Friday, August 30, 2013

TAYLOR READING CORPS: The big names are joining up, why aren't you?

Some of the biggest names in Taylor are involved in a campaign promoting early childhood reading literacy. Shouldn’t you think about joining them?

Executive Director Lori Hill-Sanders of the Taylor Reading Corps announced that the non-profit organization recently completed the successful training of 15 new adult reading volunteers. Among those being trained were Taylor Police Chief Mary Sclabassi and Taylor School District Chief Financial Officer Shawn Stirling.

But the recognizable names don’t end with just those two people. Superintendent of Schools Diane Allen was a charter member of the TRC Board of Directors, and the reading campaign is the brainchild of 23rd District Court Judge Geno Salomone. Board of Education members Debbie Stellini and Linda Newsome are on the TRC board, as is City Councilman Rick Sollars.

Those are just a few of the big names involved so far – and the list is growing by the day. Before this current batch of reading mentors were trained, the TRC had approximately 200 adults mentoring about 250 preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students. PNC Bank, thanks to a “Growing Up Great” initiative grant from the PNC Foundation, is funding and mentoring the preschool-level children in the Taylor School District, behind to the efforts of PNC Bank Regional President Rick DeVore and PNC Senior Vice President and Regional Manager Ronnie Jacek Ruelle.

DeVore is a huge backer of literacy initiatives and sits on the TRC Capitol Campaign Committee with McKinley Properties CEO Albert Berriz and U.S. Rep. John Dingell. Ruelle has coordinated and supported the PNC’s efforts at the preschool level.

With all of these people involved, you might be wondering where you could fit in. And that’s an easy question to answer.

This fall, the TRC expands into the second grade. The reading corps started two years ago by focusing on just kindergarten students who were non-proficient in reading skills. Last year, the corps expanded into the preschool and first grade with great success. This year, right on schedule, it plans to add second-grade students to its program before completely “opening the reading umbrella” the following year, when it makes it final expansion that will include third graders.

The reality is that the reading corps can gain valuable partners and monetary donations, but it is the core volunteers that make its engine hum. Each volunteer translates to at least one more child being able to enter the program. Without volunteers, the program stalls.

With the expansion into the second grade, the program needs many more volunteers (100 new volunteers is not out of the question). Volunteering is simple – the TRC will supply the training, materials and scheduling. All the adult has to do is to complete an easy training session and devote one-half hour weekly reading to their student at his or her school. Volunteers already in the program opening discuss what a tremendous value it brings not only to the students, but also to their own lives. They enjoy the process and take note of every improvement in their child’s learning. Without a doubt, the TRC program is a two-way street.

The importance of reading proficiency through the third-grade level is well documented across the country. In fact, according to a 2010 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 24 percent of below basic readers at the end of the third grade drop out or fail to finish high school on time; on the other hand, only 9 percent of students with basic reading skills at the end of that grade level drop out or fail to finish high school on time.

Taylor is hardly immune to these problems. In 2011, non-proficient readers at the end of the third grade hovered between the 50th and 60th percentiles. While non-proficient readers in that survey fell to the 40th percentile in eighth grade, the resulting reading scores on the 2011 Michigan Merit Exam for high school juniors showed that over 50 percent attending Kennedy and Truman high schools remained non-proficient in reading – the number was 80 percent at the Titan Alternative High School. At that time, Taylor had overall graduation rate of nearly 70 percent.

Judge Salomone viewed the illiteracy problem from a different angle. “There is a direct relationship between a person’s lack of education and his or her probability of becoming a defendant in court,” he said when he began the TRC campaign. Salomone’s goal was to eventually have all third-grade students in the district proficient in reading, which would be a huge step toward ensuring that anyone graduating from a Taylor high school actually has the ability to perform at a 12th grade level.

The results for those left behind in the reading race can be horrible. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, over 75 percent of inmates in American prisons could not read above the fourth-grade level in 2010.  This is more than an school problem. It is a quality of life issue.

Salomone was insistent that the reading corps had an independent measuring stick in place to track its progress. As a result, the TRC has worked out a partnership with Wayne State University, where assistant professor of reading, language and literature, Kate Roberts, evaluates the program each year. Roberts holds a bachelor’s degree from Butler University, a master’s from Indiana and a doctoral from MSU. She is a former kindergarten teacher and currently teaches preservice and graduate-level courses in literacy education.

Children in the reading corps are tested before and after they enter the program each year. Those scores are not only compared against each other, but also to the non-TRC scores of their classroom peers.

Since the reading corps started its mentoring program late two years ago, those scores were incomplete. However, WSU’s Roberts did note that TRC-mentored children were closing the gap with their peers. Last year’s data is currently being evaluated by Roberts and will be released when it is completed.

To volunteer or donate to the Taylor Reading Corps, email or telephone 1-313-769-6730. Anyone interested in the program can also click on the Web site at, or write to the TRC, PO Box 276, Taylor, MI, 48180. The TRC is open during regular business hours Mondays through Fridays in the old U.S. Army recruiting storefront office at 22755 Wick, inside the Sax Pharmacy plaza (Wick Road at Pardee).

To go directly to the TRC volunteer registration page, click here.

TOMMIE SAYLOR: Tough week shows staff has 'the right stuff'

“Adversity is the forge upon which teams are made….”

By Tommie Saylor
Kennedy High School Principal

It is easy to demonstrate good character, be polite, hopeful and positive when things are going well. It’s easy when everything is “going your way.” 

But when times are hard, when the events of the day, week or even the month are making you feel as if a target has been placed on your back, this is when true character is revealed.  

It is not how you behave and what you say when times are good that tells me about who you are, it is what you say and how you behave when time are bad that gives me a glimpse at your true self.  

With this being said, I must commend the entire staff at John F. Kennedy High School for persevering through some hard times this week.  When our communication system went down, a system that we have come to rely on so heavily that in its absence our productivity bottoms out, we continued on without fail.  

To conduct a full orientation (both freshman and the entire student body) on the same day is extreme enough, but to do so without our precious phone and computer Internet access, seemed insurmountable.  
Yet, I heard not a word of complaint, only possible solutions. And work around it we did!  The result was the one-day orientation was a huge success. This success can directly be contributed to those who made the plans, set up the equipment, and manned the tables.

In short, the success was vested in the efforts of those who served (and on a day that the rest of the district had off from work). Many of those who served arrived at the school as early as 6 a.m. and stayed until after 4 p.m. – and then went to the varsity football game at Carlson that did not end until almost 10!

Don’t ever let someone question the commitment the staff of Kennedy High School has for its students.

Remember, their future is in our hands. Making Kennedy the school of choice. Excellence by design.

HOLLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: In Part 2, The Home Depot returns for some more work

After its initial visit to Holland Elementary School to revamp some landscaping outside the building, The Home Depot crew returned to complete some outdoor projects recently.

The store, located on Telegraph Road, has "adopted" Holland for the entire school year as part of a corporate-wide program. To see more about its initial trip to Holland, click here.

The men built a new split-rail fence and the ladies put in some flowers and a bush. They also added more mulch to the flower beds.

Store Manager Rodney Harris visited to see how things were going and to determine how they can help our school in other ways this year.  

"Our staff is so excited by what these awesome friends have done already to make our school look better and can't wait to see what they have in store for us in the future," said Holland Principal Sue Massucci. "Thanks again to the great people at Home Depot."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

HOLLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Site gets a makeover, thanks to the nice folks at Home Depot

Holland Elementary School students and their families will be very excited to be welcomed back to a new school year by some beautiful updated landscaping, thanks to the awesome folks at Home Depot on Telegraph Road.

The store has decided to “adopt” Holland for the entire school year and assist with some cosmetic updates both inside and outside the building.  

The store, with an assist from Masco Corp., replaced overgrown and out of control landscaping two years ago. They decided Holland was a place they enjoyed helping and decided to carry on with more assistance.  

The crew replaced wood on benches, painted signposts and a memorial chair, pulled weeds and overgrown plants, replaced mulch and even yanked out an aging bush.

“They even took our school sign back to their store to repaint it and put a protective coating on it,” said Principal Sue Massucci. ”The staff was in a meeting and could see people in orange shirts arriving and passing by the windows.”

By the end of the meeting, the Home Depot crew had transformed the grounds.  

"We were blown away by their generosity, hard work and energy,” she said. “Our staff walked around and stared in amazement at how beautiful our grounds looked when they were finished."  

They plan to return and finish with some new plants and landscaping items later this week.  

“We can't thank our friends at Home Depot enough for making Holland school look so beautiful for our kids,” Massucci said.

TAYLOR PARKS ELEMENTARY: Photos of staff preparing for new school year

Teachers across the Taylor School District went back to work this week. 

Pictured here is the staff meeting at Taylor Parks Elementary School, where everything from policies and procedures to curriculum and making sure students are getting on the right bus to go home was discussed. According to those who attended, no stone was left unturned in an effort to get the school year started without a hitch next week.

Monday, August 26, 2013

TAYLOR VIRTUAL LEARNING ACADEMY: Staff tells Board of Education of program's successes in News-Herald story

NOTE: Dave Komer of The News-Herald Newspapers recently published a story about the success of the Virtual Learning Academy.

TAYLOR — Taylor School District’s Virtual Learning Academy was designed for those high school students who would be left behind in a traditional setting. At last week’s Board of Education meeting, leaders of the online program presented their results from its first year and are calling it a success.

Twenty-two of 24 seniors graduated using the program, which had 138 students enrolled overall.

Students in the learning academy are given laptops with online connection capability, so they can access their classes at any time.


Those are students who in normal circumstances, would not have been able to earn a diploma at all,” Program Manager Pat Scott said. “We are looking forward to starting our second year.”

Social worker Michelle Cavillo said that by using the holistic approach, the staff knows if the immediate needs of the student are not first addressed, then they are not going to learn and be able to focus.

“When you have kids that are or have been homeless, their parents are on drugs, they’re hungry, or in a domestic violence situation, they are not thinking about school,” Cavillo said. “It is the last thing on their mind.

“Their brain is not in a normal place. They are not thinking about taking a Math test. It’s like, ‘Take a Math test, or eat.’

“Which one would you choose, if you haven’t eaten in three days?”
About 90 percent of the work is done at home, but the program offers a blended element where students come into school’s computer lab and meet with their mentor for one-on-one or small group help, she said.

Mentors not only work with students on their academic needs, but “whatever needs they have as teenagers, are our business,” Scott said, adding each student can work at his or her own pace.

“If you don’t get the assignment on Monday, Tuesday is coming. You can do it then and you don’t fall behind,” she said. “Their program is unique to them.”

High school age students make up most of the program, with some middle school students.

It also consists of expelled students, who would normally be home for a year. Scott said the intent is to get those students ready to go back into school with a “transformed” thought process.

Currently 211 students are enrolled for fall, with the limit set at 300. Scott and her staff are reviewing applications and conducting interviews for the remaining spots.

The interest in the academy has been so strong, that there was a waiting list last year for it and there will likely be another list this year.

Scott called the program the most pleasurable teaching experience of her life.

“I tell my students all the time they have to have a strong foundation,” she said. “Because the storms of life will blow them over if they don’t have one.”

To see the News-Herald’s original story online, which includes photos and video, click here.

TVLA NOTES: Program approved by 100 additional students; student spotlight lets the teens take over; and Jones adds a poem

The Taylor Virtual Learning Academy (TVLA) has been approved for an additional 100 students. TVLA staff is excited to see the TVLA family grow and progress towards earning a high school diploma.

On behalf of all TVLA staff, we welcome new students to an exciting new school year!

Student Spotlight: 
What TVLA Students Have to Say About Their School

Courtney, Age 17

What do you like most about TVLA?
“The mentors are supportive and respectful.”

Where do you see yourself in the future?
“I would like to graduate early and enroll in a university to do something in the medical field, like an ultrasound tech or a radiologist.”

What advice would you give to perspective or current TVLA students?
“Work hard and do your work. Work consistently and you can fly through it.  Education is everything. Never give up and go for what you want.”

Andre, Age 16

What do you like most about TVLA?
“You can learn more and get more done. You can get your credits caught up.”

Where do you see yourself in the future?
“I am interested in doing something in engineering.”

What advice would you give to perspective or current TVLA students?
“If you come more often, you will get more done.”

Frank, Age 18

What do you like most about TVLA?
“There are nice people at school and it’s a quiet and safe place to learn.”

Where do you see yourself in the future?
“Working in welding.”

What advice would you give to perspective or current TVLA students?
“Don’t mess around, get it done!”

Poetry: By TVLA Student Amanni Jones

"The Same Me, New Beginning"

It’s only the beginning now a pathway yet unknown-
At times the sound of others steps, sometimes we walk alone.

The best beginnings of our lives may sometimes end in sorrow,
but even on our darkest days the sun will shine tomorrow.

So we must do our very best whatever life may bring, and
look beyond the winter chill to smell the breath of spring.

Into each life will always come a time to start anew,
a new beginning for each heart as fresh as morning dew.

Although the cares of life are great and heads are bowed so low,
the storms of life will leave behind the wonder of a rainbow.

The years will never take away our chance to start anew,
it’s only the beginning now, so dreams can still come true.

TVLA Notes are compiled by Michelle Calvillo, a school social worker at the TVLA.

KENNEDY HIGH SCHOOL: Expect new procedures in the school this year

Kennedy High School parents and students should note some changes in standard operating procedures under new Principal Tommie Saylor when they report for their first day of school next Tuesday.

Within a handbook Saylor is passing out to teachers today will be found not only many of the same procedures previously implemented at Kennedy, but a few new procedures that have been time tested and well demonstrated to be very effective in other buildings in which Saylor has served.  

Some of these procedures include:

Academic In-School Suspension – If a student is well behind in their assignments, teachers have the authority to send a student to ISS until such time as the work is completed.

Black Board Configuration – A set of BBCs will be posted in every classroom for every class taught.

Student Fines – If a student owes the district money, they will be placed on a “no privilege list.”  Those on this list will not be allowed to attend dances, homecoming, prom, walk during graduation, will be marked ineligible to play in athletic contests, will not be allowed to purchase a parking permit, etc.

Hall Sweeps – Sweeps will be done every hour, every day. Anyone found in the halls after the tardy bell sounds will be assigned into ISS for the remainder of the class period.  

Identification Cards – All students will be required to wear their ID cards on a lanyard around their neck at all times during school hours (exceptions will be made for students in the gym).  Failure to comply will earn the student a trip to ISS.

Parent Contact – All instructors will be highly encouraged to make at least one parent contact per month.  Email, phone calls, letters sent directly home, notes signed by the parents and brought back to the teacher for verification, tweeting and such are all acceptable methods of communication.

Syllabus – Every teacher for every class must provide every student a syllabus. Though the format of this syllabus is up to the instructor, would like to see the most basic items included such as grading procedures, contact information, a general course outline, etc.

The above listed items are not the only new procedures at the high school, but are probably the biggest changes and/or adjustments in operating procedures at Kennedy under Saylor’s direction. More detail will be available over the next few weeks.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

FIRE SAFETY: Decommissioned school buses to be used by Taylor Fire Department

NOTE: Dave Komer wrote the following story that was published this weekend by The News-Herald Newspapers.

TAYLOR — The district has found a new purpose for old, decommissioned school buses.

At its meeting last week, the Board of Education approved donating a bus to the Fire Department to use for rescue drills.

Trustee Norm Stachulski, whose uncle is interim Fire Chief Dan Reynolds, proposed the idea.

“They will take a decommissioned bus and flip it on its side,” he said. “They will practice getting kids out and getting people out of it.”

Reynolds said a number of drills will be performed with the bus, including practicing extracting children by entering through the doors, windows, floor and roof.

“We are proficient with our extraction abilities with standard automobiles, but there are some different risks associated with buses,” Reynolds said. “The size, weight, construction and, most importantly, the occupants — children.”

The bus flipping part of the exercise will allow firefighters to use an air bag lifting technique to practice pulling someone out from underneath.

The exercise is scheduled to happen in the next two weeks at the school district’s bus yard, on Wick Road near Telegraph.

Reynolds said he will be talking with school board President John Reilly to set up a date.

The exercises might stretch over three days, which would give all three shifts a chance to “learn the anatomy” of a bus and take it apart, Reynolds said.

There are plans to make the exercise an annual event and to possibly bring in other area fire departments to participate and practice with the Taylor firefighters.

Stachulski said the idea came about when talking to Reynolds about ways to step up the public safety synergy of the district and the city.

In the past, the Fire Department sent Firefighter Jesse Kriebel to schools in the district to teach about fire safety. That program ended a few years ago due to budget and staffing cutbacks in the department.

Reynolds said he is in discussions revisiting the Fire Department’s response to the district’s schools in the event of not only fires but natural or man-made disasters.

“I have also talked to the police chief about developing a school-based mock disaster,” he said. “This would test the capabilities of the school district, and the police and fire departments.”

To view the original story on The News-Herald Web site, click here.