CIS of Kalamazoo Board of Directors have announced that they have selected James Devers to serve as the nonprofit organization’s second Executive Director. “After a very thorough search, the Board is excited to welcome James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo into the future,” said Tony McDonnell, President of CIS Board. “James bring tremendous experience, passion for helping kids succeed and a steady leadership style to his new role as CIS Executive Director,” says McDonnell.
When Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo’s founding executive director retires from CIS at the end of June, James Devers will begin his tenure as executive director the first week of July.
James has more than 19 years of diverse experience in the field of education, ranging from working for the Ohio Department of Education, to doing community-based computer literacy training, to serving as principal at a K-8 public school in Ohio. Most recently, James has served as the Senior Director of Site Services for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
A graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, James holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in public administration from The Ohio State University. A passionate advocate for youth and families, James’ volunteer work over the years has included starting several summer camps, tutoring youth, and mentoring high school students who were at risk of dropping out of school.
“I am grateful to be stepping into the role of Executive Director with the perspective gained from my current position as Senior Director of Site Services,” said James. “I already know our staff—we have a terrific team. In my new position I want to ensure that the work we’ve begun, as well as the progress we’ve made together—both programmatically and relationally—will continue. I’m looking forward to bringing my perspective and experience to this dedicated team of staff, volunteers, school and community partners at CIS. Together, we will continue and build upon CIS’s successful history focused on helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.”
You can look forward to learning more about James, his thoughts on leadership, and more in our next CIS Connections (due out this fall). Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids will also bring you an interview with James in the months to come.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), CIS Board President Tony McDonnell announces the retirement of our founding Executive Director, Pam Kingery, which will occur at the end of June, 2019. [Look for McDonnell’s article on Pam’s retirement in the upcoming CIS Connections.]
In 1998, the City of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools, with the input of many community stakeholders concluded that they had strong mutual interests for investing resources to improve the education and graduation of KPS students. Economic development, social justice, quality of life and workforce development interests intersected to create a local affiliate of Communities In Schools (CIS). Representatives of this community selected Pam Kingery as the person who could breathe life into this promising approach for supporting kids. As McDonnell notes, “In December 1999, Pam Kingery took on the challenge of developing the Kalamazoo version of Communities In Schools, using a national model to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life.”
In 2003, CIS joined with the Chamber of Commerce’s Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program [KAAAP] and the Kalamazoo Public Education Foundation [KPEF]. Pam’s leadership has been “extraordinary” says McDonnell. “We all—the board, the staff—this entire community—owe her a debt of gratitude.”
Assures McDonnell, “the CIS Board has already embarked on its search for the next executive director. We look forward to a smooth transition and finding someone with the same passion and drive, a new leader who, in the wake of exciting opportunities and intriguing developments, will take this incredible organization to the next level, and help us serve even more students.”
Before Pam retires, Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids wanted to find out what she has discovered along the way. Here’s our conversation with her:
Kids first! This has been your mantra over the years. So, let’s start with kids first. Tell us a story about one of the 12,000+ kids CIS has helped that has stuck with you over the years.
I still think of one of those first kids. His site coordinator worked so hard to get him eyeglasses. While he was incredibly excited to see clearly, he ended up tossing the glasses out of the third floor window of his school—what was then Vine Alternative [now KAMSC]. The frames of the glasses, purchased by his Medicaid coverage unfortunately branded him as low-income with his peers. He pointed out he would rather go back to not seeing than to have other students bully him for his Medicaid-frame glasses.
And I can’t help but think of the young man who had school failure after school failure. He had moved around a great deal, often missing school. At age 15, the CIS site coordinator took him for an eye exam. Following the exam, the optometrist informed them that the student was legally blind. He received glasses with extremely thick lenses.
All the way back to school, the site coordinator, worried about how the student would be perceived by his classmates, tried to prepare him for the possibility that kids might make fun of his glasses. But this young man was totally enthralled with everything he could see. He was especially taken by the trees. For the first time, he could see that the green of the trees was made up of individual leaves. He said he didn’t care if he got made fun of for thick lenses. He was just so happy to be able to see. At fifteen, his whole world suddenly opened up. You can’t help but wonder, how might things have been different for him if his vision problem could have been identified earlier, when he was five and not fifteen?
What happened with the first student?
With both of these students, we dipped our toe in the water with vision as one significant barrier to success. The first student I mentioned, it is because of him that we reached out to The Junior League of Kalamazoo. He had introduced us to the complex challenges with solving vision care needs and what kids and their parents were contending with at the time. Back then, I think there were three options for Medicaid frames and these were easily identified by other kids as evidence of poverty. So, while we were able to meet his need, it came at such a great social-emotional cost to him. Junior League gave us that first vision care grant of $5,000 and it allowed us to help that student upgrade his frames, and it helped many other families struggling to meet their children’s vision needs, some families who couldn’t even access the Medicaid frames.
As is always the case, there were lots of incredibly caring teachers, who on top of everything else they do, were trying to get glasses for kids. Others like the Lions Club and the KPS nurse were also working very hard to help with glasses, one student at a time. What we added was this organized, systematic approach to making sure that all kids who failed vision screening could then be supported to get them across the glasses finish line.
It’s one thing to be screened for vision—or any other need for that matter—but if nothing happens as a result, screening has no value. That we’ve been able to take identified needs and create systems for intervening is what I am still most excited about in terms of what CIS is able to do for kids and families. The creation of an ongoing system—one we’ve built together with the Kalamazoo Public Schools and the community—means lots of kids will continue to get lots of help long after any one of us is gone.
Back in 1999, you started CIS here in Kalamazoo from scratch. What was one of the first ingredients you used to get started?
I don’t know if it’s an ingredient, so much as a realization. What struck me early on is that this thing we were trying to create was not going to be successful if I was a traditional leader in the traditional sense of one charismatic person who would create and carry this organization on her shoulders. No one person could do this and sustain it. We would only be successful if what we were trying to do was owned by many, many more people that just me.
And early on, you did see that sense of shared ownership, beginning with our board, and our founders. And since then, together, we have only continued to grow the systems of support and the number of students and schools CIS serves.
I hope that our sustainability over the last almost twenty years suggests that my educated hunch was correct. I think the joint ownership and passion for CIS and what it could be, has made for a much broader and stronger foundation. Organizations come and go. When an organization has been “owned” by one person, it is especially easy for that organization to go with that person. Joint ownership makes it a lot harder to let something go. It’s this shared sense of passion and ownership for CIS and its mission that so many people have invested in; it’s the glue that holds this organization together.
[An article posted last month in Nonprofit Quarterly, speaks to Pam’s collective leadership approach. You can read it here.]
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
The creation of a systemic approach and the assembling of an incredibly talented staff and board. You can create a wonderful system, but if you don’t have talented people to do the work, it’s impact will be nonexistent. And if you have talented people, but no organized system to apply their talents, there will also be limits. It’s because of those two things—in combination—that I feel such optimism for the future of CIS.
What advice would you give to the person who will ultimately step into your position when you retire at the end of June?
When examining myself and when I’ve messed up is probably when I’ve succumbed to the temptation to talk more and not listen enough. We can all probably listen better and more often. I don’t think there are too many of us who are listening too much. It’s good advice for all of us to take in and listen more, whether we’re at work, at home with our family, our kids, with friends, you name it. Listen.
Back in 2014, you helped kick off our “What’s your Story?” series by sharing your own moving story. [You can read that post here.] You said that your mother instilled in you a love for education. You also said that you were the first and only person in your family to receive a college education.
I had originally told staff the story of what my mom had only told me as an adult. Growing up, I remember how my mom always talked about how much she loved school. But it wasn’t until years later, as a grown adult with my own kids that she told me she had dropped out in high school because she was so incredibly poor.
I have this photo of my mom as a child and she is wearing a potato sack for a dress. She described herself as a bow-legged child who always had a terrible haircut. She and her sister literally got their hair cut by having a bowl placed on their head, and dull scissors used to cut around the bowl.
Kids made fun of her and she finally couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out of high school. She ended up going to Detroit at age sixteen—by herself—and got a job.
That knowledge about my mother’s experience informed my thinking around what we are doing with CIS Kids’ Closet. From that very personal story, I know that sometimes the piece of clothing we offer is far more than that piece of clothing. Through Kids’ Closet, we aren’t just handing out pants or socks. We are also handing dignity to that child. We are sending the message to kids that, as adults, we are going to care for and protect you.
In speaking with CIS staff, some of the qualities they mentioned that you possess that have helped us grow into the organization we are today: a visionary leader, someone who is passionate, compassionate, ethical, fearless, and thoughtful. Which of your qualities has helped you best lead the CIS team in Kalamazoo?
I’d like to think that I am a life-long learner. That I never stop learning and trying to find out how we can improve and how we can do a better job for kids. Being open to learning and considering new ideas and flexibility is a really important trait. Flexibility is a one of those things that is both a strength and a limitation.
When you let flexibility drive you, you can unknowingly keep reinventing the wheel. Instead of building on what you’ve learned, you can end up with twenty or two hundred different ways of doing something because you are trying to be flexible with everybody. There are benefits to having standards for the way some things are done based on evidence. I’m glad I’m flexible but there is, I think, an inherent tension between those two things: when to be flexible and when not to be flexible. There is a time for flexibility, a time for creativity, and a time for standardization.
We know you love a really good book. What are you currently reading?
I just finished Tim Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. I found it a fascinating book… I was on plane to Austin the other weekend and a young kid, about 22 years old, came up to me and said, I saw you reading Tim Geithner’s book. He definitely wanted to know what I thought of the book. Turns out he worked for a think tank in Washington, D.C. with some of Geithner’s former colleagues.
I’ve started reading Relationshift: Revolutionary Fundraising that CIS Board member Terry Morrow recommended. It’s written by Michael Bassoff and Steve Chandler. Members of the CIS Development Committee and other staff are also reading the book thanks to the generosity of Development Chair, Darren Timmeney who purchased several copies for us.
Pam, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids. And thank you for your leadership. Your relentless focus has given Kalamazoo a priceless gift; a proven way for the community to collectively and systematically address critical needs for students—whether it’s a pair of glasses, or shoes, a tutor, a mentor, or mental health support—so barriers to learning are overcome and students, surrounded by this web of community support are empowered to stay in school and achieve in life.
Trying to capture a partnership that spans 18 years is impossible. But we’re going to try anyway. We’re going to let the words of Principal Frank Rocco of Woodward School for Technology and Research help us out here. He says, “It would be impossible to deliver the diverse and quality programming that K delivers in partnership with Communities In Schools without the diligent and detailed work of the Kalamazoo College Civic Engagement Scholars. “They are,” he says, “an integral part of the conversation between site coordinator, school, teacher, student and K volunteer, to ensure the work of supporting the student in the best way possible continues to thrive.”
And thrive the students do! At Woodward as well as El Sol Elementary School and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, the students can’t wait for K students to arrive. As one student puts it, “Mr. David is kind and thankful. He makes me feel excited and happy. He is the best tutor I have ever had. I wish I could have him work with me every day.”
It’s been said that schools are “the modern engines of social justice.” These Scholars fuel that engine. They impact student after student by recruiting and preparing their peers before they even step into the school. This year alone, they’ve supported 128 K students! And each year, the work looks a little different. That’s because kids and schools are not static; needs change. Fluid thinkers, the Scholars understand this. Their adaptability is just one of the reasons CIS staff loves working with them. In partnership with CIS, here’s a sampling:
To support a college-going culture, they’ve organized field trips to K’s campus. They’ve even collaborated across CIS sites, like the time El Sol and Maple Street students attended the Kalamazoo College play, “Into the Heights,” which celebrates the Latino culture.
At Maple Street, they recruited Spanish speaking K students to support bilingual and English Language Learners. Last year, when the need shifted for more Arabic speaking volunteers, Scholar Kalli Hale tapped K students taking an Arabic speaking class. Then, to meet the growing demand, she collaborated with Western students.
Working one-on-one, in small groups, they support students’ academics and positive behavior in various ways. At El Sol, CIS Site Coordinator Levi Soto says that the scholars tutor students in English during the Lunch Buddy Program. He says, “of the 23 El Sol students enrolled in the program last year, 21 saw improvements in their grades.”
At Woodward, they’ve initiated a newspaper club. CIS After School Coordinator Ebony Ragotzy says the project, spearheaded by Kevin McCarty and Sarafina Milianti is not only reinforcing writing skills but it’s helping students find their voice.
Woodward’s CIS Site Coordinator Jen DeWaele reminds us that every site coordinator needs a site coordinator. “Coordinating ever-changing schedules of college students, while matching the needs of classroom and students takes a lot of delicate work. Having the support of CESs at your side, like David Vanderkloot and Delaney Fordell, is imperative. At Woodward, it’s what allows us to implement multi-level programming in every classroom, the playground, and the lunchroom.”
Over the years, hundreds of Scholars have been able to work with and learn from the community because of the strong collaboration between CIS and the Center for Civic Engagement. Kalamazoo College says, “Our CESs do a great job—made possible because of the CIS site coordinators and teachers/staff at our partner schools who welcome, guide and support them when they arrive on the school’s doorstep.”
Building on the work of those who have come before them, this current group of scholars include Kalli Hale, Kevin McCarty, Sarafina Milianti, Delaney Fordell, David Vanderkloot, Valentina Cordero, and Marlyn Sanchez. We’re confident that as they pass the baton on to those who come after them, this partnership and the children they serve will continue to flourish.
We know it’s important for kids to read. But we shouldn’t forget, it’s also important for our 12,000+ kids that they see grownups reading too! What have you been reading this summer? A few months ago, we asked Communities In Schools board members what they are reading. Here’s what some of them said:
I am currently reading Centered Leadershipby Joanna Barsh. I attended a Johnson and Johnson Women’s Leadership Initiative and heard Joanna speak. I loved her stories and the research she has placed into this book.
Today we highlight Prevention Works, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. The non-profit’s Champ award was sponsored byBorgess. CIS Board member Carolyn H. Williams presented the award.
A healthy start and a healthy future is one of the five basics that Communities In Schools believes every child needs and deserves in order to be the best student and the best person they can be. For more than a decade, CIS has turned to Prevention Works to help us create stronger, healthier students and families throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
We count on Prevention Works to deliver evidence-based prevention programs that are both engaging and educational. They address substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, bullying, family life skills, parenting, sexual health and adolescent health, and they encourage young people and their families to make wise decisions and live healthy lives.
Spring Valley Center for Exploration students participating in Prevention Works program as part of CIS After School.
Hillside Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Precious Miller works closely with Prevention Works Program Director Lola Amos to connect just the right programs to the right students and classrooms. She says, “Prevention Works staff helps our students get in touch with what they’re dealing with at home and school—to put a language to what they’re experiencing. Students learn that it’s okay to share that information with those they trust, that we are here for them.”
When Prevention Works Katie McDonald and Lenye Tynes stepped into Hillside classrooms, lives changed. As one student said, “I’m not bullied anymore. They helped the bully and they helped me.” He says his grades have improved since he’s able to focus on learning and no longer worries about what will happen once he steps outside the school. “Prevention Works is an incredible resource for our students,” says Precious.
CIS Site Coordinator January Haulenbeek agrees. When she was looking to meet the needs of a group of Northglade Montessori Magnet School students—all boys, ranging from first through third grade—she turned to Prevention Works. “Sure enough,” January says, “they provided the perfect facilitator. As a recent college graduate and young professional, Matt quickly built rapport with the students. The boys looked forward to their weekly meetings with Matt. He inspired them to dream big. He helped them take responsibility for their futures by focusing them on decisions and choices they could control.”
Victoria, a seventh grader at Hillside has been a huge fan of Prevention Works since her elementary days. “Prevention Works teaches different things,” she explains, “like how to handle peer pressure and how to be responsible. They’ve taught us how to turn down alcohol and other substances. They’ve taught us how to communicate better.”
Ever since her site coordinator connected her to the Strengthening Families Program, Victoria notices the change in her own family. “We compromise more,” she says. “My mother and I went through all seven weeks and my sister and dad came twice with us. We all talk more as a family. We try and see things from each other’s point of view.”
Prevention Works, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Today we highlight Oshtemo Area Churches, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Their award was sponsored by Borgess and CIS Board member Carolyn H. Williams presented the award.
Imagine, a number of churches individually supporting one school, independent of each other. Good things are getting done. The support is greatly appreciated. But now, picture this: six churches of various denominations coming together as one in partnership with Communities In Schools to serve the students, families, faculty, and staff of Prairie Ridge Elementary School. That’s exactly what happened and that decision was a game changer.
As Principal Karen Spencer puts it, “When these six churches: Heritage Christian, Centerpointe, Lifespring, Voyage, Lighthouse, and Oshtemo United Methodist chose to work together, to create a team, on behalf of our children—that support multiplied exponentially.
These six churches, known together as the Oshtemo Area Churches, meet monthly with CIS Site Coordinator Carly Denny and CIS After School Coordinator Alexis Arocho to discuss both academic and nonacademic barriers to student success. “OAC,” they say, “is sensitive to the needs of the entire school family and works closely with CIS to align and integrate a student support strategy. Even outside of these meetings,” say Carly and Alexis, “OAC can be counted on to communicate, brainstorm, and troubleshoot, as necessary.”
In various combinations and forms, these six churches have become part of the fabric of the school. We’ve found that six equals one and one is as big as it gets. What does the power of one look like? Here’s a glimpse:
– Nearly one half of all our CIS volunteers at Prairie Ridge found out about how they could help through Oshtemo Area Churches. OAC has recruited and funneled through CIS, committed and caring adults to tutor students on a daily basis.
-OAC reinforces the importance of literacy through tutoring support and supporting the school’s “Books to Bikes” reading initiative—providing new bicycles raffled off to students who read the most in February.
-More students are ready to learn so they can receive the full benefit of the excellent teachers at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students, who once arrived late to school or not at all, arrive on time because they have the winter apparel they need. On Mondays, students arrive focused and ready to learn because members from the churches took time to distribute Friday Foodpacks. And they work with our 2008 Champ, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, to purchase enough food for more than 75 Prairie Ridge families, providing 4 days of food on a monthly basis.
-Family involvement is nurtured. Students celebrate with their home and school families during Thanksgiving Family Night and Back to School Bashes, organized, run, and led by the OAC.
-From one, an “Impact Group” was born. Composed of CIS and Kids Hope volunteers working within the school, the group meets weekly to encourage each other and plan events, such as this year’s “Harvest Party” and last year’s CIS after school “End of the Year Picnic.”
-Six as one can wrap their arms around an entire school. Each grade level within the school has been adopted by one of the churches, encouraging the classes with small notes and gifts. That reach can extend beyond the school and into the home. So, for instance, children, who might otherwise have had nothing to open for Christmas, had a present to open that morning.
-Teachers are provided with needed school supplies. Teachers and staff within the school feel appreciated and cared for in small and big ways. The OAC pooled together their money and catered lunch from Taco Bob’s!
While it can be tempting to go it alone, OAC sets a shining example for us all: when grownups set aside differences—denominational or otherwise—and literally come together as one through CIS, it’s the students who benefit.
As Principal Karen Spencer says, “Every day—every hour—I turn around and see the evidence of the care and concern OAC has shared with our children…OAC is now a part of our culture and part of who we are. We are eternally grateful.”
Oshtemo Area Churches, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.