The 2019 Spring newsletter is available by clicking here:
On behalf of the Board of Directors of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), CIS Board President Tony McDonnell announces the retirement of our founding Executive Director, Pam Kingery, which will occur at the end of June, 2019. [Look for McDonnell’s article on Pam’s retirement in the upcoming CIS Connections.]
In 1998, the City of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools, with the input of many community stakeholders concluded that they had strong mutual interests for investing resources to improve the education and graduation of KPS students. Economic development, social justice, quality of life and workforce development interests intersected to create a local affiliate of Communities In Schools (CIS). Representatives of this community selected Pam Kingery as the person who could breathe life into this promising approach for supporting kids. As McDonnell notes, “In December 1999, Pam Kingery took on the challenge of developing the Kalamazoo version of Communities In Schools, using a national model to 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, CIS joined with the Chamber of Commerce’s Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program [KAAAP] and the Kalamazoo Public Education Foundation [KPEF]. Pam’s leadership has been “extraordinary” says McDonnell. “We all—the board, the staff—this entire community—owe her a debt of gratitude.”
Assures McDonnell, “the CIS Board has already embarked on its search for the next executive director. We look forward to a smooth transition and finding someone with the same passion and drive, a new leader who, in the wake of exciting opportunities and intriguing developments, will take this incredible organization to the next level, and help us serve even more students.”
Before Pam retires, Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids wanted to find out what she has discovered along the way. Here’s our conversation with her:
Kids first! This has been your mantra over the years. So, let’s start with kids first. Tell us a story about one of the 12,000+ kids CIS has helped that has stuck with you over the years.
I still think of one of those first kids. His site coordinator worked so hard to get him eyeglasses. While he was incredibly excited to see clearly, he ended up tossing the glasses out of the third floor window of his school—what was then Vine Alternative [now KAMSC]. The frames of the glasses, purchased by his Medicaid coverage unfortunately branded him as low-income with his peers. He pointed out he would rather go back to not seeing than to have other students bully him for his Medicaid-frame glasses.
And I can’t help but think of the young man who had school failure after school failure. He had moved around a great deal, often missing school. At age 15, the CIS site coordinator took him for an eye exam. Following the exam, the optometrist informed them that the student was legally blind. He received glasses with extremely thick lenses.
All the way back to school, the site coordinator, worried about how the student would be perceived by his classmates, tried to prepare him for the possibility that kids might make fun of his glasses. But this young man was totally enthralled with everything he could see. He was especially taken by the trees. For the first time, he could see that the green of the trees was made up of individual leaves. He said he didn’t care if he got made fun of for thick lenses. He was just so happy to be able to see. At fifteen, his whole world suddenly opened up. You can’t help but wonder, how might things have been different for him if his vision problem could have been identified earlier, when he was five and not fifteen?
What happened with the first student?
With both of these students, we dipped our toe in the water with vision as one significant barrier to success. The first student I mentioned, it is because of him that we reached out to The Junior League of Kalamazoo. He had introduced us to the complex challenges with solving vision care needs and what kids and their parents were contending with at the time. Back then, I think there were three options for Medicaid frames and these were easily identified by other kids as evidence of poverty. So, while we were able to meet his need, it came at such a great social-emotional cost to him. Junior League gave us that first vision care grant of $5,000 and it allowed us to help that student upgrade his frames, and it helped many other families struggling to meet their children’s vision needs, some families who couldn’t even access the Medicaid frames.
As is always the case, there were lots of incredibly caring teachers, who on top of everything else they do, were trying to get glasses for kids. Others like the Lions Club and the KPS nurse were also working very hard to help with glasses, one student at a time. What we added was this organized, systematic approach to making sure that all kids who failed vision screening could then be supported to get them across the glasses finish line.
It’s one thing to be screened for vision—or any other need for that matter—but if nothing happens as a result, screening has no value. That we’ve been able to take identified needs and create systems for intervening is what I am still most excited about in terms of what CIS is able to do for kids and families. The creation of an ongoing system—one we’ve built together with the Kalamazoo Public Schools and the community—means lots of kids will continue to get lots of help long after any one of us is gone.
Back in 1999, you started CIS here in Kalamazoo from scratch. What was one of the first ingredients you used to get started?
I don’t know if it’s an ingredient, so much as a realization. What struck me early on is that this thing we were trying to create was not going to be successful if I was a traditional leader in the traditional sense of one charismatic person who would create and carry this organization on her shoulders. No one person could do this and sustain it. We would only be successful if what we were trying to do was owned by many, many more people that just me.
And early on, you did see that sense of shared ownership, beginning with our board, and our founders. And since then, together, we have only continued to grow the systems of support and the number of students and schools CIS serves.
I hope that our sustainability over the last almost twenty years suggests that my educated hunch was correct. I think the joint ownership and passion for CIS and what it could be, has made for a much broader and stronger foundation. Organizations come and go. When an organization has been “owned” by one person, it is especially easy for that organization to go with that person. Joint ownership makes it a lot harder to let something go. It’s this shared sense of passion and ownership for CIS and its mission that so many people have invested in; it’s the glue that holds this organization together.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
The creation of a systemic approach and the assembling of an incredibly talented staff and board. You can create a wonderful system, but if you don’t have talented people to do the work, it’s impact will be nonexistent. And if you have talented people, but no organized system to apply their talents, there will also be limits. It’s because of those two things—in combination—that I feel such optimism for the future of CIS.
What advice would you give to the person who will ultimately step into your position when you retire at the end of June?
When examining myself and when I’ve messed up is probably when I’ve succumbed to the temptation to talk more and not listen enough. We can all probably listen better and more often. I don’t think there are too many of us who are listening too much. It’s good advice for all of us to take in and listen more, whether we’re at work, at home with our family, our kids, with friends, you name it. Listen.
Back in 2014, you helped kick off our “What’s your Story?” series by sharing your own moving story. [You can read that post here.] You said that your mother instilled in you a love for education. You also said that you were the first and only person in your family to receive a college education.
I had originally told staff the story of what my mom had only told me as an adult. Growing up, I remember how my mom always talked about how much she loved school. But it wasn’t until years later, as a grown adult with my own kids that she told me she had dropped out in high school because she was so incredibly poor.
I have this photo of my mom as a child and she is wearing a potato sack for a dress. She described herself as a bow-legged child who always had a terrible haircut. She and her sister literally got their hair cut by having a bowl placed on their head, and dull scissors used to cut around the bowl.
Kids made fun of her and she finally couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out of high school. She ended up going to Detroit at age sixteen—by herself—and got a job.
That knowledge about my mother’s experience informed my thinking around what we are doing with CIS Kids’ Closet. From that very personal story, I know that sometimes the piece of clothing we offer is far more than that piece of clothing. Through Kids’ Closet, we aren’t just handing out pants or socks. We are also handing dignity to that child. We are sending the message to kids that, as adults, we are going to care for and protect you.
In speaking with CIS staff, some of the qualities they mentioned that you possess that have helped us grow into the organization we are today: a visionary leader, someone who is passionate, compassionate, ethical, fearless, and thoughtful. Which of your qualities has helped you best lead the CIS team in Kalamazoo?
I’d like to think that I am a life-long learner. That I never stop learning and trying to find out how we can improve and how we can do a better job for kids. Being open to learning and considering new ideas and flexibility is a really important trait. Flexibility is a one of those things that is both a strength and a limitation.
When you let flexibility drive you, you can unknowingly keep reinventing the wheel. Instead of building on what you’ve learned, you can end up with twenty or two hundred different ways of doing something because you are trying to be flexible with everybody. There are benefits to having standards for the way some things are done based on evidence. I’m glad I’m flexible but there is, I think, an inherent tension between those two things: when to be flexible and when not to be flexible. There is a time for flexibility, a time for creativity, and a time for standardization.
We know you love a really good book. What are you currently reading?
I just finished Tim Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. I found it a fascinating book… I was on plane to Austin the other weekend and a young kid, about 22 years old, came up to me and said, I saw you reading Tim Geithner’s book. He definitely wanted to know what I thought of the book. Turns out he worked for a think tank in Washington, D.C. with some of Geithner’s former colleagues.
I’ve started reading Relationshift: Revolutionary Fundraising that CIS Board member Terry Morrow recommended. It’s written by Michael Bassoff and Steve Chandler. Members of the CIS Development Committee and other staff are also reading the book thanks to the generosity of Development Chair, Darren Timmeney who purchased several copies for us.
Pam, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids. And thank you for your leadership. Your relentless focus has given Kalamazoo a priceless gift; a proven way for the community to collectively and systematically address critical needs for students—whether it’s a pair of glasses, or shoes, a tutor, a mentor, or mental health support—so barriers to learning are overcome and students, surrounded by this web of community support are empowered to stay in school and achieve in life.
CIS is seeking community partners to work with us in the CIS After School Program to support students and their success in school. Use the links below to find more information, as well as access the Enrichment Partner Proposal and Enrichment Partner Profile forms. Deadline to submit a proposal is Friday, November 2, 2018.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.