Devers to serve as the nonprofit organization’s second Executive Director. “After a very thorough search, the Board is excited to welcome James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo into the future,” said Tony McDonnell, President of CIS Board. “James bring tremendous experience, passion for helping kids succeed and a steady leadership style to his new role as CIS Executive Director,” says McDonnell.

When Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo’s founding executive director retires from CIS at the end of June, James Devers will begin his tenure as executive director the first week of July.

James has more than 19 years of diverse experience in the field of education, ranging from working for the Ohio Department of Education, to doing community-based computer literacy training, to serving as principal at a K-8 public school in Ohio. Most recently, James has served as the Senior Director of Site Services for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, James holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in public administration from The Ohio State University. A passionate advocate for youth and families, James’ volunteer work over the years has included starting several summer camps, tutoring youth, and mentoring high school students who were at risk of dropping out of school.

“I am grateful to be stepping into the role of Executive Director with the perspective gained from my current position as Senior Director of Site Services,” said James. “I already know our staff—we have a terrific team. In my new position I want to ensure that the work we’ve begun, as well as the progress we’ve made together—both programmatically and relationally—will continue. I’m looking forward to bringing my perspective and experience to this dedicated team of staff, volunteers, school and community partners at CIS. Together, we will continue and build upon CIS’s successful history focused on helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.”

You can look forward to learning more about James, his thoughts on leadership, and more in our next CIS Connections (due out this fall). Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids will also bring you an interview with James in the months to come.

YOUTH HAVE LOTS OF LOVE FOR THE HATE YOU GIVE

It was exciting to learn that this year’s Reading Together book is written by author Angie Thomas, the inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015. [Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids featured Walter Dean Myers and his 2013 “Reading is Not Optional” visit to Kalamazoo in this post, “Finding Words in Your Pockets.”]

Even more exciting is that Thomas’ book, The Hate U Give, is resonating with our youth. CIS After School Coordinators Phillip Hegwood, Shannon Jones, and Katherine Williamson incorporated the Reading Together Book as part of CIS programming. Hegwood, who oversees CIS afterschool at Maple Street Magnet School says part of the reason for such a strong and positive response from students is due to the powerful themes woven throughout The Hate U Give, themes such as isolation, privilege, racism, violence, and activism.

Here’s what two students from Hillside Middle School told us about how the book has impacted them and what, if given the chance, they would ask the author. (Their school also selected The Hate U Give as their all-school read.) And they just might get the chance! Angie Thomas will be in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7 pm to talk about her book. More information on this event noted below.

 

I’d ask, “Is this a true story? What aspects of this story happened to you?”

I’m gaining some insights from reading her book. You know, like the main character in the book, she is scared to speak up at first. But something I’ve discovered is that it’s important to speak up. Don’t be scared to say what’s right!

-Zechariah, 8th grade, Hillside

 

I would ask Angie Thomas, “How were you able to do this so well? How were you able to compare real life to the life you have created in your book?” She really was able to capture real life—and the world of black and white—so real-like. How was she able to do that?

Reading and seeing the movie, The Hate U Give, is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me. That book by Angie Thomas has really helped me and has given me more courage…I have two copies of the book and watch parts of the movie almost every day!

-Annie, 7th grade, Hillside Middle School

 

“When we read together, we grow together.” This is essentially the motto of Kalamazoo Public Library’s Reading Together program. The Hate U Give, this year’s Reading Together book, is doing just that. So, let’s keep growing together! Please note that the event, originally scheduled to be held at Chenery, will now be at Miller Auditorium. Following Angie Thomas’ talk will be a book signing, with Bookbug/this is a bookstore selling copies of The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, Thomas’ newly-released second book. Hopefully, you have already RSVPd by now. Due to seating capacity, RSVPs are no longer able to be accepted at this time.

Creating Courage

Kalamazoo Central High School student Leasia Posey at MLK Courage to Create Celebration with Principal Valerie Boggan.

Courage doesn’t just happen. It takes work. Just ask the seventh through twelfth graders throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools who have chosen to participate in MLK Courage to Create. For the past five years, students have had the opportunity to attend “Courage to Create” poetry workshops offered as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration held in January at Western Michigan University. They have also been submitting their poems to the MLK Courage to Create Contest. The “Courage to Create” is a collaborative effort of Western Michigan University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Friends of Poetry, and Kalamazoo Public Schools.

As one parent put it, “Courage to Create is more than poetry. It’s about community…I love that my child has an opportunity to not only practice writing, but to share their voice and read at Western with established poets.”

This year’s MLK Courage to Create celebration was held February 20th on the campus of Western Michigan University. Students who participated in the annual MLK Courage to Create contest were invited to read alongside community poets. Those present received college-themed prizes. Ten students whose poems received top scores also received an Amazon Kindle Fire. In addition, for the second year in a row, Hillside teacher Heidi Ellis received the inspirational teacher award for her support of the poetry project. Hillside Middle School was also recognized for having the highest level of school participation. (Watch out Hillside, Loy Norrix was just two submissions shy of taking this honor!)

In the months to come, we’ll publish (in the blog and in CIS newsletter) a few works that students created as a result of this project. In the meantime, here are two Courage to Create poems. Thank you, Leasia Posey and Wayne Bond, for not only your courage to create, but to share your work with us.

Proud to Be Black

I was never proud to be Black.
Maybe my ebony means nothing to me.
Like being in this skin is like being stuck in a nightmare.
Fear gunshots coming at me.
Not being as pretty as I wish I could be.
Being called a royalty.
But I never know because we never talk about Black history as often as we talk about the
Europeans crossing seas and great English writers writing stories
while my brothers and sister were shipped away to what they thought was hell.
Well, let me tell you something that isn’t anything.
Or maybe that is just everything because I wake up feeling like a slave to my own body.
I must change it for a society where I’m not the majority.
I’m minority
I am a minority
The lower class
The topic of conversation
But not the subject of an action
I sit and watch people my age die for nothing.
Killed by hate shot by a gun.
A punch
A word
An action that shouldn’t be made
That’s why when I have my children
I will wish their skin is caramel
Instead of dark chocolate
Because apparently
My skin is bitter
Or maybe we’re sweet.
But they only chose to take the first bite and spit it out.
And not allow all the flavors to cover your tongue
Our history to fill you
And maybe for once
I will be proud to be
Black.

-Leasia Posey

A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Leasia has been writing poetry since she was seven years old. For the past two years, Leasia has attended the Courage to Create poetry workshops held on the campus of WMU during the annual MLK Day Celebration. “It has given me a place to express myself,” she says. This was her first year attending the poetry celebration. Alongside local community poets, she read “Proud to be Black,” which was one of the top ten awarded poems. Leasia has completed a poetry manuscript and hopes it will find a publishing home soon. Upon graduation, she is looking forward to using the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University and study journalism, creative writing, and photography.

Leasia with her mother, Sharondra Posey (left) and her grandparents, Lynn  (on far left) and Daryl Underwood (far right).

Millennial’s Reverie

The fluency
of our time
is dictated by the beat
of a Congress that can’t understand

why our struggles
turn to outrage
and their grip on our throats
finally begins to loosen

It is time
For those fighting for change
to become their potential
and lead into a new Era.

-Wayne L. Bond II

A Career Development Specialist at Western Michigan University, Wayne Bond welcomed the students back in January, introduced the MLK Courage to Create poetry facilitators, and then participated with the students in the MLK Courage to Create Workshop.

What Do You Love?

We know you love seeing kids succeed. We do too! What else do you love? We polled a few CIS staff. Here is what they said: 

“I love my new apartment, my independence and all these new possibilities that come with that: with designing and laying things out just how I want. I get to be unapologetically me.”

-Laurin Mathis, Administrative Assistant

“I love spring board and platform diving. I was a diver in high school and college. I’m soon to be training for tower diving.”

-Phillip Hegwood, CIS Afterschool Coordinator

Musical theater!”

-Nicky Aiello, Volunteer and Development Coordinator

“Music and playing guitar.”

-John Oliver, Director of Quality and Evaluation

“A really good book. As I look over the course of my life, it is so enriched by reading.”

-Pam Kingery, Executive Director

“First of all… I love my daughter with all of my heart and soul and am very proud to be her mother. I love all of my family, even with our differences. I love my friends who have become part of my family. Last, but not least, I love each and every one of the students I have and continue to come in contact with and support through my work at KPS and with CIS.”

-Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator, Spring Valley Center for Exploration

 “The Great Lakes…still.”

-John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator

 “I LOVE, my two daughters, Alyssa and Leila.”

-Felicia Lemons, Development Coordinator

 

Come back next week and meet Principal Amira Mogaji, KPS Principal of Northglade Montessori Magnet School. In the meantime, here’s what she shared with us when we asked her this same question:

“Oh, I love so many things! Learning. I know that’s such a principal thing to say, but it’s true. Anybody who knows me knows I love learning. Pizza, too, but I’m gluten-free now.”

Amira Mogaji, KPS Principal, Northglade Montessori Magnet School

As long as we’re on the subject of love, we love you, dear reader and CIS friend! Thank you for putting love into action by sharing your time, talents, and financial gifts with Communities In Schools. Thank you for working with us to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

 

What We are Made Of

Angelo’s Mosaic Portrait

Just last week, the national CIS office unveiled What We are Made Of. This collaboration between pop artist Jason Mecier and CIS students has resulted in 3-D mosaic portraits of students that are currently on display at Touchstone Gallery in Washington D.C.  To bring this unique project to everyone, a virtual, interactive version is available here. It’s worth checking out!

We love thinking about what we’re made of. We invited CIS staff to be part of this project. We asked them to tell us what item represents part of what they are made of. Here’s what a few of them said:

Hiking boots and bologna sandwich

My well-worn, hiking boots have been a trusted support, emotionally, as well as physically—encouraging my love of travel and immersion into various communities, along with my best pal, Lisa. And, of course, without the grounding of a bologna sandwich, all experiences would be less than.

-Jenn Miner, CIS Site Coordinator, Kalamazoo Central High School

A suitcase

I made my first journey as an infant with my parents to come to the United States after being adopted by them. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to travel to other places and those experiences have helped me grow as a person and learn to appreciate differences and other points of view.

-Emily Kobza, Sr. Director of Development & Business Engagement

Photo of family

I come from a large family with a supporting and loving mother who I know has shaped the person I am today…caring, giving and loving. Because of the strong love and relationships I have with my family, it makes me the mother and Site Coordinator that I am today.

-Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator, Spring Valley Center for Exploration

Coffee

I’m made up of coffee. With a four-year-old and nine-month-old, this mama needs all the help she can get.

-Felicia Lemons, Development Coordinator

Sand Dollar

Its simple shape reflects who I am – what you see is what you get, nothing is hidden. It especially connects me to the salty waters of my Caribbean roots and reminds me of who I am and where I came from.  I have a sand dollar pendant that I always wear and has been with me since I left my home and family many years ago to explore “new waters”… a challenge bigger that I ever imagined… It also reminds me of our human nature and how it doesn’t matter if we are fragile and quiet, we still strive to be resilient, beautiful and unique in our own special way.

-Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer, Success Coach, Loy Norrix High School

What are you made of?

Creativity: An Ingredient in Every Child’s Cupboard, Pt. II

As we discussed in last week’s post, experts who study creativity remind us that creativity is not a magical component bestowed to a lucky few children. By virtue of belonging to the human family, we are all innately creative. That means creativity can be taught and nurtured. But how do we do this?

Fortunately, there are countless ways to unlock and strengthen a child’s innate ability to be a creative thinker. Here are just three ideas.

1. Play the “What else can it be used for?” game.

Round up a common object, such as a stone, a leaf, or a pencil. Spend five minutes listing as many uses for this common object as possible. Not only can this be fun, but a recent study has found that this “alternative use task” can actually improve problem solving!

This finding makes sense. By making the familiar strange, we can see a common object (or problem) from various perspectives. We create fresh views and interesting connections when we imagine possibilities.

One tip: Have kid(s) do this independently. Some studies have found that brainstorming in a group actually produces fewer—and less interesting—ideas than listing them alone. (Brainstorming can still be a good thing for other activities.)

On your mark, get set, go!

2. Find the second right answer.

Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head, says that “By the time the average person finishes college, he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The right answer approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life isn’t this way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers—all depending on what you’re looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you’ll stop looking as soon as you find one.”

Rarely is it the first idea that pops in our mind the best idea. Encouraging kids to look for a second, third, fourth, and even the twelfth right answer, stirs creativity. It builds receptivity to new ideas and considering problems from various viewpoints. Encouraging this type of open-minded thinking also offers a side-benefit: not falling in love with one particular way of doing something.

One simple way we can help kids search for a second right answer is to pay attention to the type of questions we ask. Do we frame questions so that they are open-ended and invite more than one answer?

Why else do you think that might be? What other reasons could there be for that? What other ways could this problem be solved?

[Bonus material: We get better answers if we ask better questions. For example, how many of us have turned to a child we love and asked, How was school today?   This terribly uninspiring question—asked by many well-intentioned grownups—tends to elicit responses like “Good.” Okay.” “Hmmphf.”  Can you think of a better way to ask this question? Let us know and if we get some interesting questions, we’ll test them out with kids and share their responses in a future post.]

3. Practice being impractical. 

Too often, as grownups, we can find ourselves in a “Be Practical” mindset. We shouldn’t waste time devoting energy to useless activities, right? We should be productive, right? For Von Oech, “Be Practical” is a mental block to creativity and can easily be knocked down by posing “What if?” questions. And the sillier, the better.

What if trees grew upside down, with their leaves in the ground and their roots in the air?

What if we walked backwards all day?

What if you could fly for one hour every day?

Asking silly “What if?” questions and answering them (there is more than one right answer!) stretches the imagination. Kids love coming up with these types of questions and answering them. At the same time, it prepares their young minds for asking/answering questions and generating fresh ideas to challenges (both big and small) that will arise throughout their lives.

Remember, each one of us and our 12,000+ kids has creativity as an ingredient in our cupboard. We just need to take it out and use it. We’ve just shared three recipes. Now get cooking!