April 12, 2022

Mr. Brandon Lukes: Unlocking Students’ Potential Through Teamwork

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 Mr. Brandon Lukes. As Dean of Students at Kalamazoo Central High School, Mr. Lukes works closely with the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo staff positioned within Kalamazoo Central: CIS Site Coordinator Jenn Miner, CIS Success Coach Whitni Roden, and Re-engagement Coordinator Breanne Stokes.

Prior to his role at Kalamazoo Central, he was on the administrative team at Loy Norrix High School serving as an assistant principal.

Twice a month, Mr. Lukes holds team meetings with 504 Coordinator Michael Schrum, School Psychologist Lori Morcom, Counselor Kelly Fullerton, Counselor Randen Kroes, Counselor Jen Garrison, and Counselor Judi Mentzer. He includes the CIS staff at Kalamazoo Central as well.

From left to right: Dean of Students Brandon Lukes, CIS Site Coordinator Jenn Miner, CIS Success Coach Whitni Roden, Re-Engagement Coordinator Breanne Stokes, 504 Coordinator Michael Schrum, School Psychologist Lori Morcom, Counselor Kelly Fullerton, Counselor Randen Kroes, Counselor Jen Garrison, and Counselor Judi Mentzer.

“It’s an inspirational group of people to work with and Mr. Luke’s positive leadership style is contagious!” says CIS Site Coordinator Jenn Miner. As a team, we work really well together. We walk in the building and know we can count on so-and-so to do such-and-such. And having these bi-monthly meetings helps keep everyone on the same page for students.”

Mr. Lukes recently sat down with us to discuss some of the nuts and bolts of how this team works together and how he sees the CIS model operating at Kalamazoo Central. You can read that interview in our latest CIS newsletter.

Alright, Mr. Lukes: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

You’ve been Dean of Students for almost two years now at Kalamazoo Central. Can you share a lesson with us that you have learned during this time about leadership?

The most important thing I’ve learned about leadership is that it’s relational and not positional. That’s the case whether it’s students, parents, faculty and staff, including CIS staff . Relationships help you tap into untapped potential of students. By leading out of relationships, you build a commitment amongst everyone which positively impacts overall school improvement. Everyone feels important and heard.

Commitment and consistency are also vital when it comes to leadership. I believe without commitment, you’ll never start and without consistency, you’ll never finish.

From your perspective, what is the “value-add” of having CIS embedded in a school?

CIS helps our students and families have access to needed resources. CIS is regularly communicating and collaborating with organizations. Without CIS, making those connections would take longer. Having CIS in our school not only helps move things forward in a timely manner, it’s reassuring because CIS already has relationships with these organizations and individuals that can help us meet student and school needs. And as they’ve already been vetted by CIS before they come into the school, they don’t have to go through all the channels before getting involved.

… A huge component of my job is focused on students’ academics which also impacts school culture. This is also where I see CIS helping us out. [You can learn more about how Mr. Lukes sees CIS helping students and families by reading the latest CIS newsletter.]

CIS staff will sit down and view grades with students and connect them with needed academic supports. Alongside with what we’re doing, CIS does a phenomenal job of helping our students see the bigger picture … this year we have a new CIS position in the building, a re-engagement coach.* This position allows us to not only reach more students but focus in on seniors who really need this type of assistance. Ms. Stokes has done a phenomenal job of being consistent and persistent in her communication with students.

In some instances, students and families may be more open to CIS and providing information which can help us all support that student get across the finish line.

[*Note: Thanks to a one-year funded grant from National CIS, CIS of Kalamazoo was able to place a re-engagement coach at both Loy Norrix High School and Kalamazoo Central High School for the 2021/2022 school year. As Re-engagement Coach Breanne Stokes puts it, “We are able to focus in on seniors who are on the bubble and struggling to graduate.” She is currently working to re-engage 18 students with their school and future plans and is looking forward to supporting more seniors in the weeks to come.

Knowing that the needs assessment (for both school-wide needs and individual student needs) is one step in the five-step process of the CIS model, can you talk about one key school-wide need the Kalamazoo Central team has prioritized and that CIS is helping to address?

Mental health is one priority, especially since the pandemic hit. Lots of our families are having to navigate covid and other situations impacted by the pandemic. CIS has been phenomenal in helping us. The staff are connecting families and students with the appropriate resources. For instance, they connect them to organizations that focus on mental health which not only helps meet that immediate mental health need but can also help peel back layers to get at the root cause.

What are you currently reading?

I’m working on my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership so I’m reading a lot of school stuff right now. The most recent book I’ve read is Barack Obama’s A Promised Land … It’s  a ‘must read’ no matter what end of the spectrum you may be on politically.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

It’s a phrase my grandfather used to say. He was in the military. Today is a good day to die, he’d say. I asked him what he meant by this phrase. It was one that he and his military buddies would say. He told me it was a way for saying that today is a good day to get things done. Lay everything on the line. Give it your all today and give it your best. That way, tomorrow you’ll have no regrets. There is no reason to conserve any effort. Give your best and give an even better effort tomorrow.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult? Who was one of those caring adults in your life?

Coach Ernest Jones. He was my track and field coach at Lakewood Ranch High School (in Bradenton, Florida). He really helped me understand that you have to see bigger than your circumstances.

Bigger than your circumstances?

Yes. Growing up in a low socio-economic area, a lot of us used to have this defeatist mentality. And he used to say that your current circumstances may not seem like they’re changing, but every day that you give effort and every day that you are striving to be better, that effort you are putting forth now, is change and over time, you will be able to provide your own family with a better experience than what you had growing up.

… As a leader, father, and husband, that advise has been instrumental for me. Leadership is about serving—-and serving others. As a leader, I’m trying to make that experience better for someone so they can make an experience better for someone else.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My grandfather, who was quite a humble man, told me something else that I try to live by: Small minds discuss other people. Good minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas. I try intentionally to live out the latter.

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

Also, a big thank you to Principal Valerie Boggan and all her staff and teachers who make it such a pleasure to serve students at Kalamazoo Central High School!

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