Dr. Christine Johns

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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.”

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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.

Supporting a community tradition of service In Utica Community Schools

There is a fabric to our community that continues to be passed down from generations to generations.

It is a spirit defined by care, concern and the importance of helping others, particularly when it comes to the students and families in our community.

Parents, residents and business leaders regularly share their talents and resources with our students. In turn, our students give back to the community by supporting local service groups and organizations.

The importance of service and giving back takes place throughout the entire school year in UCS. However, during the holiday season, each school makes a concerted effort to focus its attention on how students can make a difference in the lives of others.

There are 200 such charity drives at all of our buildings this season.  If you walked in the lobby of any school this season, you saw examples: Toys for Tots, giving trees, mitten drives, coat drives and food collections.

It is one small way we can give back and say thank you to a community that gives so much of its time and talents to our schools – whether it is a parent or grandparent volunteering in a classroom, business representatives that mentor our students on careers, or organizations that provide scholarships to support our district’s college culture.

Our students realize that this community has nurtured their success and the vital role that service organizations play in the health and well-being of their towns.

UCS students also have the understanding that it is their responsibility to give back throughout their adult lives.

In our schools today are the future civic leaders who will lead the service organizations and community networks that make such a difference today in our schools. They become inspired for service through the relationships that are being created through community wide service activities and event.

In this way, we can continue the cycle of care and concern that is the fabric of our community.

All the best for a joyous and healthy holiday season surrounded by the warmth and love of family and friends.

What’s the cost of educating a child?

Over recent months, many of you have asked about the financial challenges Utica Community Schools continues to face.

The district has a proud history of receiving positive annual audits from Plante Moran, one of the most reputable independent auditing firms in the country.

Yet factors beyond our control are contributing to a worsening financial picture for the district. These factors include such things as declining enrollment, funding at a level less than the 2008-2009 school year, and receiving $318 per pupil less in revenue growth – or $8.8 million less in annual funding – than base foundation districts. 1,2

Recently, a statewide Michigan Education Finance Study found that Michigan schools are severely underfunded.3  The study found the base foundation amount and school funding formula are unequal.

It is time that we as a community acknowledge that the system for funding our schools needs to be changed.

If “UCS” is to continue meaning “success,” the district must keep ahead of our growing needs and we must demand better of our state lawmakers. We also have to realize that more layoffs, closures and cuts will not help us continue the level of achievement and success our families demand and deserve.

The true value of a UCS education will last a lifetime. Our schools prepare students for college and their careers which enables them to be well-rounded, productive citizens and responsible contributors to society.

I believe it is time for all of us to get involved. Call your policymakers in Lansing. Tell them it’s time to have a real conversation about the cost of educating our children – and the cost if we do not.

#CostToEducateMyChild

1 Budget Briefing, House Fiscal Agency, August 2016.
2 House Fiscal Agency Memorandum, Feb. 2016.
3 French, Ron, and Mike Wilkinson. “State Education Proposal Would Add $1.4 Billion to School Budget.” Bridge Michigan, The Center for Michigan, 12 July 2016. Web. 30 Aug. 2016.