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Investing in the Next Generation

Scott Menzel is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for his leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.

Scott Menzel is being honored as a White House Champion of Change for his leadership and commitment to the ideals of the YMCA.

Scott Menzel

As a Superintendent for the past eleven years (in three different communities), I recognize the critical nature of community partnerships in order to advance our mission of improving achievement for all students.

During the course of the past two years I have been actively involved in the work of facilitating the consolidation of two neighboring school districts in an urban area on the east side of Washtenaw County, Michigan. The districts were both in deficit financially (a combined $13 million at the end of the last year school year) and struggling academically with test scores far below state averages.  Students were leaving the districts by the hundreds and the decline in enrollment resulted in the need for dramatic action.  Rather than wait for the State to appoint an emergency manager to take over and unilaterally implement changes to address the financial problems, each community decided they wanted to retain control of public education and agreed to vote on consolidation.  This vote was approved by 61% of the residents in both communities in November of 2012.

Since that time we have been working on reinventing the school system by building it from the ground up.  Our focus has expanded beyond the traditional K-12 system to include children and families from birth through kindergarten entry as well as guaranteeing every graduate an opportunity to earn college credit and/or a career credential.  This cradle to career system is not just the purview of the schools. It is the responsibility of the entire community.  Fundamentally we know that in order to improve achievement for all students in an urban setting we have to focus on the whole child.  Children who come to school hungry are not able to achieve their highest potential.  Children who are overweight and do not exercise regularly also do not perform at their highest level.  Healthy habits impact academic achievement, and the educational and social cost of doing nothing is too high to ignore.

Unfortunately, the resources available to schools for promoting these necessary services are limited.  However, partnerships with community-based organizations like the YMCA result in reaching out to students who otherwise would not have important opportunities to enhance their nutrition, develop healthy eating habits, and learn the importance of regular exercise.  The Ann Arbor YMCA has been that critical partner in Ypsilanti.  They have provided after school and summer school programs for more than six years in the community, reflecting their deep commitment to this work.   As we were making decisions about facility utilization in the consolidated district, there was some concern that space wouldn’t be available to continue offering the summer programs that benefit more than 700 students each year.  For me, it was not even a question that we would make the space available.  Our children need and deserve to have these opportunities and our schools cannot succeed without partners like the Y who are ready and willing to make that important investment in their lives.  This new school system will succeed with the assistance of community partners who will help serve the whole child.

Scott Menzel is Superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District