Barbara Witzak: A Blue Ribbon Woman

Over the next few months we will be introducing you to our nine award winners honored at our recent annual Champ Celebration. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. Hopefully, you got a chance to read last week’s post which featured Kawyie’s speech. Today, we officially kick this series off with the winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Retired Judge and CIS Board President, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7737The late President Emeritus of Western Michigan University demanded excellence of himself and inspired and cajoled others to achieve excellence. Whether reflecting on his experiences as a 6th grade teacher, getting donations of winter clothing for Western Michigan University students from the Middle East or questioning what Communities In Schools was doing to support boys, Diether Haenicke was always in pursuit of ways in which the lives of young people could be improved so that they could demonstrate their own excellence.  That trait of straightforward sense of determination is shared by this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Barbara Witzak.

A native of Kalamazoo, Barbara has served the children who attend the Kalamazoo Public Schools for more than four decades.  Among the many attributes for which she is known, is a work ethic reflected in regular fourteen-hour days that often begin in her office at 5:00 a.m. and end well after dark. She has sustained an intense level of commitment to her profession, to the school district, to her educator team and to the children in KPS, whether as Principal of Oakwood Elementary and Washington Writers’ Academy over a 14-year period or in her subsequent administrative positions including the most recent, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning.  Among her most noteworthy accomplishments was the selection of Washington Writers’ Academy as a “Blue Ribbon School.”

Ms. Witzak consistently reflects the behavior of a servant-leader, always willing to jump in with her sleeves rolled up to enhance support for others or to fill in for someone attending to other needs.  According to her nominators, Superintendent Michael Rice and School Board Trustees, “In her leadership roles, Barbara has been integrally involved in every major instructional reform of the last several years in the district.” The nomination goes on to indicate,  “As Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Services, Barbara has been instrumental in helping to establish and build community partnerships in support of an urban literacy community and a growing college culture.”

Please join me in saluting the 2014 outstanding winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Barbara Witzak.

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Champs Among Us

(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell
(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell

Upon leaving our seventh annual Champ Celebration, held last week at Cityscape, one of our almost 200 guests said, “Everybody in town should experience Champs!”

We agree. Our CIS board and staff had a great time hosting the event and we want to share with everyone what these nine individuals and organizations are doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

So, in the weeks and months to come we’ll introduce you to each of them. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools
Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools

And, because we’ve had numerous requests to publish the speech given by our youngest Champ ever—fifth grader Kawyie Cooper—we’ll post her speech next Tuesday. According to Kathy Jennings, editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave, Kawyie “stole the show with her words of what being named a Champ meant to her.” You can read the entire article here. And, if we can convince some of our other Champs to guest blog for us, we’ll publish their reflections here as well.

Today, though, we’ll leave you with a list of our award winners. And then, take a moment to click on the “Dear Kalamazoo” video below that first aired during the event. This video was created because throughout the 19 KPS schools that CIS is currently in, we have a number of grateful students (not to mention parents and teachers) who wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks and give shouts out to their own Champs.

Special thanks to all of our CIS Site Coordinators and CIS Site Team members (Assistant Site Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns) who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work with Communities In Schools and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Our 2014 Champs:

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Terri Aman, KPS Executive Supervisor for Transportation

RSVP through Senior Services Southwest Michigan, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Jay Gross, KPS Home School Community Liaison, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

Consumers Credit Union, CIS Nonprofit Business Partner

Rosalie Novara, CIS Volunteer Tutor, King-Westwood Elementary School

Radiant Church, CIS Emerging Faith-Based Partner

Kawyie Cooper, CIS Student, King-Westwood Elementary School

Carol Steiner, KPS Principal, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

And this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award:

Barbara Witzak, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools

So, please, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board
Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board