Dr. Christine Johns

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Opening doors to opportunity

Fall is all about new beginnings at UCS. Last month teachers, staff and administrators opened our doors and welcomed students back from break.

Back to school is also no exception to the inspiring acts of kindness that come from all corners of our fabulous community. Backpacks loaded with school supplies from the Kiwanis organization, local church groups, and countless residents, flooded our buildings. This caring community truly wants to make sure all our students have a great start to the school year.

For some back-to-school is exciting, for others a bit daunting, but regardless it is overflowing with new possibilities. Friends becoming reacquainted, teachers greeting classrooms filled with fresh smiling faces, and parents working to keep even busier schedules on track. School is officially in session for everyone in the UCS family.

No matter if it is the first week or the last, academics always takes center stage. At UCS, we are committed to providing our students a rigorous, high-quality education that reflects our district’s core values. Paramount among those core values are:
-Parents are important partners in the learning process
-Excellence is expected and celebrated
-Achievement takes hard work, persistence and effort

At our recent open houses, you may have heard us discussing the district’s core values. For me, seeing that crucial education partnership in action, parents supporting their children and their school community, is truly what makes UCS so special.

Achievement does take hard work, and with the recent release of elementary student testing data from the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), secondary student testing data from the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), UCS students continue to outpace their county, state and national peers on standardized tests. Parents, please reach out to your child’s principal or teacher for an in depth discussion on what this data means for your student. While we celebrate these results, our work as educators means we must keep moving the bar forward, providing the excellence and rigor our students deserve.

At UCS, we continue to provide individual professional learning opportunities to assist our educators in implementing instructional strategies that accelerate student learning. This year, literacy consultants at each elementary school are working in concert with their colleagues to provide direct support to our earliest learners. In addition, this year marks the second year implementation of a new mathematics series. Our focus is to create a strong foundation in that allows students to be on track for advanced mathematics including taking Algebra I by eighth grade – an important standard that serves as a gateway to their future.

During the last few months, there has been a flurry of construction activity at school buildings throughout the district as extensive bond issue improvements are ongoing. We certainly thank you for your support, which is enhancing our children’s learning environments, creating safe and functional places for teaching and learning every day. You can view the progress anytime at www.uticak12.org/2018bond/updates.

We work hard at UCS to open doors to a myriad of opportunities for each one of our nearly 27,000 students. As everyone settles into their routines, one thing is clear; our community has once again come together for student success.


The Power of Partnerships

We read a lot about the power of social influence these days, but I am struck by the power of community partnerships. A key educational reality is that strong schools are linked to powerful and positive community partnerships.

At UCS, I see the passion and power of these partnerships daily. An example is Tommy Haji and the new Vision Empowerment Academy. The Academy is a partnership between Wireless Vision, The Chaldean Community Foundation and Stevenson High School.

Though he is a busy and successful entrepreneur, Mr. Haji has been willing to share both his time and expertise with our students. As part of the Vision Empowerment Academy mentoring program, Mr. Haji, along with other mentors, are paired with high school juniors from Stevenson High School to help guide them toward achieving their goals.

Mr. Haji challenges students to use their education to both dream and achieve in their future. “Education is the foundation of everything,” he notes. “Once you are educated you are able to find your passions in life and pursue them. You should never limit yourself to one thing.”

Both the foundation and company, through owner Saber Ammori, invested not only their time, but also awarded $20,000 in student scholarships.

This type of partnership reflects the Utica Community Schools educational mission – preparing students for successful post-secondary experiences. It also reflects the powerful difference that community partners make as students discern their future.

As a UCS partner, the academy’s mentors are not alone. Parents, grandparents, community members, business and industry leaders model and share the values of our community.

These partnerships also provide strong financial support for our students. Some examples include:

• Partners such as Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars, the UCS Foundation for Educational Excellence, the United Shore Professional Baseball League, local community foundations and service clubs all invest in our graduates and their academic future through scholarships.

• Business mentors give their time and resources to support classroom innovation. Most recently, an anonymous business leader provided more than $1 million in a private grant for a new Career and Technical Education academy. Local business leaders – including the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and the cybersecurity initiative at the Velocity Center – also play an important role in working with teachers to promote the skills needed for the future workforce.

• Our community approved a $155 million bond issue that will affect every school and every student over the next five years. We appreciate the trust and support of the community to use these funds toward our educational mission. Several projects are now under way and the pace will only accelerate as classes end for the summer. For progress updates on bond improvement projects visit: http://www.uticak12.org/2018bond/updates.

• Parent and community members invest literally thousands of hours in our classrooms and serve on booster clubs, parent volunteer organizations and advisory boards. By directly sharing their time and talents, our schools truly represent the very fabric of our community. As a whole, our students gain generational knowledge and witness first-hand the importance of community involvement.

These strong partnerships are producing great results. We know that a student’s academic success is strengthened through involvement with other adults. Through community partnerships, students excel both within Utica Community Schools and after they graduate and become citizens and leaders across the state and the world.

Thank you for your continued support. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me, or your building leadership, with questions, suggestions, or affirming stories of the good work that our teachers and students are doing.

Giving Thanks

As 2018 nears its end, we look forward to the upcoming holidays and special gatherings with family and friends. Traditionally many of us reflect back on the year in review and give thanks for the gifts we have received, including gifts of support, from those around us.

With this in mind, I would like to share the appreciation of the entire district to our residents for the care and concern that underlined the successful passage of our recent safety and security bond proposal.

Community was at the heart of the bond proposal from the start. Parents and residents alike came forward with their concerns for the safety and security of our children. Our Board of Education’s swift and unanimous action placed the matter before voters this fall.

And so the community-led bond proposal, approved by voters on November 6, will not only address safety and security, but it will also support infrastructure projects identified as part of the district’s long-range improvement program, and provide technology for our classrooms.

Already our district is moving forward on the projects identified. We are currently developing timelines, specifications and bid documents to make these projects a reality. We anticipate issuing bonds after the first of the year.  Shortly, we will be sharing additional information on the specific improvements so that taxpayers can see that our district will continue to be a strong fiscal steward of the investment they make in their schools. We will be making available a dedicated bond project website, as well as listing school projects on their individual websites.

Our community’s support reflects a long legacy of residents working together to build stronger schools and neighborhoods. It is this commitment to service, and to each other, that we continue to nurture every day in our classrooms.

This season alone, there are nearly 200 community service projects happening at schools throughout the district to support those in need. From canned food drives, to a community-wide partnership for coat donations, mitten and hat trees, to Marine Corp Toys for Tots collection sites, the array of drives being held at our schools mirrors the diversity within them.

The next generation of givers are embracing these drives and demonstrating the same level of care and commitment they see modeled in the adults in our community every day. It is another important way that we continue to build upon the legacy of excellence that defines Utica Community Schools.

Thank you again for your continued support of our students. We look forward to the New Year ahead and building upon the heritage and legacy that is Utica Community Schools.  Best wishes to you and yours for a safe and healthy holiday season.

A caring community is the foundation to our district’s success

The success of Utica Community Schools is due in no small part to a caring community committed to quality education. When we identify a need, our community responds. Whether it is donating backpacks filled with new school supplies, contacting the Marine Toys for Tots program for drop boxes, sponsoring student scholarships, holding spaghetti dinner fundraisers and canned food drives for those in need, this is a community that cares deeply. Friends helping friends, and families helping neighbors. As I have witnessed time and time again, UCS residents put a high priority on our children.

This year, we heard parents and residents who told us that student safety and security was a priority. Upon hearing those concerns the UCS Board of Education acted, unanimously placing a $155 million bond proposal on the November 6 ballot. This bond proposal is designed to address student safety and security, infrastructure and technology improvements. If approved by voters, every UCS student and every UCS school will be affected.

For years, UCS has strived to be on the forefront of providing career and technical education (CTE) programs that give our students a competitive advantage in career and college pursuits. Our goal is to incorporate specific tools, machinery and workspaces in classrooms to support specialized training in areas such as health care, automation and manufacturing. If approved, this bond proposal would provide school building renovations giving students and teachers technology improvements to develop skills for the jobs of the future.

Our residents have long supported bond issues that have allowed our school district to meet our capital needs and protect the investment the community has made in its school buildings. By law, bond revenue may only be used for capital improvements and not used for operating expenses such as salaries or utilities. This bond has been structured with no change in the tax rate residents are now paying.

We understand that being sound financial stewards is very important to our residents and the district continues to work hard to maintain that trust. For 15 years, UCS has proudly received the highest level of assurance on the district’s financial statements with a rating of “excellent” according to independent auditors Plante Moran. In addition, the district has earned a Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting award for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) from the Association of School Business Officials International for six years running.

Since the beginning of our republic and over the course of U.S. history, scholars have noted a connection between our democracy and public schooling. As citizens, voters are the cornerstone in shaping our communities and their futures. In this issue, we have included candidate-provided profiles for those seeking re-election or a seat on the Board of Education, ballot language for the safety and security bond proposal, as well as a bond proposal quick link.

As friends, families and neighbors, I thank you for your continued commitment to this community and particularly to its youth, who are truly our most important asset.

CTE programs give UCS graduates the leading edge on high paying careers

The importance of Career and Technical Education programs has taken center stage in Michigan. It is a familiar place in Utica Community Schools, which has long put a priority on giving students a competitive advantage to pursue high paying careers in their future.

UCS is fortunate to be located in the heart of the automotive, defense and health care industries. Through these relationships and the innovation of our staff, we have pioneered CTE programs that are now becoming the standard in education.

Recently, a 2012 UCS graduate, Adam Drotar, spoke about how far ahead he was compared to his peers when he began Lawrence Technological University. Drotar noted that UCS prepared him in key ways – he knew how to work in a team, was comfortable in a hands-on environment, could work across disciplines and knew how to solve problems.

The State of Michigan has recently announced a “Marshall Plan for Talent” to ensure meeting the demands of a professional trades industry that is expected to add 15,000 new jobs annually through 2024.

As Michigan makes CTE its focus, UCS will continue to ensure our students are a step ahead of their competition when it comes to achieving their career and college goals.
CTE demands a certain type of facility that mirrors the equipment and environment our students will experience in their future careers. We are working with industry leaders to design classrooms that give our students the workspace and tools they will need to be successful.

We continually network with business, manufacturing and education leaders to remain in touch with future needed skill sets and career projections in these fields.
This year, Eisenhower High School piloted a “Gone Boarding” program that gave students design and building skills while producing surfboards, snowboards, stand-up paddleboards and skateboards – one of the nation’s fastest growing industries.

Next year, a new program called the Center for Manufacturing, Automation, Design and Engineering will begin at Stevenson High School. It will blend rigorous academic content with relevant, real world applications by making use of strong business relationships and post-secondary partners in the field of Advanced Manufacturing.

The Utica Center for Science and Industry opened in the fall of 2008, and continues to earn national recognition for its work to provide students with direct experience in mechatronics, multimedia and engineering technology.

Our focus remains on providing our students with the innovation, support, relationships and environment that keeps them on the front line of the best jobs for the future. We want to ensure our students remain – as Adam Drotar described it – “miles ahead of the competition.”

Welcome to another great school year in Utica Community Schools

The 2018-2019 school year is now officially under way with a renewed sense of energy and commitment. Utica Community Schools remains a destination district focused on success, thanks to an involved community, dedicated staff and a commitment to making sure our students have a competitive advantage for college and career.  We create that advantage through four key strategies: providing academic excellence, promoting student innovation, preparing positive digital citizens and ensuring accountability.

This year, two Career and Technical Education programs are being introduced that are a direct response to fields in demand by industry leaders.  A new cybersecurity course for high school students will give students access to the careers and fields that will help drive this region’s economy.

In addition, we have worked closely with area business leaders to create the Stevenson Center for Manufacturing, Automation, Design and Engineering (MADE).  This four-year program will give students rigorous academic content blended with practical experiences in fabrication, automation and design engineering.  Specialized courses and advanced manufacturing principles will be integrated into all core academic courses of English, social studies, math and science.

At the junior high school level, a Computer Science Discoveries course is now offered at all seven schools to give students concentrated experiences in coding and programming. The course also promotes computer science as a medium for creativity, communication and problem solving.

For elementary students, a new mathematics series – Math Expressions – addresses the rigor of all Michigan Academic Standards and eight key mathematical practices, such as understanding the meaning of a problem and being persistent in solving it or how to use tools (computers, devices, paper and pencil, etc.) effectively.   This new series blends the traditional instructional approach to mathematics instruction with newer, research-based best practices.

School safety and security remains a top priority for our entire community. This year we are continuing to partner with local law enforcement by providing all UCS sixth graders prevention programs that promote positive decision making.  The Sterling Heights Police Department will introduce the SMART Moves program, which will serve as a complement to D.A.R.E. offered in Shelby Township, Utica and Macomb Township. These important programs give our students strategies to address critical issues such as bullying, digital citizenship and substance abuse.  D.A.R.E. and SMART Moves also provide students the opportunity to have a positive interaction with local law enforcement officers.

These are among the many ways we work to ensure UCS remains an educational leader in our region, state and nation.  We recognize the strong foundation of success that is a hallmark over many generations in UCS. We honor this legacy by ensuring a UCS diploma will always be a recognized symbol of high achievement that continues to open doors for our graduates.

An involved school community lies at the heart of UCS Success

There is a common theme that underlies the stories of success and remarkable accomplishments of our students and staff. We recognize that these accomplishments reflect the work of an entire community of residents who are committed to children and give so much time and energy to their district.

Michigan’s second largest school district is comprised of six unique cities and townships. While each municipality has its own characteristics, the businesses and residents in nearly 70 square miles are united through Utica Community Schools. Our community has tremendous pride in its school district and is actively involved in making sure our children have every opportunity for success.

Community engagement is critical to the success of a school district and directly supports student success. Through community involvement, students increase their learning, engage in school, continue their education at the post-secondary level and have a more positive attitude about their future.

Utica Community Schools is a lighthouse district that exemplifies what happens when a community creates a legacy of excellence and support for its children.

The success we enjoy could not happen without a strong foundation of support. Under the leadership of our Board of Education, UCS has a strong community foundation through a network of parents, staff, families, residents, and business and civic leaders who take responsibility for providing the best educational experiences for our children. It is why Utica Community Schools has a strong reputation as a great place to live, learn, grow a business and raise a family.

You can see the impact of this involvement every day in our 36 schools. Business leaders work directly with students creating real-world opportunities and providing insight into the skills necessary to compete in today’s economy. Partnerships between senior citizens and students reinforce a love of reading or demonstrate the importance of service. Parents volunteer their time to support classrooms and provide our students with resources that create additional opportunities for learning. Our teachers and staff members are involved members of this community who advocate for the success of each student.

Utica Community Schools is a “community” in the best sense of the word. Whenever you hear about the amazing work that is being done in your schools, I hope it fills you with a great deal of pride.

No matter what your role in our partnership, you are a key part of the long legacy of UCS Success that represents our district’s past, present and future.

Literacy is the foundation for college and career success

The skills that our business community needs from its new employees have changed dramatically since the Great Recession.

Leading experts recognize that today’s graduates need post-secondary experiences to be successful in college and career. Employers hiring in today’s market seek out candidates who are innovative, flexible and have the ability to solve-problems.

One skill, however, has remained critical to business and industry leaders for new employees: the ability to effectively read, write and speak is essential in every career.

That is why literacy is at the center of teaching and learning in Utica Community Schools.

To succeed in social studies, students need to read critically and write in a clear manner.  Our Career and Technical Education program requires students to work collaboratively and communicate with each other to meet the project goal.  Mathematics requires students to not only have strong computation skills, but also be able to communicate effectively and apply concepts to real-world problems.

In Michigan, the importance of literacy has taken center stage with the passage of the Third Grade Reading Law, which requires districts to develop an individualized plan to ensure all students are proficient by the end of their third grade year.

In UCS, we continue to emphasize the importance of literacy and numeracy as a focus for post-secondary education.

A recent study by Georgetown University found that more than 95 percent of jobs created during the economic recovery have gone to workers with at least some college education – or 11.5 million of the 11.6 million jobs created since the Great Recession.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has expanded on this finding by projecting how manufacturing jobs are being restructured through automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI). It found that jobs being created in this field are now those that drive manufacturing – statisticians, mathematicians and software developers. Right in our back yard, automotive companies are leading the development of autonomous vehicles and the fundamental change that that will occur in mobility.

To ensure our students have a competitive advantage for these jobs, we are creating the skills necessary for post-secondary success – starting with a strong foundation in literacy.

UCS promotes not only the key literacy concepts – phonics, phonetic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, writing and fluency – but also the type of literacy that will allow students to be successful in jobs that require highly skilled, high-tech employees.

As the first Michigan district to partner with Code.org and the College Board, UCS is creating a K-12 pathway for students to pursue computer-related careers.

Code.org and College Board partnerships, along with the virtual library card featured in this newsletter, illustrate how we continue to prepare students for the restructured job market in a technology driven world.

These partnerships are examples of how UCS continues to build a strong foundation that will open doors for our graduates and help them build success in a world of rapid change.

Optimistic and Inspiring, The Class of 2017 reflects our confidence in a bright future

Just ten short months ago, we welcomed the 2016-2017 school year with a renewed sense of energy, commitment and a dedication to make every day count.

As we close the year, that same optimism and focus remains as we celebrate student success.

It was never more evident than when we celebrated the accomplishments of more than 2,250 graduates at UCS graduation ceremonies.

The achievements alone of this graduation class are impressive: nearly $28 million in scholarships to the best colleges and universities in our state and nation.

This newsletter features the accomplishments of 178 valedictorians, 11 salutatorians and students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement and community service as recipients of a Superintendent’s Scholarship award, or have excelled in AVID and Early College of Macomb programs.

Beyond these numbers and accomplishments is a greater story. It is a story of tremendous growth and the type of individuals our graduates have become.

UCS graduates are committed to their community.  As students, they have dedicated countless volunteer hours to supporting those in need. They think globally, act ethically and care deeply about the future they will soon lead.

This community should have a tremendous amount of pride in our young adults and great confidence that they will be the ones that affect change in the world.

We remain committed to our college culture and focused on increasing the academic rigor for all of our students.  The district constantly looks at new ways that we can provide students the skills and experiences that give them a competitive advantage for their post-secondary experiences and professional lives.

The energy and excitement that characterized this entire year will only continue to grow when we begin again on September 5.

Until then, I wish you and your families a relaxing and safe summer.

A decade later, the message behind the UCS academic blitz is more important than ever

This year an important event in Utica Community Schools celebrated a milestone.
The Academic Blitz – a night where families and students explore options in Utica Community Schools and beyond – marked its tenth anniversary with one of the largest group of parents and students in its history.  Along with our Career Expo and College Fair, the Academic Blitz is a critical event that gives families and students information that will allow them to create a plan of success.

The program originated through discussions with a group of secondary students on the Superintendent’s Advisory Board.  Student advisory board members in 2007 felt that students and families needed more information about their high school choices long before registration to take advantage of everything UCS has to offer.  They also felt that a community event would reinforce the importance of students continuing their education past graduation – what we call our College Culture.

Ten years later, the driving forces behind this community event has made this culture even more critical. The economic recession and a changing national economy have shown the impact of successful post-secondary experiences – whether that is the military, college and university or vocational training.

Recently, the Detroit News reported that workers with advanced degrees earn 56 percent more than those with only high school diplomas. It also reported that these degrees lead to greater quality of life experiences, such as owning their own home or saving for retirement.

Like the forces that drove its creation, the Blitz has also evolved.  The information now shared targets all K-12 parents, showing the importance of how decisions made early in a student’s education will open future doors. The sessions and informational booths have also expanded, as more options are centered on our students’ individual needs and career interests.

The Blitz also sets the stage for two other community events that explore colleges and career options:
• The Career Expo from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m at Eisenhower High School on Thursday, March 16
• The College Fair on April 19 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Henry Ford II High School

The students who initiated the Academic Blitz are now leaders in business, technology and medicine. The vision they helped create, however, remains – that creating a game plan today will ensure success well into their future.