Dr. Christine Johns

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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.


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.

UCS opens new school year with continued focus on student learning, safe environment


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.





The Spirit of Utica Community Schools

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.