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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.”
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.
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.
We are extremely proud of the college culture we are creating in Utica Community Schools.
This culture means – and will continue to mean – opening college and career doors for our students by emphasizing the importance of post-secondary experiences – whether that is a technical school, community college or four-year university.
As a result, our students are making conscious decisions to increase the rigor of their course offerings and take advantage of the Advanced Placement opportunities in our secondary schools.
These decisions continue to make a difference. Scholarship offerings for our students exceed more than $30 million annually. It is not unusual for UCS families to save a full year of college costs as a result of their child’s AP success. Our graduation rate at 90 percent is 14 points higher that the state average.
But there is still more work to be done.
For this reason, Utica Community Schools is introducing a new tool that will assist families in navigating the road that leads from students envisioning their careers to realizing and creating their dream jobs.
It is also a tool that is unique to UCS students, as we are one of the first public school districts in Michigan to use this system.
The tool, called Naviance, supports the college and career process by being a universal resource tool for everything post-secondary – resources, applications, admission requirements, financial aid, course recommendations and scholarship opportunities.
The system provides students with a variety of features, including college research tools, course planning, and career and goal assessments to help connect what they are doing in school to what they would like to do once they graduate.
These features are personalized for each student based on their career interests and goals.
Even better, the program takes parent involvement to a new level by making them active partners in this planning process.
An on-line tool called Family Connection provides families with access to resources and other collaborative activities that are supporting their students’ college and career-readiness activities.
These resources include a resume builder that provides students with a structured approach with intuitive instructions. The planning tool also walks students through completion of the Common Application for college admission and targets scholarship opportunities based student’s specific career and post-secondary choices.
Students who piloted the program this fall report that they love the expanded post-secondary opportunities that are identified for them in their field of interest. Students are finding a wide range of post-secondary institutions that support them in their career goals.
Other students and families like the test-prep features that are saving them both time and money. The free service gives students access to tutorials that systematically walks them through what they need to know to be successful on college entrance exams.
Naviance is currently being introduced to all UCS sophomores and juniors. By the end of the school year, all secondary students will have access to the system with parents having this resource by the Fall 2015.
Our college culture is about making sure that our students are on a solid path to their successful future.
The art of navigating that path has just become clearer for our students and their families.
As we begin another promising school year, Utica Community Schools remains committed to providing exemplary teaching and learning for the more than 28,000 students who fill our classrooms every day.
Doing so, we also recognize our responsibility to the community in creating a well-educated, globally
competitive future workforce. Our work – and the way we go about it – impacts far beyond the families that directly use our schools.
When new residents or businesses locate here, they have chosen to make an investment in this community – and for good reason.
According to local realtors, our school district’s reputation for academic excellence is a driving factor in attracting homebuyers and business owners.
In fact, a number of parents, grandparents, graduates, business and community leaders and others are
confirming this by sharing their stories of what Utica Community Schools means to them through the UCS Means SUCCESS initiative.
Here are just a few of the comments we heard:
-Angela and Brent Freeman, both active members of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce – “You are going to have a strong customer base for your business if you have quality schools and neighborhoods.”
-Al Block, who’s been a realtor for 25-years – “The information we provide (clients) on Utica Community Schools has always shown a high level of student achievement.”
-Business owner Ray Lope – “(Utica Community Schools) protects the investment you have made in a community and maintains vibrant and attractive neighborhoods.”
-Senior citizen Jo Anne Phillips, known as ‘Grandma Jo’ at Beck Elementary, where she volunteers –“If we can continue to support our schools and that success continues to grow, we are going to have a great future in this community.”
The demand for homes in Utica Community Schools is closely tied to our students’ high academic success.
Buyers know that quality schools protect their investment and increase property and resale values.
As residents and homeowners ourselves, we each can take pride in the fact that UCS students continue to outpace county, state and national peers in achievement.
We can also be proud that all four UCS high schools are named among the nation’s best by Newsweek magazine.
One more fact of UCS pride is that our district’s overall 90-percent graduation rate is 14 points higher than the state average.
And the fact that our schools consistently provide students world-class college and career preparation from kindergarten through their senior year is yet another point of district pride.
UCS continues to offer students the best learning opportunities by focusing on quantified data, best practices and responsible management.
Our secret to UCS Success is by no means a secret. We achieve it by adhering to four proven strategies: setting high standards, teaching students to be productive users of technology, promoting innovative thinking and ensuring accountability to our public.
In keeping success in our sights, the year ahead includes a redoubled emphasis on early childhood literacy by expanding our personalized blended learning initiative in grades K-2, introducing a new reading series in grades 3-6 and implementing the Great Start preschool readiness program.
Back to school means only one thing in UCS. It means we are back to teaching and learning at its best and a new year of success for our students.
It’s the best way I know to protect everyone’s investment in the future.