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PromiseNet 2017
Linda Mah
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PromiseNet 2017

National Conference Brings Together Promise-like Programs

On Nov. 7, Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice gave opening remarks at the national PromiseNet Conference, a gathering of groups hoping to emulate the Kalamazoo Promise. Below is his speech, adapted for print:

I recognize that I’m in a precarious position here…. between you and lunch. Actually, that position has helped me select which of four presidents I’m going to try to emulate today.

President Franklin Roosevelt once said of public speaking, “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

More extremely, a person once said to President Coolidge, “I bet someone I could get you to say more than three words at dinner.” Coolidge responded, “You lose,” and said nothing more that night.

On the other extreme, at the 1988 Democratic Convention, four and a half years before he became president, the great est applause line of Bill Clinton's very long speech was, “In conclusion.”

And then there’s our current president, but then again, I don’t tweet.

I’m shooting for Roosevelt today: sincerity, brevity, levity — and my seat.

Around this time of year, each year, I begin to take special notice of the gifts that are Kalamazoo.

Oh yes, we have our profound challenges in Kalamazoo, most significantly poverty that rivals that of other challenged urban areas in Michigan and all the attendant struggles that come of this poverty.

And yet, we have so many gifts in Kalamazoo. I appreciate the generous, visionary donors of the Kalamazoo Promise. The Promise has changed so many of the conversations that we have had with our older students, our parents, grandparents, and community members around the possibilities for our young people. Quite simply, the Promise is a life changer for many of our young men and women, and I appreciate it deeply.

I appreciate our rising student achievement, in every major academic indicator over the last several years, and the teachers and administrators and support staff and community members that have worked with our children to make that rising student achievement possible.

I appreciate the almost doubling of early childhood slots in the district and the quintupling of full-day kindergarten. I appreciate our more than doubling of the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, the tripling of the number of AP courses that they take, and five years in a row of higher percentages of students getting college credit for their AP test results.

I appreciate that our African American, Latino, and economically disadvantaged students — historically underrepresented in these courses nationally — have increased their percentages taking these courses in KPS to an even greater extent.

I appreciate our rising district graduation rates and the fact that we graduated more students in 2017 than in any year in the district in decades.

I appreciate Western Michigan University welcoming all 1,000 of our sixth graders year after year on campus as part of Bronco Buds, an effort to share with all of our sixth graders the fact that we believe that all of our young people can be successful, can graduate from college, and can go on to postsecondary education of some sort.

I appreciate the Boys & Girls Club, which has expanded to serve young people on the north side and the east side as well as the south side of Kalamazoo. KPS is proud to have partnered with the Boys & Girls Club for more than a half century on Lake Street, on KPS property.

I appreciate the Douglass Community Association, which continues to be an anchor institution serving children and parents on the north side of Kalamazoo.

I appreciate the YMCA, which partners with eight schools to provide services — before school, after school, and in the summer — for children from all across the district.

I appreciate Big Brothers Big Sisters, an organization that I first served at 19 years old as a college sophomore. (I’m still in touch with — and proud of — my “little brother,” who is 47 years old and, at 6’4”, no longer a “little brother” but still my brother.) Big Brothers Big Sisters provides important mentoring relationships for hundreds of KPS students each year.

I appreciate the First Day Shoe Fund, which provides thousands of pairs of shoes annually to our young people to help them get off to a positive start to the school year.

I appreciate Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, which provides food to many KPS children and families and which has begun to establish food pantries in our highest poverty schools.

I appreciate the 421 staff and community members who mentored 1,696 students last year in 6,830 weekly mentoring sessions. And I appreciate the many churches and community organizations that have begun or have pledged to begin to mentor this school year.

I appreciate Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo, which helps to coordinate a wide range of services during and after school in 20 of our district’s buildings.

And I appreciate approximately 200 other organizations as well, with whom we partner and/ or that serve our children in one of myriad ways throughout the year.

Oh yes, we continue to have much work to do in Kalamazoo: in the city, in the school district, in the county, in the region. But we have made significant strides post-Promise, significant strides in the last 12 years, and we are poised to make many more in the coming years.

I wish all of you well in your communities’ quests to provide for the upper and lower case promises of your children. In the month of Thanksgiving, it is important to reflect not only on how far each of our communities has to go to fully serve children, but from how far each community has come.

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