A community’s greatest asset is its children — to achieve equity, all children must have the opportunity to thrive. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in its founder’s hometown based on that premise. As Mr. Kellogg put it, he wanted the foundation “to help children everywhere face the future more confidently.” In 2017, a New York University study commissioned by BCVision, a Battle Creek community engagement initiative, found that in Battle Creek, we had an equity issue.
The study unearthed significant inequitable access to opportunities and outcomes at BCPS, which compared to the city’s other three public school districts, had higher needs and fewer resources. BCPS became a clear case study of how Michigan’s schools of choice policies (which allow students to enroll in districts other than the ones they’re zoned for) and a legacy of racial segregation work together to severely disadvantage students of color. BCPS has more children living in poverty concentrated in its classrooms, exacerbating achievement gaps among Battle Creek students.
The study’s data became the motivation for a groundbreaking partnership with Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS). The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) made a five-year, $51 million grant in 2017 to the district to transform BCPS, prepare its students for success and share lessons with other communities. The partnership today is focused on three keys to transformation: Racial Equity, Community Engagement and Partnerships, and Excellence in Education.
Five years into the transformation, changes are coming to fruition, BCPS students have more opportunities to embark on bright futures filled with possibilities. New schools and programs are providing educational experiences tailored to student interests; educators and administrators are centering racial equity; communication with families has dramatically improved; and community partnerships are enhancing students’ opportunities and well-being. Although COVID-19 undeniably presented unanticipated obstacles to progress, changes made early in the transformation mitigated many of the pandemic’s consequences. The excitement about the progress at BCPS is countering long-standing negative narratives and drawing back families who previously choiced out of the district, beginning to reverse the trend of enrollment decline. With 675 more students enrolled in 2021-22 than originally projected — a 21% increase over pre-transformation projections — BCPS was able to bring in roughly $6 million more in state funding than expected.
This site shares learnings and achievements from the BCPS transformation. The BCPS journey can inform equity-driven educational transformation nationwide. Explore this site for details, data and background on achievements, opportunities and lessons learned thus far, including the firsthand experiences and insights of students, parents, teachers, community partners and leaders in the district, city and foundation.
At the heart of the transformation of BCPS is racial equity. Racial equity is an aspirational pursuit insisting that all people, regardless of their racial/ethnic group identification, skin color or physical traits, will have equal opportunity to experience well-being, and that their skin color will not determine how they are treated or their life outcomes. Racial equity guides all aspects of the work of this transformation, including curriculum, partnerships, family engagement and school culture. To advance equity, the district has implemented new training protocols, school climate and discipline policies and evaluation processes, and adopted trauma-informed practices to create an environment that sees every student by name, need and strength.
When communities drive how problems are defined, how decisions are made and how solutions are created, long-term change is possible. We also know that the success of BCPS and its students is inextricably connected to the economic and general well-being of the city. The pandemic showed us more clearly than ever the critical importance of partnership between BCPS and the community, when organizations mobilized to provide academic, social, emotional and financial resources to students and families during this unprecedented challenge. The work of transforming BCPS — before, during, and emerging from the pandemic — has been a collaborative effort across Battle Creek, leveraging the best of the city and all its people.
To address racial disparities in student achievement, and to realize the vision of “every Bearcat graduating career, college and community-ready,” WKKF’s grant has supported intensive investments in academic achievement programming for students and professional development, engagement and retention efforts for teachers.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused deep disruptions to education at BCPS and other school districts across the nation, but BCPS averted the most dire predictions of severe learning loss because of the transformation efforts.