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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to the 2016-17 school year!
The new school year is always an exciting time full of endless possibilities and new beginnings.
At Utica Community Schools, we are adding to this excitement with important enhancements for our students as they start this new year.
For instance, we are creating greater access to computer science and coding instruction at all grade levels. This expansion will build on our commitment that UCS students have a competitive advantage for the jobs of the future when they graduate from our high schools.
We are also focused on making sure our students have greater access and success when it comes to more rigorous coursework at the secondary schools.
In addition to these changes inside the classrooms, students are also returning to important improvements in the infrastructure of the schools themselves.
These improvements, which were put into place when voters approved the 2009 bond issue, are centered are three critical areas: building infrastructure and safety, technology and creating parity between our schools.
The first area – safety – has and will continue to be a top priority for our schools. The focus on this issue, however, has gained more national prominence as a result of events from around the world and country.
As a result of these conversations and events, you may have questions regarding your student’s school. I want to assure our community of our efforts to make sure UCS students are learning in classroom settings that are safe and focused on exemplary teaching and learning.
Please be aware that we have instituted a locked-door procedure that requires visitor to use a phone system for checking in prior to gaining entrance to schools during the school day.
This year, we have provided additional security at our high schools by constructing a secure lobby entrance at Henry Ford II and Eisenhower high schools. Secure lobby entrances were created at Stevenson in 2010 and at Utica High School in 2013.
In addition to these building improvements, our district staff practice and follow critical policies and procedures that promote student safety.
For instance, we continue to conduct regular emergency drills for fire, tornado or lockdown. The dates of these completed drills for each school are posted on our website for your review at this link. Our local law enforcement agencies work with us to make sure we are communicating important information that keep our students safe.
It is not unusual to see a police car at our school, where officers are parked to write a report on something from their day or are visiting the school to become more familiar with our staff and building layouts.
We certainly hope that we will never need to use the safety procedures or drills. However, we will continue to work with our local law enforcement and district security team to focus on these procedures and make sure we are ready should they ever be needed.
Best wishes for a safe, productive and happy 2016-2017 school year.
Our school district vision includes a focus on developing students into “productive, contributing members of their society.”
Through this focus, our students are demonstrating the care, compassion and service to others that also represent the fabric of our community.
This shared vision we have with our families and residents is never more evident than this time of year, when our staff and students support more than 200 charities.
Helping others is part of spirit of our community. In addition, we promote this commitment to service through our vision because it has a direct tie to a student’s future success.
Our work with colleges and universities shows the importance of community service to admissions. Service is also an important consideration in the scholarship opportunities that are offered to our graduates.
Beyond these practical reasons, however, is that volunteering is the right thing to do.
Recently, members of the superintendent’s advisory committee discussed the many ways they are supporting others – not only during the holidays, but throughout the school year.
Many of the students have visited the charity organizations that their schools are supporting to distribute the gifts or the food items.
The students were visibly impacted by how they are making a difference.
In addition, our students are also realizing how this community has nurtured their success. They also have a greater understanding that it is their responsibility to give back throughout their adult lives.
We have great young people in our community who care deeply about their friends, neighborhoods and world.
Clearly, our future is in good hands.
All the best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.
There are many great reasons why our communities are recognized as great places to raise a family: exemplary schools, strong and safe neighborhoods and a thriving business community.
Underlining all of these strengths is that we live in a community where residents show care for one another, particularly when it comes to the future of children.
This care is demonstrated in many ways: older students helping younger students; senior citizens volunteering to help students in math and reading; parents working hand-in-hand with teachers on their child’s academics and future goals; and business representatives mentoring the next generation on their career options.
You see it every day in our schools.
For instance, a UCS senior has been sharing her interest in computer science with junior high school students to inspire them to pursue computer science. She recently held a camp with junior high school girls to create excitement about programming and address a gender imbalance in female students pursuing computer science-related careers.
Many schools have created Project Unify clubs, where friendships are created between general education students and students with special needs.
We have more than 50 senior citizens who work with our elementary students as part of the “Reaching Higher Across Generations” program.
Our local business leaders mentor students through work partnerships or by advising our school district on their needs and the skills they seek in graduates. One of my favorite events is the Career Focus Luncheon, where 2,000 sixth graders have lunch with business leaders to receive guidance on their hopes and dreams.
These examples show a community that rallies around its youth because it is the right thing to do.
It also has a direct impact on student achievement in another important way.
The knowledge that community members care about them is an important indicator of student success.
Last year, our students were asked to give us feedback on a series of factors that are proven to lead to academic success.
Specifically, we asked students about their:
- Engagement – their involvement in and enthusiasm for school;
- Hope – the ideas and energy they have for the future; and
- Well-being – what they think of their current experiences and future success.
The good news is that because of the strength of this community, UCS students are in a better place when it comes to these factors than similar responses received from students at a national level.
One reason for those positive responses?
The data we received from students demonstrated that a key factor for the optimism was that they know someone in this community cares about them – a significant caring adult such as a teacher, parent, coach or mentor.
No matter who you are in our community, your concern for the next generation is making a difference.
I wish you the best for the 2015-2016 school year.
Today’s students experience constant change in their daily lives. Thanks to rapid introduction of new technology, economic fluctuations and shifting world developments, events occurring in their backyards and across the globe impact the opportunities our young people have in school today and will experience later in the workplace.
In addition to offering nationally-recognized academic programming, the Utica Community Schools college culture is preparing students to adapt to change through problem-solving
One change that holds immediate significance for students in Michigan is the transition from the ACT (American College Test) to the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) as the required state assessment for high school juniors effective with the class of 2016.
While both exams measure degrees of college readiness, the Michigan Department of Education has determined the SAT is better aligned with state academic standards to which all public schools are held accountable.
As with ACT, SAT is also widely used by colleges and universities nationwide in evaluating student admissions.
A newly revised edition of the SAT will be given to all juniors next year. To prepare for the transition, UCS educators are engaged in ongoing College Board training to review exam samples and testing strategies.
Parents are also offered opportunities to learn more about the new exam. Nearly 500 parents attended a recent SAT awareness meeting conducted by the district.
Materials from the meeting are available at http://www.uticak12.org/sat/.
Additional parent meetings are planned for next year.
I am pleased to report that UCS students are already on track for SAT success. One reason – aside from strong K-12 academic preparation – is that we administer the SAT precursor known as PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) each year to nearly 2,100 tenth graders, which gives them an idea of what to expect.
PSAT provides detailed early feedback on where students stand on skills necessary for admittance to and success in postsecondary education. Both PSAT and SAT are designed by the College Board as a consistent means to evaluate students’ academic strengths and weaknesses.
As a longtime partner in our district’s mission to increase student achievement, the College Board also administers the highly respected Advanced Placement program – including the 27 rigorous AP courses we offer UCS secondary students.In fact, the College Board has recognized Utica Community Schools for increased student success and high rates of participation in this college-level coursework.
In UCS, students take more Advanced Placement courses than in any other Michigan school district. Seventy percent of UCS graduates have taken at least one AP course exam and almost two-thirds earn a college-ready score
on one or more exams.
UCS is initiating another important change at the secondary level – a new online academic planning tool called Naviance that is designed to broaden student opportunities.
Naviance is an easily accessible universal resource for everything postsecondary – from college applications to admission requirements, financial aid, course recommendations and scholarship opportunities.
A vital part of the software is a free service that provides SAT assistance of the type parents have been paying for to give their students an advantage.This extra component offers personalized tutoring via media tools that identify and give supplemental support in specific concepts where students have shown to need assistance.
In addition, the College Board has partnered with the Kahn Academy to offer SAT prep videos starting this summer. These free tools will be shared with UCS students prior to the end of the current school year.
Of course, a student’s foremost key to SAT success is to prepare for the exam by taking rigorous courses such as Advanced Placement, algebra I and II, geometry, physics and chemistry in their freshman, sophomore and junior years.
The goal of these and other district efforts is to give our students the best chance for success. The higher their achievement at every level leading up to and including the new SAT exam, the more opportunities they will be able to access once they hold that prized diploma from Utica Community Schools in their hands.
It’s true that change is inevitable. But whatever changes are to come, what matters most is every graduate’s ability to open doors and follow their dreams. It’s what the UCS college culture is all about.