Checking In For Children At The Checkout Lane At Meijer

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, has returned from Charlotte, North Carolina. She, along with a Kalamazoo delegation, joined the national CIS board for a reception to celebrate the 2013 Awards of Excellence recipients. Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence. Pam wrote the below post a few days before she left. You can find out more about Kalamazoo’s award by clicking here to read Julie Mack’s Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article.

Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice
Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice

On Sunday I did my usual run to Meijer for a few groceries and felt compelled to look at the children’s winter coats to see if they were marked down any more. The Communities In Schools Kids’ Closet still had need for some specific children’s sizes and as usual, we are trying to stretch our dollars as far as we possibly can. When I discovered that the coats and snow pants were marked down to between $11 and $15 per item, I couldn’t resist.

As I stood in the check-out line with a cart piled well over my head with my rainbow of boys and girls jackets and pants, a gentleman approached me with a rather mischievous grin, asking “Are those for all of your grandchildren?” I grinned back, explaining that probably if I had that many grandchildren, I’d be rather crazy. He got a bit more serious and said knowingly, “You are getting those for other kids who really need them, aren’t you?” I confessed that I couldn’t resist such bargains and also explained that I work for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and that we provide all kinds of support for kids so that they can concentrate on doing well in school. I indicated that having a warm coat is one of the many ways we in the community can help.

He listened attentively for my entire explanation and with the kindest, most sincere look on his face, reached into his wallet and handed me $20 and said, “I want to help, too.”  Mr. Owens was his name. As he walked away, I could see a woman standing in line on the other side of me, looking my way with curiosity. She made almost the same inquiries as Mr. Owens, confirming that my piles of coats were going to be shared with children who really need them. Her name was Joan and she handed me $50 and she insisted, remarking that she has been fortunate herself, making it especially important to contribute.

image001And then there was Crystal, the Meijer’s check-out employee who helped me—with patience and kindness that seemed to border on joy. She too wanted to know about Communities In Schools and how CIS helps the community help kids. I think there may have been tears in her eyes as she handed me the next pile of coats she scanned to put in the extra cart she retrieved.  When I make these large purchases, the Crystals of the world can make things immensely easier. As I made my way to the door, keeping the two carts going in forward motion and making sure not to crash into the penny pony ride, the beeping started as I passed the security “gate.” Meijer’s greeter, Kathy, looked at the open piles of multi-colored puff on hangers rather quizzically. I reassured her with a smile that I was not trying to steal 43 children’s jackets as I dug in my purse for the receipt I had just neatly tucked away. She smiled back. We never did figure out why I continued to beep but Kathy, too, learned about Communities In Schools and added her sincere thanks and encouragement. When she added that she makes occasional donations at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, I sent those thanks right back at her.

Just another day in our Community of Excellence!

IMG_2103Do you, like Pam, have a moment where excellence—the generous, caring nature of this community—percolates through an ordinary, everyday activity? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

Kalamazoo Through The Eyes Of Dan Cardinali

As an educational leader, Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc.,regularly lends his voice to the national dialogue on education reform. In a recent visit to Kalamazoo, Dan was deeply moved by how the Kalamazoo community comes together to support the public schools. He shared his thoughts with the nation in a recent post that ran in the Impact section of the Huffington Post under the title “Bridging the False Dichotomy Between Poverty and Education Reform.” Julie Mack also wrote about Dan’s post in the Kalamazoo Gazette. Here now, in Dan’s own words…

20131106-_DSC4515Recently I attended two days of meetings in Kalamazoo, Michigan that gave me a new sense of optimism for the future of our public schools and our neediest students.

It was another reminder to me that school reform is a wonderfully hopeful and iterative process, despite the political and rhetorical flare-ups it may inspire at times. While impatience can set in, given the urgency that passionate reformers feel about improving public education for all students, what I saw in Kalamazoo convinced me that we are moving into a powerful reconciliation of historically dueling camps.

On my first day, I attended a luncheon where an extraordinarily diverse group of nonprofit leaders was exploring ways they could support the city’s public schools. The local food bank was there, along with housing advocates, mental health experts — even the Kalamazoo Symphony. All of these overworked, underfunded folks were looking beyond their traditional turf to discuss how they could partner with Kalamazoo Public Schools to provide the necessary supports so that all students’ basic needs are met, and high quality youth development opportunities are available regardless of a family’s economic means.

On day two, I attended a national conference for communities looking to emulate the Kalamazoo Promise, an innovative program that pays up to 100 percent of in-state tuition for any student who graduates from Kalamazoo Public Schools. The Promise was launched by anonymous donors who believed that public education could drive economic development for the entire city, and eight years later, the numbers are proving them right.

20131106-_DSC4538Since the Promise began, an estimated 95 percent of high school graduates inKalamazoohave enrolled in at least one semester of college, and nearly 900 have attained some type of higher education credential. Public school enrollment has jumped, test scores are up and suburban families are moving back into the urban core, bringing much needed tax dollars with them.

You’ve probably noticed by now the unifying theme in my visit toKalamazoo. What’s tremendously encouraging to me is the way that the entire community is coming together in support of the public schools. InKalamazoo, public education is everyone’s business. The silos that separate schools, businesses and civic organizations are coming down as everyone accepts a shared responsibility to prepare young people for a successful, productive life.

In other words, Kalamazoo is re-forming its sense of community, not just reforming its schools.

I think the importance of that distinction would be difficult to overstate. For too long now, the school reform movement has been dominated by a false dichotomy. On one side we have the “no-excuses crowd” — well-meaning, social entrepreneurs who believe that disruptive innovation can and should drive the larger public education establishment to change. By reforming school-based factors such as teacher quality, district and school management practices, student and teacher accountability systems, or content and delivery of curriculum, the no-excuses crowd believes that schools can be fixed from the inside out, independent of the socioeconomic context in which they operate.

On the other side, we have many education leaders and practitioners making a different kind of argument: While agreeing that schools must be held accountable for driving academic results for all students, they point out that the trauma of poverty is making those results harder and harder to achieve. Research is increasingly demonstrating that the stresses of poverty — homelessness, food insecurity, family breakdown and so forth — can accumulate over time, damaging students’ ability to learn. In other words, no matter how extraordinary the teacher, principal or curriculum, students living in chronic poverty are fundamentally compromised in their ability to take full advantage of the investments being made on their behalf.

AR6What I’m beginning to see all across the country is that this latter view is gaining currency, even as internal reforms continue. In Kalamazoo, Superintendent Michael Rice is working tirelessly to improve test scores and other educational outcomes with the hard-driving conviction of the no-excuses camp. At the same time, he is coordinating with a growing number of community groups that are stepping up to support students impaired by poverty. This determination to simultaneously attack problems from within and without is exactly what we need in the school reform movement.

The great irony of the no-excuses approach is that it unintentionally excuses the broader community from taking responsibility, because all of the burden is placed on professional educators. Think about it: If a problem originates inside the classroom, then it’s a failure of the school, and “they” need to fix it. But if the problem begins in the broader community, suddenly the responsibility shifts, and the pronouns change. Now it’s our problem, a failure that we need to remedy.

When an entire community comes together to support its poorest kids and help them succeed in school, that’s evidence of a whole new mindset at work — one that accepts responsibility, not excuses. This doesn’t happen quickly, of course, and a shift in mindset is never easy or neat. That’s why we’re in a kind of interstitial place right now, reaching for a new model of shared responsibilities while still clinging to our old conceptions.

20131106-_DSC4389We still don’t know exactly what the new models will look like, but there are some tremendously encouraging examples emerging in communities across the country:Say Yes to Education, Elev8, Diplomas Now, City Connects, Communities In Schools and the Cincinnati Public School System. Watching entire communities accept their responsibility under the social contract for bringing young people into adulthood is one of the most positive steps in school reform I’ve seen over the last ten years.

In today’s world, education is an absolute requirement for securing middle class existence and having agency in one’s life. When we start with an understanding of public education as the sine quo non for a successful democracy, then it’s much easier to understand that this is something in which we all have a stake.

In the weeks to come, I plan to unpack these ideas a little more, looking at ways in which local leaders and provider networks can ease the transition to a broader understanding of the social contract and new model of shared responsibility in public education.

20131106-_DSC4154But for now, I’d like to know what you think. Do you agree that public education is a community affair, or should reforms be focused inside the classroom? Do you live in a community with broad-based efforts similar to the ones in Kalamazoo? If so, what kind of success or failure have you seen? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

You can join in this discussion by going to the Comments section within the Huffington Post or by commenting on this blog site. Want to read more posts by Dan? You can find a list of these here.

Avoid The Summer Setback—READ!

IMG_94043-300x200Taking a “break” from learning during the summer months is hazardous to a student’s education. According to the National Summer Learning Association more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning activities. Here, in no particular order, are nine tips for grown ups to help kids on the path to success:

Visit the library and let kids pick out their own books. They are the best experts about what they like.

Sign up for the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Summer Reading Program.

Be a reading role model. (At a loss for what to read? Check out what KPL staff are reading and recommending. I also adore The Cyberlibrarian Reads, which is a blog by a retired librarian, lifelong reader, and local Kalamazoo resident, Miriam Downey.)

Read as a family.

Talk to kids about what they are reading and what you are reading.

Visit the Bookbug, an independent bookstore located at Oakwood Plaza. Stop down on any Thursday at 10am for All-Ages Storytime, Songs and Activities. Consider playing “Where’s Waldo?” with them in July.

Check out this terrific list of summer reading recommendations that Kalamazoo Public School staff have compiled for students of all ages.

If you missed Julie Mack’s piece in which she shares five strategies Superintendent Michael Rice suggests parents adopt to help build their child’s reading skills over the summer, you can find it here.

I must mention that as I’m writing this post, my freshly graduated second grader just peered over my shoulder and asked what I am working on. When I told him I was putting together a list for ways grownups can help kids this summer he said, “Just remind everybody that it is fun to read. And make sure you capitalize it all: IT IS FUN TO READ!”

So there you have it, have some fun. READ!

Summer Slide