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Build It, Promote It, and They Will Come
Linda Mah
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Build It, Promote It, and They Will Come

Thanks to Voters for Support in May

By Dr. Michael Rice

Thanks to our voters, who approved the district’s $96.7 million bond on May 8 with more than a 70 percent yes vote. Our students and staff appreciate your great support!

Build it and they will come. When we built Prairie Ridge Elementary in 2008, it was our first new school in the district since “New Central” was built in 1972, more than a third of a century earlier. Some said that the Prairie Ridge replacement for Chime Elementary on 9th Street was too large. But to paraphrase the movie “Field of Dreams”: we built it, and children and families came. Prairie Ridge has averaged more than 500 students in the 10 years of its young life, compared to 300-plus students on average at Chime in the last 10 years of the former school’s existence. Indeed, Prairie Ridge even attracted students from Mattawan to its full-day kindergarten program until the neighboring district added its own full-day kindergarten program a few years later.

When we built Linden Grove Middle School in 2009, it was our second new school in the district since 1972. In spite of the inevitable challenges associated with restructuring to a K-5/6- 8/9-12 district and redistricting at both the middle and high school levels, the district grew by 200 students in 2009, and Linden Grove has averaged more than 750 students in its nine years. We built it, and children and families came.

When we built and moved into the new Washington Writers’ Academy in January 2015, the new building replaced a 1919 structure. We built it, and children and families came.

When we built in 2016 a new northern portion of Milwood Elementary — to replace the original 1921 construction— and renovated the southern portion that dated back to the 1950s, children and families came.

When we build a new Edison—to replace a building whose original construction dates back to 1923—I know the same will be true: children and families will come.

Build it, promote it, and they will come. As challenging as it is to generate support for and construct new schools to replace those at the end of their useful lives, it is easier than the development of new or improved programs. For new programs, it’s not simply build it and they will come. For new programs, it’s build it, promote it, and they will come.

Years ago, when I was superintendent in northern New Jersey, we started full-day kin dergarten with a pilot program at School 17, our new elementary school. It took more than a year to develop support for the pilot at a single school in the district. When we ultimately opened School 17, our full-day kindergarten program had no openings. Over the next three years, we expanded full-day kinder garten each year. From the first discussions, it took us five years to implement completely fullday kindergarten in the district. We lobbied for it, built it in pilot form, promoted it, expanded it, re-promoted it, expanded it additionally, and finally had fullday kindergarten throughout the district.

When I came to Kalamazoo, kindergarten teachers were interested in my experience in my former district. Wanda Burton, an outstanding Milwood Elementary kindergarten teacher, now retired, encouraged me to meet with the kindergarten teachers to discuss full-day kindergarten just a couple of weeks into my work in Kalamazoo. That meeting, during August professional development time before the beginning of school, led to an expansion of full-day kindergarten in the district from 176 students in 2007 to more than 900 in 2008. We built it, we promoted it, and children and families came.

Every community doesn’t have the same interests, or the same needs, or the same ability to generate reform. Witness the fact that what took almost five years in my former district to accomplish took a year in Kalamazoo.

Relatedly, every program improvement or expansion is not similarly easy. When we expanded our PEEP early childhood or pre-kindergarten program in 2009, it took us many months to convince parents to enroll their children. We built it, but it took time to sell to parents. When we expanded in 2013 to full-day PEEP programming at Lincoln, Edison, Washington, Woodward, Northeastern, and Spring Valley, it took time to sell to parents.

The same is true for Advanced Placement (AP) participation and success. In 2007, we had 308 students taking AP courses. Our board of education and administration expanded AP courses, AP sections, and AP professional development, required AP tests for AP course participation and paid for the tests, and promoted AP participation and success. It took time to generate momentum for and support of AP. Ten years later, however, we have almost tripled the number of students taking AP courses, have more than tripled the number of AP courses taken, and have increased the number of students earning college credit on end-of-year AP tests nine years in a row. We built a stronger AP program, promoted its benefits, and students and parents chose to participate.

Early Middle College (EMC) programs are another example. A few years ago, the board of education approved EMC programs, a partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) that permits KPS high school students to take KVCC courses to earn both high school and college credit in programs that lead to career certificates of achievement, certificates, or associate’s degrees. The board approved an expansion to 35 of these programs—ranging from welding to graphic design, from computer support to secretarial support—last school year. While it took time to interest students and parents in these new programs, we anticipate a doubling of the number of students in these exciting programs in the fall.

More reform on the way. We continue to partner and to reform, but are under no illusion that program improvements are as simple as “Build it and they will come.” Three quick examples:

· KPS-KPL Summer Reading. In April, with the approval of their boards, KPS and the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL), a terrific KPS partner, announced a joint OneCard program. Beginning this fall, in an expansion of the many partnerships between KPS and KPL, all KPS students will receive a full-service KPL library card. We anticipate that several thousand students who currently do not have library cards will each get one this fall.

We know that library cards don’t ensure library visits, that library visits don’t ensure library book checkouts, that library book checkouts don’t ensure library book reading. We need to promote—early and often—the importance of summer reading to help students maintain or improve their summer reading and to beat back summer slide in their reading levels. But we also know that the new library card program this fall has the potential to be an enormous benefit to our children, if coupled with changed behavior in our children and families relative to library visits and summer reading.

We are strongly encouraging students and parents to sign up for library cards this summer, to participate in the summer reading program, to go to the library and check books out weekly this summer, and to read every day this summer. We are also opening five KPS libraries twice a week each this summer, an expansion of a similar program that we piloted last summer.

The children who read every day this summer are far more likely to be at higher reading levels in the fall than when they left school. Minimally, they won’t have been hurt by a summer slide in their reading levels. Please help us get this important message out to and within our community.

· Summer Slide Reduction Pilot. Consistent with the importance of summer reading and the library’s summer reading program, our board of education approved a recommendation to create a summer slide reduction pilot for Washington Writers’ Academy and Woodward School for Technology and Research. Washington and Woodward will have a shorter summer break and will each begin school on July 23. A shorter summer break will mean less summer slide in reading levels and more learning for our children.

We know that, for many families, such a reform might seem unusual, but this is a reform that has research behind it. Long summers, particularly without reading, don’t help our young people; they hurt them. Please help us get this important message out to and within our community. We still have slots available in some grades at Washington and Woodward. To register, please call Student Services at (269) 337-0161.

· School Begins at Four. We want all of our early childhood PEEP pre-kindergarten slots filled by the beginning of school in September. We are actively promoting the idea that school begins at four (not five), and that PEEP is not pre-school: it is school.

There is a reason that our numbering of grades in the United States once began with first grade: school once began in first grade. Rather than renumber the grades, educators stuck in kindergarten before first grade, a “first first grade” before “first grade.”

Today, however, the prevailing view among educators, parents, and businesspeople is that there is a tremendous benefit to early childhood education, what some call pre-school. Please help us get this important message out to and within our community. To register your 4-year-old for early childhood PEEP class next school year, please call our PEEP office at (269) 337-0095.

The German philosopher Schopenhauer once wrote something to the effect of, “All ideas go through three stages: First, they are ridiculed. Then they’re violently opposed. Finally, they’re accepted as being self-evident.”

When we build a building, the building largely sells itself. When we build a new program, it takes time — and promotion — to make the program a success. Thank you for being a part of our efforts to improve how we serve our more than 13,000 students in the district.

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