Engaging the under 18 crowd isn’t usually a big priority for candidates during election season. Votes win elections, and campaigns will leave no stone unturned in order to identify and appeal to voters, register eligible adults, and talk about the issues with anyone able to cast a ballot.
Education and community advocacy organization PACCT is trying to change that. Or at least, to raise awareness among candidates and the public the importance of youth – those under 18 – as key stakeholders in any sustainable equity strategy. To further that message and help inform the community about candidates for Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education and where they stand on issues important to them, on Wednesday evening the group hosted a student lead and moderated School Board Candidate Forum. Participants in the forum joined virtually, while youth gathered outdoors and on site at Interfaith homes to run the show. Of the 7 candidates for KPS’ Board of Ed who were asked to participate, Megan Maddock and Marshall Kilgore accepted the invitation to answer questions from community members live via Zoom.
To support young leaders in the community, PACCT partnered with AIMS Kidz, a resident initiative to provide educational opportunities, meals, and activities for students who reside at Interfaith Homes. Through AIMS, PACCT was able to recruit and train over 10 KPS students to take the reins at the forum.
Taking on the role of host, 10th grader Jamiya says that this was the first time she had ever had a public speaking role. She admits to being a little nervous about introducing the candidates and reviewing the forum rules and procedures to a live audience, but she enjoyed the experience and is looking forward to coming back for the next forum in the series (taking place on Wednesday, September 23, and again on the 30th).
Welcoming attendees, keeping the trolls away, monitoring the Zoom chat and screening questions submitted by the public were among the duties handled by Akasha, Dequariana and Aliya – and they kept busy. For about an hour and a half, Maddock and Kilgore thoughtfully answered a steady stream of questions posed by moderators Jada and Doris on topics ranging from the School to Prison Pipeline to nutrition and of course, online learning. Timekeeper Denisha kept the pace and made sure candidates kept to the allotted time (60 seconds) to respond.
What did the candidates think about being on the (virtual) hot seat and grilled by teens? Megan Maddock says she appreciated the approach, pointing out that “Students are most directly affected by decisions of the KPS board but historically have the least amount of space given to voice their input and concerns” and that student leadership “might make candidates consider how their platforms meet the needs of all young people in the district”. Similarly, Marshall Kilgore says it was “awesome to see out youth’s voices being uplifted” and says he looks forward to more opportunities to receive feedback from students and families.
Watch the full recording of the forum below. More information on PACCT and their upcoming forums can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pacct.board.5
To learn more about AIMS Kidz, go to: https://www.facebook.com/aims.kidz
KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN – Starting next week, Wednesday, September 16, 2020, PACCT Board will host two forums for the public to talk to 2020 candidates for the Kalamazoo school board. The forums will take place on September 16th and 23rd at the same time (see time information below). The purpose of this event is for residents and students to express their needs and question these candidates! This year more than ever, we need to hold our leaders accountable for the safety of our kids.
Wednesdays (9/16, 9/23, 9/30)
6:00PM-6:25PM Virtual Meet & Greet
6:25PM– 8:00PM EST School Board Candidate Forum
LIVE STREAM INFORMATION: Live Stream from Interfaith Homes
Promise Advocating for Children & Community Transformation (PACCT) is a group of diverse stakeholders in Kalamazoo in direct opposition with KPS Administration and Board of Trustees lax efforts to make changes in district policies that are criminalizing, bias and not equitable to all students and families in the district. The formation of PACCT amplifies the voices of many parents, students and educators that are experiencing substandard treatment. This fierce group of individuals from the community is directly impacted by the education system and move as a collective to educate the community of the intersectionality of the issues the community faces. We will show intersections and educate using the known examples of the STPP (school 2 prison pipeline) in Kalamazoo, and State. We will also show how the juvenile justice system is connected to the school system and how the next prosecutor and sheriff election is important to Kalamazoo County.
PACCT Board, Majyck Radio Evolution & Michigan Liberation Host Midsummer Youth Mini Festival in Western Michigan
KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN – On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, PACCT Board, Michigan Liberation and Majyck Radio Evolution will host a Midsummer Youth Mini Festival in the Vine Neighborhood area of Kalamazoo. The event will offer a much-needed break and opportunity for young adults 17-25 years old to celebrate summer by providing resources, live entertainment, giveaways, and activities to help ease the tension and stress of the pandemic.
There will be a variety of activities taking place. There will be live entertainment featuring local groups and musicians from the area. There will be youth resources for self-care dealing with mental health, a free clothing swap, and job connections for youth looking for employment opportunities. There will be several vendors onsite such as Planned Parenthood and several LGBTQ related organizations. Attendees will also get a chance to register to vote and learn about the upcoming election.
Midsummer Youth Mini Festival for Youth (Ages 17 – 25)
Virtual Learning Spells Uncertainty for Many KPS Students
Uncertainty is tough. And right now, we are all feeling like we are in the dark about one of the most, if not THE most, important aspects of our lives: our kids’ education. While Kalamazoo Public Schools has been hurriedly working to develop a Continuity of Learning plan as required by the state of Michigan, communication from the district has sometimes fallen short of the expectations of the community. We need reassurance, we want certainty, and we want it now. Unfortunately, for the past month information about how we’ll handle remote instruction during this crisis has come at a trickle. Answers to our questions are delayed, instructions are unclear, and new information might even contradict the previous. We’re not sure what is going on, or what we’re supposed to do, other than sit tight and trust that “the system” – from the state level down to our local school administrators, are making the right decisions. That’s a difficult position for families to be in right now. As a parent of five kids in this district, I’m right there with you. And as a school board member who has been kept at arms’ length by KPS administration this past month, I feel powerless, inadequate, and angry.
It is now Sunday evening, April 19th. By now you (and I) have received phone calls or emails from teachers, robocalls from principals, and read various statements from the district on the KPS website and social media, we’ve gotten letters through the mail, and read local news stories reporting on the district’s Continuity of Learning plan. Yet here we are, on the eve before the grand experiment is set to begin in earnest, and there is still so much we don’t know.
While it isn’t the only worry we have right now, access to technology is a primary concern for students and families in Kalamazoo when it comes to remote learning. That concern is, purportedly, shared at the district level: From board members to admins to teachers to support staff, KPS is acutely aware that many of our children do not have devices at home that would allow them to take advantage of virtual schooling. But what is being done about it?
So far the district has distributed over 1,200 Chromebooks to students. That’s a big number, but in a high poverty district such as ours with somewhere around 13,000 students, it isn’t nearly enough. While at one point I was confident that the district would, as I had been led to believe, be able to provide Chromebooks to all students who need them, as of now there is no definitive plan or promise to do so. There will likely be announcements from KPS in the coming days about when and who laptops will be made available to next.
While Kalamazoo Public Schools administration works out the logistics of laptop distribution, an even trickier aspect of online learning is the issue of internet access. Understandably, the district is not funded or equipped to address this need single-handedly. I have been informed that they (district administrators) are working with community partners to explore ideas and find support. No one has the answers to these challenges yet. As scary as that is, it is also understandable. KPS is contending with inequity on a whole new playing field, under the worst of circumstances, with limited resources and manpower.
What troubles me most about the district’ rollout of its remote learning plan is that despite obvious disparities in access, the vast majority of information coming out of KPS has been focused almost entirely on online learning – virtual class schedules have been posted, along with online behavior expectations, google classroom login instructions, encouragement to connect with teachers via emails. The official announcement on the KPS website relating to the initial phase of the Continuity of Learning plan contains only a single sentence about offline resources (notice that printed packets will continue to be distributed at food sites), and an enthusiastic robocall from one of my own kids’ principals this evening provided information about virtual learning exclusively – no acknowledgment was given to students who would be unable to use those online tools, and direction was given to parents on how to obtain printed materials or who to call with concerns about access. What message does this send?
An equitable education plan isn’t just about whether or not we provide laptops and internet service – it’s about communication, and public affirmation of ALL of our students. All of the time.
Solutions or no, this silence on behalf of school administrators minimizes the experiences of poor families in Kalamazoo and speaks volumes about our values: promote the good, while the rest gets swept under the rug to maintain an image that will appeal to affluent families and keep those enrollment numbers up.
Kalamazoo deserves better. Universal access to technology would be ideal, but it isn’t realistic, at least not in short order. What is realistic, and what is needed right now, is concrete information on what is expected of students who won’t be able to log in, a robust distribution plan for printed materials (beyond generic packets currently only available at food sites) that mirror what is being presented to electronically, and the promise that no child will be held back or fail to graduate as a result of their not being able to participate with their class online. This message needs to be shared publicly and repeatedly, just as loudly as the district touts their virtual plans.
In the meantime, I can only offer this reassurance to the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, big siblings or whoever you are to the children you care for: It is your support and encouragement that your kids need right now, far more than anything contained in a Google classroom. Keep your focus on loving them, and don’t let anyone make you feel like that’s not enough.
Kalamazoo, MI- Urban Democracy FEAST organizers were not able to go with crowd-source funding for their spring event. To stay safe and comply with federal social distancing as well as executive orders put into action by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The organizers plan on producing a series of podcasts that will supplement the face to face meetings and provide opportunities to engage with community online. For more information visit: www.urbandemocracyfeast.org
March 28 event at Eastside Neighborhood Association
The UDF planning committee decided it was best to cancel the 28 March Feast event. We will be rescheduling this event to occur during the fall (November 2020). Given the CDC advice about canceling gatherings of 10 people or more, and the closure of all restaurants in Michigan, we believe canceling the 28 March event is best. We are working on a podcast to air close to the 28 March date, and an online event to discuss gaps in prevention, planning to deal with consequences of the virus, and other needs in the city.
Kalamazoo, MI- The atmosphere at Fox Ridge Apartments was calm this afternoon, as a food truck stationed near the community’s office to distribute food packs to children in the community. Still, as of 12:45, workers reported that they had handed out over 100 food packs so far, and anticipated many more before their shift would end.
With more than one-third of Kalamazoo Public Schools households living below the federal poverty line, 14% of which are experiencing “deep” poverty (at or below 50% of the poverty line), this service is essential to the wellbeing of children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to meet their nutritional needs and would otherwise be unable to access regular meals during the Covid-19 school closures. In addition to children, food is available to any person up to age 26 who is enrolled in an educational program for the mentally or physically disabled, according to the Kalamazoo Public Schools website.
The process of handing out food packs was efficient, with no identification, proof of enrollment or family size required to collect needed items. Workers, wearing gloves while sorting crates and handling pre-packed bags, were courteous and helpful, making sure to let folks know when they would come back again.
Included in each bag, meant to provide two days’ worth of nutrition, were milk, juice, cheese, sliced apples, graham snacks, yogurt, muffins and whole grain crackers. 2-day packs will be given out on Monday and Wednesdays, and on Fridays the packs will contain 3 days’ worth, to last through the weekend.
While collecting items for my own family, several small children, clad in surgical masks, came to the truck to pick up their provisions. Cheerfully thanking the workers in the “Meet up to Eat up” van, a few even moved their masks aside to share smiles. Crisis or no, children’s joy can’t be contained!
Families with more than one or two students will want to make sure to bring reusable shopping bags or totes (or extra hands) to transport their items – take it from this mama, who hadn’t thought that through before making the trip. Lugging five kids’ worth of milk three blocks home proved challenging!
Food will be distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:30 to 12:30 at all Kalamazoo Public Schools, with the exception of
Indian Prairie, and Winchell Elementary, as well as A.L.P. and South Westnedge School. Additional sites Include Interfaith Homes and Eastside Neighborhood Association from 11:30 to noon at each, and Fox Ridge Apartments and New Village Park from 12:30 to 1:00. Any changes to this schedule will be posted on the KPS website.
A teenager’s site has gotten to be one of the foremost crucial assets for individuals looking for precise and up to date information on the following coronavirus pandemic. In late December, when coronavirus had not yet been identified outside of China, Avi Schiffmann, 17-year old high school student high school student from Seattle created nCoV2019.live See link for full interview by Democracy Now host, Amy Goodman
kalamazoo Public Schools Board Trustees superintendent search is well underway and the Board will be preparing for the first round of candidates submitted by MASB, the search firm hired to scout perspective candidates for the district. All meetings are open to the public.
The Administration Building is located at 1220 Howard Street, Kalamazoo, MI 49001
Special Board meeting of the Board of Trustees regarding the superintendent search
at 6:15 p.m. on the following dates and locations:
January 16, 2020 – West Main School Professional Development Center – Workshop for Trustees to prepare for video interviews
January 28, 2020 – Board Room, Administration Building – Board Workshop viewing of first round video interviews
February 5, 2020 – Board Room, Administration Building – Second Round Interviews
February 6, 2020 – Board Room, Administration Building – Second Round Interviews
February 18, 2020 – Board Room, Administration Building – Finalists interviews
February 19, 2020 – Board Room, Administration Building – Finalists interviews (possible board decision date)
February 25, 2020 – Board Room, Administration Building – alternate board decision date
A group of parents, educators and students organized the kick-off of a series of community forums in the community. The Edison Neighborhood Association was near capacity during the first of community forum on September 24. City commission candidates and mayoral candidates were invited to participate in a community led forum. Housing, specifically affordable housing was an obvious concern of many people in attendance. The community is invited to attend candidate forums across the city:
October 1, 2019 WMUK 102.7 FM candidate(city commission) forum 7@ PM Schneider Hall.
October 2 The LWVKA forum from 6:30-8:30 at First Congregational. October 3, 2019 The Parkview Hills Neighborhood Association (city and mayor) 7-8:30 dining room of Parkview Hills Willow Lake Clubhouse 3707 Greenleaf Circle October 8, 2019 Millwood Community Church 3306 Lovers Lane 6-9
October 15 @ 6-8pm Youth led candidate forum at First Congregational
October 22 WMUK 102.7 FM candidate (mayor candidates) Schneider Hall
Organizers of Urban Democracy FEAST are gearing up for the next FEAST at El Concilo located in Kalamazoo. The group seeks to provide crowd-funded micro grants to grassroots organization in Kalamazoo. To find out more about what provides are funded, visit, www.urbandemocracyfeast.org
Kalamazoo, MI- Kalamazoo Public Schools’ Board of Education meeting on November 29th, 2018 was a lengthy one, well attended by members of the community and education officials who came to speak on current issues impacting our district.
The meeting began with the recognition of Northeastern Elementary’s “Turnaround Students”, followed by committee reports given by trustees highlighting their efforts in wellness, curriculum development, and marketing and policy.
Trustee Carol McGlinn relayed information on an initiative to provide “Diverse Classroom Libraries”, sets of books that reflect the diversity of the student population, at each grade level. Second and third grade classrooms will benefit from these sets during the current school year, while kindergarteners and first graders should have them by the beginning of the next school year. The process of choosing books for fourth and fifth grade students is underway.
McGlinn also relayed that the evaluation committee is continuing to explore the use of Panorama Education Surveys in the district to evaluate the needs of the school community.
Trustee Ken Greschak shared information from a recent meeting of the Operations Committee, including the efforts of the district’s communications team to “build awareness of the strengths of Kalamazoo Public Schools”. A billboard campaign is underway currently, as well as an increased use of social media and Excelsior to promote this narrative. Another part of the team’s plan involves creating videos for each school building which will feature students “talking about how and why they enjoy their particular school”. Though according to Mr. Greschak, budget constraints limit what they are able to accomplish currently, there has been talk of contracting with a marketing firm to assist these efforts. “We could look at hiring a marketing firm to help inform and advise us on better activities and we may yet do that.”
As reported by Trustee Craig Herschleb, KPS’ Policy Committee has been working on updates to graduation requirements, as well bringing the district in line with a State of Michigan mandate to include policy restricting school employees from making referrals or otherwise providing assistance to students seeking an abortion. The policy requires a district to impose a financial penalty to any individual found in violation of the restriction, and return an equal amount to to the State’s School Aid Fund.
An outline of purchase recommendations was provided by Assistant Superintendent Gary Start, including a $75,000 expenditure for Lexia Learning, literacy programming offered by the Rosetta Stone Company. This purchase will be paid out of a State Early Literacy grant and Title I funds. Updates to schools’ technology resources made possible with the 2018 bond include a plan to purchase over 3,000 Chromebooks for secondary ELA and Social Studies classrooms. 2018 and 2013 Bond funds will also pay for building remodeling at El Sol and South Westnedge (Phoenix) Schools, in addition to four new computer labs at Loy Norrix.
A higher than usual number of individuals took advantage of the opportunity to address the board during Thursday’s meeting, including Rebecca Leighton, teacher at Loy Norrix High School, who has facilitated the work of a group of students to develop a Women’s Studies Course, which has been submitted to the Curriculum Department for review. Two of the curriculum’s designers, Emma Hilgart Griff and Isaac Moss, spoke on the need for the course as a way to provide a full and accurate depiction of womens’ historic struggles and contributions to society, including those of women of color, stating that current curriculum focuses almost entirely on “white men”. Mr. Moss stated that while he and Ms. Hilgart Grif are at opposite ends of the political spectrum (referring to himself as “fairly conservative and pro-gun”), it is his passion for history that inspired him to take on the project. Fellow student Hannah Sherman also came forward to express her support. The team urges the district to consider adding the Women’s Studies to a list of Social Studies course options. Students must currently fulfill four social studies course requirements in order to graduate.
Amiri Skyes, student at Milwood Middle School, came forward to speak on her awareness of the shortage of substitute teachers in the school. “I know teachers who didn’t have time for lunch because they have to sub in for a different class during their lunch break and planning time”. She also shared a letter written by Milwood teachers and staff on the subject, which said that, “The excessive shortage of substitute teachers in the district, and specifically at Milwood Middle School, is impacting the staff and students significantly.”, adding that the district’s emphasis on Professional development during instructional hours is using up too much of a limited resource.
When Amiri’s three minute limit had expired, her Mother, Shannon Sykes Nehring, picked up where she left off. “Fundamental to building relationships and trust is time.” reading the letter, which emphasized the need for building subs that are able to build trust and rapport with students, alleviating classroom behavior problems that often arise in presence of a substitute teacher. The letter also points out how the shortage of substitutes places a higher burden on teachers, increasing their workload and stress levels – major factors in teacher retention. At Milwood, the letter contends, there is a need for two building substitutes. They currently employ only one, and the teachers wonder in their letter if the district is doing enough to recruit for the vacant position at the school.
Amanda Miller, President of the the Kalamazoo Education Association came forward with similar concerns, saying that a lack of substitute teachers has become “an emergency” and that the problem is worsened by PD trainings scheduled during class time. Miller also reported that many teachers and staff members have come to her with concerns about increased violence in the classroom and a “degrading culture and climate” that the schools have failed to adequately address. While she agrees with the districts efforts to reduce suspensions, she says that the way to accomplish this is with “consistent consequences, targeted interventions and increased supports”, rather than simply tolerating misbehavior or sending students home.
Miller also took time to express the KEA’s gratitude to outgoing Trustee Lauren Freedman for her service and advocacy.
The KEA’s Vice President, Loy Norrix Teacher Jen Aniano, also spoke on a challenging school culture. She says that she appreciates that the district came through and provided A.L.I.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate) training when teachers expressed their concern for school safety, but more must be done to support the vast number of children suffering the effects of trauma, and the impact of toxic stress on social and emotional learning and academic progress. “The time has come to stop talking about restorative justice and trauma informed schools and make these two concepts a reality. We will not truly be safe and create nurturing environments if we do not wholeheartedly adopt these programs consistently throughout the district.” Jen said, imploring the district to develop a plan that will be ready for implementation at the start of the next school year. “The time is now”.
Following Ms. Aniano’s remarks, a father of a Kindergartener at Northeastern Elementary came to the podium. Jeremy Anderson said his daughter was subjected to the use of occupational therapy and restraint tools without his consent during a crying episode earlier in the year. This was Mr. Anderson’s second address regarding the issue, having first brought the matter to the board during the November 8th meeting. He said that as a result of school employee’s actions his daughter has been diagnosed with PTSD and he is concerned that continued contact with staff members involved is not conducive to her ability to heal from the event, and his desire is to see the teacher and behavioral specialist transferred or terminated. According to Anderson, statements from those involved indicate that the tools used on his daughter were recommended and supplied by both the teacher and the behavior specialist, yet only the aid who used them has been removed from her position. He said that he has experienced difficulty obtaining information from the district, and suspects that the outcome might be different if it had been a white child at the center of the incident. “I can guarantee I will be at every board meeting speaking until my child and family gets the justice any family deserves”. The child’s mother and grandmother also came forward to question the districts handling of the case.
Following public comment, Cindy Green, Director of Teaching and Learning Services, brought forward for review several changes and additions to the middle and high school course offerings. Too numerous to list here, a complete description of these changes can be found within the November 28 meeting packet on the Kalamazoo Public Schools website. Notably absent, however, was mention of the proposed Women’s Studies class brought forward by speakers earlier in the meeting. After Ms. Green’s presentation, Trustee Lauren Freedman expressed that she would like more information about that course in particular before the board votes on the proposed offerings at the next meeting. Trustees Greshak, McGlinn, and board President Sholler-Barber echoed her remarks.
Finally, Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice delivered an annual State of the Schools Presentation. Titled “KPS Rising!”. Supplying district data on enrollment, graduation, academic proficiency, the report outlined Board of Education’s goals, highlighted the gains that KPS has made in recent years, and compared increases in graduation rates and standardized test scores with comparable districts across Michigan. Notable achievements include:
An overall increase of KPS students taking Advanced Placement courses of 156% between the 2007/2008 school year and 2018/2019 school year, and during the same period an increase of 313% among African American/Multi-Ethnic students, 402% among those students who are economically disadvantaged, and a 1212% increase among those who identify as Hispanic.
According to the report, KPS graduation rates have risen overall each year for 6 years in a row.
District Enrollment has increased 25% since 2005, and graduation rates have risen 52%
A breakdown of graduation rate increases by race/ethnicity was not provided in the report.
The report also identified “Selected Challenges for the Year”, which included a need to promote Dignity and Respect for all students, “especially those who are poor, special needs, ELLs, LGBTQ or refugees”
The lengthy presentation also gave an overview of literacy programming, staff training initiatives and improvements to facilities.
Following the presentation, Trustee McGlinn congratulated Dr. Rice and the district for “moving the needle”, and working collaboratively to solve problems. President Sholler-Barber echoed these remarks.
Trustee Dr. Lauren Freedman spoke up to remind everyone in attendance that “we are not moving needles, we are moving children” and that though “a lot of what we do as a district is fabulous”, she is disheartened to learn about the kindergarten student from Northeastern, who’s family came to speak earlier in the evening. “There is a child hurting, who doesn’t want to come to school” she said, urging district to do everything in their power to support she and her family, adding that she suspects that “there are more of those five year olds out there” and thinks that race is a factor. She implored the district to do more to own up to and address racism within the district, and “call it what it is”, suggesting participation in anti-racism training as well as create policy around restorative justice and becoming trauma informed.
A full recording of the November 29 meeting can be viewed on publicmedianet.org, and full minutes will be published on the Kalamazoo Public Schools website in advance of the next board meeting, scheduled for 7:00 pm on December 20th.