September 17, 2013

Pop Quiz: Von Washington, Jr.

Von-Washington-JrWelcome 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 Von Washington, Jr. who was the former principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. In July, Von joined theKalamazoo Promise® team as Executive Director of Community Relations. (Janice Brown remains on staff as Director Emeritus and Bob Jorth, administrator of The Promise office since its creation in spring 2006, was recently promoted to Executive Director.)

Since Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Promise® are housed in the same building and Von’s office is conveniently situated across from me, I decided to officially welcome Von by popping over and springing this pop quiz on him. He was a good sport about it and I’m happy to report that he passed with flying colors! Here are the results:

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Learning just how many Promise eligible students there are—well over 3,500 Promise-eligible students. That’s an amazing number. Many scholarships out there are ‘use it or lose it.’ With the Kalamazoo Promise®, students have ten years to use it. That’s a real gift.

What are you currently reading?

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed by Hugh B. Price. And I just finished reading The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton. He happens to be the Chairman of Gallup and I’d recommend his book as well.

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed sounds similar to the CIS mission. Can you share a nugget from the book?

Bottom line…it takes an entire community coming together and pooling its resources for the success of students. One of the ways the community can do this is through CIS and also using positive language about schools and learning. If your schedule is such that you can’t do something time-wise, like volunteering, you can still support students by being positive. When you do that, you are supporting schools and the efforts of everyone else. Positive attitudes only increase. Teachers feel more supported and student attendance improves.

As a principal, I often saw this. There are very few things that one can do in a school if they are not a certified teacher. There are limits and barriers stopping the average person from volunteering within a school. But here in Kalamazoo, an individual can pick up the phone or walk into the CIS office and find out how best they can contribute. I see it happening every day. People bring in backpacks, school supplies, you name it. CIS is more than just tutoring and after school supports. It is the vehicle for those who want to leverage the Kalamazoo Promise®, to help students and schools, with very few barriers.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

(Von laughs.) I’m still working on that. I have had wonderful role models. I would love to be mentioned in the same breath as John Caldwell, former principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. Janice Brown has made enormous contributions to this community. When I am all grown up and if I heard my name mentioned in the same breath as either of those two individuals, well, that would make me prideful.

What is your favorite word right now?

Collaboration. I know it sounds cliché, but collaboration means so many things. Collaboration means sacrifice, desire, community serving, and good stewardship. Many words define collaboration. The ripple effect from collaboration is what excites me right now…It is not a one time deal. It means being part of creating a vehicle to do something better and more efficiently.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

The fact that the Kalamazoo Promise® is the most prolific scholarship program in our country and it still seems to be a quiet program. As a community, we have to let everybody know it’s still going and that it is going strong, the number of people it’s impacting and that it’s never ending.

It’s important that students aren’t just aware that there is a scholarship out there for them  but to increase the detailed understanding of this impact that the anonymous donors have made for them. When a student realizes: “some people I don’t even know me have invested in me,” well, that is powerful. When I have this knowledge inside me, it can change both thoughts and behavior. An appreciation of this gift at an early age can make a difference and lead to academic success.

Behind every successful student—and grownup— is a caring adult.  Who is one of your caring adults?

My parents. They are firm believers in hard work, experiences, and they have been the best teachers in my life. I’ve had to hustle to have or receive the things that I have. I learned from them. My son and daughter are both in college now and I’ve tried to have them follow the same rules we had growing up.

My parents are still going strong. They work with over 15,000 students a year through their company, Washington Productions, Incorporated. [WPI desires to create an accurate and in-depth view of the African American experience through the performing arts.]

I’ve met your father [Von Washington, Sr.] before, sat at a table with him at an event sponsored by Western Michigan University’s Rumi club. He has quite a dynamic presence, much like you. What is your mom like?

My mother [Fran Washington] is one of the most caring, nurturing individuals I know. She can look you in the face, and say, “I love you, I care about you, now get out there and earn it!” As a child, I always wanted to make her proud and, well, I still want to.


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