Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S33)

LESSON LEARNED STEM EDUCATION Linda S. Hicks SUPERINTENDENT Battle Creek Public Schools, Mich. BY ERIK W. ROBELEN “In education, I believe we don’t have a day to spare, so people probably think I’m too hands-on, but it’s the only way I can know what’s happening. ... There is no part of my being that accepts that kids are not performing at high levels.” V eteran educator Linda S. Hicks arrived in 2010 to lead the city school district in Battle Creek, Mich. Capitalizing on its multinational food manufacturers and nearby research and training facilities, she immediately decided to tap the area’s potential as a source of future stem-focused jobs for many of her students. And so she began taking steps to enhance the 5,300-student district’s stem offerings, including revamping an elementary school and a middle school to bring a stem focus. In addition, she launched a districtwide stem education panel to help build a strong and sustained vision for education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “This is the perfect place [for an emphasis on those disciplines], because there are so many future stem opportunities for kids,” says Hicks. Noting the district’s high concentration of students living in poverty—about 75 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—she says: “We have some of the most vulnerable children. [They] need to be inspired. ... Our kids need to see some real potential opportunities for their future.” Nicknamed “Cereal City,” Battle Creek is home to Kellogg Co., maker of such well-known products as Special K, Frosted Flakes, and Eggo waffles, plus a major manufacturing facility for Post Foods, which makes Post Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, and other cereals. In addition, the International Food Training Institute, which trains food-safety officials, is based in the city. And the company Covance recently opened a nutritional-chemistry and food-safety laboratory. Observers describe Hicks—who is 54 and has 30-plus years’ experience in education as a teacher, principal, and superintendent—as a passionate and hands-on leader who is determined to create meaningful opportunities for disadvantaged young people. And she’s seen as quick to seize on and maximize opportunities to promote enhanced stem learning, and also to understand the importance of providing a sustained focus on the issue. “I have been so impressed with her stem commitment,” says Arelis E. Diaz, a program officer with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which is supporting the district’s involvement with a recently launched stem teacher-fellowship program in Michigan. It’s not just her leadership on stem that has impressed Diaz, but the superintendent’s broader vision and determination to help the district’s students overcome disadvantages to succeed in academics and life. “She has a courageous spirit about her that I really admire,” Diaz says. “She basically has a ‘no excuses’ approach, that we have to do what it takes to ensure that all students can learn, and that it can be done in Battle Creek public schools.” One opportunity Hicks seized came when she was approached about having her district take part in a stem teacher-fellowship program. Developed by the Princeton, N.J.-based Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the program recruits individuals with stem expertise to become teachers in those subjects. As part of the process, participants get intensive clinical experience in local schools, where each one is paired with a classroom teacher. Brian Widdis for Education Week Building a Teaching Pool “Linda really understands that this is about developing capacity and talent within her district,” says Audra M. Watson, a program officer for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. “She sees this as an opportunity to not only grow her own strong and high-quality teachers, but also as an opportunity for her own teachers to continue their professional development.” Watson notes that the superintendent was personally involved in selecting teachers to mentor the fellows, and also spent time in professional-development meetings with those teachers to “make sure she had a sense of what was happening, to make sure she set the vision.” Another priority for Hicks has been the new stem focus at an elementary and a middle school. The elementary school initiated the change in the 2011-12 academic year, while LEADERS TO LEARN FROM > EDUCATION WEEK • February 6, 2013 | S33

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report

Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report
Dropout Reduction
English-Learner Education
School Turnarounds
Rural Enrollment
Special Education
District-Union Partnership
Parent Engagement
School Climate
College Readiness
Digital Access
Social Networking
Student Discipline
Smart Growth
Stem Education

Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report