Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack

This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by an anonymous friend of CIS, has been awarded to Dr. Marilyn J. Schlack. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, CIS board member and Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema presented this prestigious award to Dr. Schlack who has served as the president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College for more than three decades, becoming Michigan’s first female community college president in 1982.

When I found out that Marilyn Schlack started out as a middle school English teacher in Saginaw, it all made sense. She learned early in her career about growth spurts and rapid changes. She learned to tolerate awkward and clumsy and to understand that blemishes aren’t forever. She learned what all parents of young adolescents must learn—stay positive, keep the lines of communication open and set limits that are firm and fair. It sounds like a formula for a successful community leader. And that is what Marilyn Schlack is.

Marilyn is a builder. If you look at the number of college and community buildings that have been erected because of Marilyn’s initiative, your conclusion has to be that she is a successful builder of buildings, of places—doubling the Oshtemo campus, building the Arcadia campus, creating the culinary arts center. But the core interest in construction for Marilyn Schlack, is in helping to build lives, build talent, build futures. The scores of young people just starting their independence journey and the countless number of older workers who started over after down-sizing, right-sizing and outsourcing, can point to the career building opportunities born of Marilyn’s creativity, her commitment to evidence and her genuine interest in stronger families, stronger communities.

Some see a certain irony in giving the Diether Haenicke Award, named for the late President of Western Michigan University, to another higher education president in the same community. Both of these individuals share several traits, in addition to their commitment to excellence and their belief in education as a means to better lives. One person suggested that Marilyn Schlack is “no-nonsense”—if Marilyn is involved, there just won’t be any nonsense. You might think you have the most compelling idea around, but if you want Marilyn’s endorsement, you better be prepared with the evidence. Innovative—how many wind turbine education programs are there in the country that can boast 100% employment for their graduates? Excellence, no-nonsense, evidence, innovative—all words that Diether Haenicke would approve of.

Bob Jorth, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise, sums it up best: “Marilyn desires to improve this community—no one exemplifies that more. She is smart and knows how to get things done. Compared to what she has accomplished, her ego is small. She is driven by her desire to improve things for students and for families.”

As a CIS Board member and as the City Manager for the City of Kalamazoo, which has benefitted greatly from your selfless and inspired leadership, it is my great honor to present you with the 2018 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.

Dreon (left) and Tyresse (right) hold up quilt for all to see. Billie Gunderson created the stunning quilt.

Marilyn, this hand-sewn quilt was selected for you as an apt symbol of the many, many unique pieces you have stitched together over the years to make this a stronger community for those who live here, work here and go to school here. Thank you for your service and for your love of Kalamazoo.

Please join with me in congratulating Dr. Marilyn Schlack, this year’s recipients of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence.

Dr. Marilyn Schlack and Jim Ritsema

Doing What It Takes To Get Her Promise Back

IMG_2959When JacQuese Steele graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2008, she headed off to Michigan State University, fully intending to use the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise® to obtain a degree.

Bonnie Terrentine, CIS After School Coordinator for Lincoln International Studies and former Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program (KAAAP) staff  knew JacQuese as a young student at Chime Elementary, then Milwood Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, and then Loy Norrix High School. “She was extremely bright,” recalls Bonnie. “Talented, too. Even when she faced obstacles, she kept on going. She’s very resilient, a pioneer, really, as she was the first in her family to head off to college. I remember she had really supportive grandparents. She was just a great kid.”

JacQuese recalls Ms. Terrentine fondly and says that when she was in fourth grade, the KAAAP mentor she was connected to, Carol McGlinn, changed her future. (Initiated in 1992 by the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, KAAAP was later absorbed by CIS. It matched elementary students to a mentor committed to seeing the young person through high school graduation.)

JacQuese started doing better in school thanks to the tutoring support she received from her mentor. “I wouldn’t be able to read if it wasn’t for her [Ms. McGlinn]. She saved my reading life. She saved me.”

Yet, the transition from high school to college was challenging. “Going off to college was hard for me,” recalls JacQuese. “My family loved me. They were in support of me going and said, ‘Do it!’ but that was it. I needed someone to guide me. I needed help with the how. I realize nobody has a blueprint for you but when you go to college you need a game plan. I felt like I just got dropped off. ‘Do good,’ they told me. Okay, but how? What are the steps I need to take to get through college?”

A talented woman with a variety of interests, JacQuese found herself changing direction frequently and switching majors. While at Michigan State, she studied Communications, Interdisciplinary Arts and Humanities, Religious Studies, Social Work, and Theater.

It was at the start of her fifth year of college, her degree in sight, that things began to unravel. JacQuese’s grandfather, a great ally and whom she was very close to passed away on her first day back to school. To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, JacQuese was robbed. “My bank card was stolen and my entire bank account was wiped out. I was very depressed. I couldn’t pay the rent. I didn’t know what to do.” So, when a new opportunity arose, JacQuese dropped out of college and headed to Atlanta to “chase my singer-songwriter dream.” While JacQuese experienced some success with her musical career she ultimately determined “it ended up not being the opportunity for me that I thought it would be.” As she puts it, “The music industry, well, let’s just say snakes aren’t always low in the grass.”

Recently, JacQuese decided to return to Kalamazoo. Through Facebook, she connected with her former middle school math teacher, Diane Lang. They met for lunch, caught up, and talked about JacQuese’s future. Afterwards, with JacQuese’s blessing, Diane reached out to friend and Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Pam Kingery. Was there a way for JacQuese to get her The Kalamazoo Promise back?

And before September faded into October, JacQuese, with Diane Lang at her side, met with Bob Jorth, Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise®. Thanks to Bob, JacQuese got the information she needed and is now doing what it takes—including making a recent trip to Michigan State University—to finish what she started.

JacQuese couldn’t ask for a better cheerleader at her side—and someone to help navigate the how questions all college students have—than Diane Lang.

“This kid has tons of talent and positive energy,” says Diane. “She just needs to finish up her degree. I’m proud of her.”

“This time, I’ll be going back to college,” says JacQuese, “just  a little wiser.”


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.