Community Engagement and Partnerships

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s (WKKF) support of Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS) is an investment in the future of Battle Creek. The success of BCPS and its students is directly tied to the vitality and well-being of the community. Nobody knows better than members of a community what they need to thrive. And when communities drive how problems are defined, how decisions are made and how solutions are created, meaningful and enduring change is possible. With this in mind, BCPS has entered into new partnerships with local organizations and businesses in order to transform education in the district with both the students’ and the community’s long-term needs in mind.

Parent Engagement

Parents are a child’s first teachers and that learning happens inside and outside of the classroom. Throughout the transformation process, BCPS has cultivated strong relationships with families, providing them the tools and resources they need to build supportive learning environments in their homes.

In the first year of the transformation, BCPS created a family advocate position in every building, a person responsible for building relationships with families to increase parent trust, identify family needs and connect them with services and supports. In the third year of the transformation, BCPS leaders decided to expand this family outreach system through Communities in Schools (CIS), a longtime partner of WKKF. The CIS model utilizes school-based site coordinators (many of them former family advocates and parents of BCPS students) who refer families to community resources when they need them so students can focus on learning.

CIS increases access to resources like food assistance, transportation assistance, laundry vouchers, mental health treatment, medical services and dental care to help remove barriers for vulnerable students and improve attendance and academic achievement. During the 2020-21 school year, the importance of this responsibility grew, as CIS supported students and families to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Throughout the year, highly-trained CIS site coordinators supported 226 K–12 students and spent a combined 328 hours distributing meals, devices and hotspots to students and families.

Parent University started in year one of the transformation. Sessions help parents obtain knowledge and skills that empower them to support their children’s success and personal development. Courses are offered throughout Battle Creek to ensure ease of access for BCPS families, regardless of where they live. Previous sessions have focused on helping families utilize remote learning during COVID-19, social-emotional learning, building strong families and healthy relationships, support for English-language learner families and engaging and empowering Black male students in literacy lessons. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Parent University sessions shifted to virtual format and focused mostly on helping parents adjust to remote learning with their students. In the 2021-22 school year, sessions have returned to mostly in person.

The pandemic shut down in-person classrooms in March 2020, requiring a full transition to remote learning. In its immediate response to the shutdown, district leaders prioritized families’ basic needs before focusing on academic supports.

According to state data, 72% of BCPS students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Without access to meals during school closures, these students would be at serious nutritional risk. Within days of the state-mandated shutdown, BCPS implemented a robust food distribution program, providing breakfast and lunches three days a week (each with enough to last until the following pickup day). District leaders intentionally choose pickup sites throughout the city based on where need is most concentrated and deploy a fleet of school buses to distribute meals to each location. Children can pick up food in the company of a non-family adult or older sibling if needed to further remove barriers for families with parents unable to make it to daytime pickups. Meals also are made available to all residents with children — not just those enrolled in BCPS. The free meals program has been a true community effort: For families who can’t get to a pickup site, CIS has helped coordinate meal delivery. In the 2020-21 school year, the community meals program has continued for students engaged in remote learning.

At BCPS, literacy is a key academic focus — and also an important means of building partnerships with families to foster a lifelong love of reading. Each BCPS elementary school offers literacy nights to engage families in the work of building students’ reading and writing skills at home. Literacy nights at BCPS are unique and structured to intentionally showcase student work, engage families through activities at various literacy stations and provide free books and reading tips to support literacy progress at home. Due to the pandemic, literacy nights were virtual during the 2020-21 school year. The new format actually increased family engagement, serving as a good lesson to district leaders on the importance of meeting families where they are.

meals were distributed between March 17 to June 30, 2020 through the COVID-19 Community Meals Program
family members attended literacy nights in 2020-21, an increase from 111 in 2019–20

Community Partnerships for Student Success

Throughout the transformation process, BCPS has learned that broad change requires broad investment from the community. Improving academic outcomes for BCPS students has required community-wide collaboration, to meet the needs of every student inside and outside the classroom.

As remote learning accentuated challenges for ELL students, community partners stepped up to provide support throughout the 2020-21 school year. Voces provided an enrichment program to 22 Spanish-speaking students, five of whom received individual tutoring. Additionally, the Burma Center provided virtual tutoring to 42 students in the fall and 70 students in the winter.

Across Battle Creek, Kindergarten readiness rates have tripled since 2013, due in part to a concerted citywide effort to focus on early childhood care and education. Community organizations across Battle Creek have been working toward systems-level change to set students up for success from birth by sharing data and learnings and implementing a county-wide data system that enables community partners to better reach each child’s family with services and monitor their progression, needs and participation through high school. Opportunities beginning at birth:

○  Well-Baby program
○  Home visiting program
○  Playgroups
○  Expansion of Head Start, including 3-year-olds in addition to 4-year-olds
○  Great Start Readiness Program/Calhoun Intermediate School District and other community partners
○  BCPS Kindergarten Success Program

Community Economic Partnerships

Community engagement is key to sustainable change. Local companies depend on the pipeline of talent coming out of Battle Creek Public Schools, just as families rely on job security and stability in the local economy. With the support of WKKF, BCPS has partnered directly with local government and businesses to help support the economic success of the community at large.

Community input and participation is integral to the Career Academies model adopted at Battle Creek Central High School, in partnership with Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) and Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan’s Heartland. In the year preceding its launch, a working group of 150 community members, including parents, teachers, students, community members, local businesses and WKKF staff members helped shape the model, selecting pathways that match the needs of the community: what jobs are available, where local industries are growing and the biggest needs in the economy and workforce.

In ongoing implementation of the model, business and community partners contribute their understanding of workforce trends and needs, provide hands-on career exploration and learning experiences for students (including job shadows and internships) and co-teach and co-plan teacher externships for cohesiveness of learning material. Community partners, including WKKF staff, stepped up during the pandemic and volunteered 1,031 hours to Career Academies throughout the year to help BCCHS Career Academies foster strong student engagement. Partnerships with local businesses, including WKKF, also help students form relationships with mentors and potential employers, creating opportunities for students to join the community’s workforce when they graduate or return to Battle Creek after additional schooling.

BCPS offers a free education program for adults interested in earning their GED or high school equivalency. The program also offers English as a second language instruction and support with studying for the U.S. citizenship test. Through partnerships with the Battle Creek Family YMCA, Calhoun County Correctional Facility, Community Action, DENSO Manufacturing, Michigan Works! Southwest, Binda Foundation and The Miller Foundation, BCPS also provides access to high school equivalency testing. The adult education program plays a key role in the local community — helping families improve job prospects and work toward economic stability, and helping local employers fill key vacancies. BCPS also works in partnership with local companies who actively refer job applicants to the program so they can earn their high school equivalency in order to qualify for the positions.

One employer partner is DENSO Manufacturing Michigan, Inc., which refers their highly-skilled temporary associates to the program to earn their GEDs so they can become full-time employees. Since the district’s partnership with DENSO began in 2019, 8 adults have earned their GEDs through the program, helping fill key roles at DENSO and support their families with long term full-time employment.

BCPS launched a program in partnership with the City of Battle Creek to encourage teachers and administrators to settle in Battle Creek and invest in the community as homeowners. The program, which is supported by a WKKF grant, provides a down payment or renovation cost assistance to teachers and staff buying or making improvements to a home in a target neighborhood in the BCPS district. In addition, employees are eligible for a rent subsidy for up to a year while they look for a home to purchase. Since the program’s launch, 43 teachers and staff members have taken advantage of these incentives.

(Pictured above) Tyler Gilland, freshman academy principal at BC Central, relocated to Battle Creek. He and his wife used the district’s housing incentive program to purchase their first home.

In May of 2019, WKKF, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and BCPS announced a new partnership to increase regional access to higher education programming, strengthening the economic vigor of the community and ensuring children and families thrive. The partnership aims to expand the path to higher education options in Battle Creek, underscoring the commitment by area leaders to increase jobs and talent, and create a culture of vitality in the city. A five-year, $15.5 million grant from WKKF to GVSU enables the university to partner with BCPS to provide middle and high school students a pathway to high-demand jobs in the health care and education sectors; offers teachers enhanced professional development and mentorship opportunities; and continues to build a pipeline of talented educators in Battle Creek. GVSU has become fully entrenched in Battle Creek, providing services not only to BCPS students and teachers, but also to the whole community. Elements of the partnership include:

Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center: In November of 2019, GVSU opened a Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center, a hub where students and community members can get information and resources on higher education. With walk-in and virtual advising appointments, information and resources on colleges and careers, the outreach center has four staff members who offer classes and one-on-one advising about the college admission process, essay writing, financial aid, interviewing and career exploration. In the 2020-21 school year, 419 students accessed college counseling services here.

GVSU Curriculum Design Partnership: The GVSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Regional Math and Science Center and the College of Education worked hand-in-hand with BC STEM teachers to design the advanced project-based learning curriculum taught in the middle school. The curriculum builds learning into interactive projects and exposes students to potential career paths in math, science and engineering. Ahead of the 2021-22 school year, 11 GVSU professors collaborated to develop curriculum for BC STEM.

GVSU Student-Teacher Pipeline: The 2020–21 school year was the second year of the Early Career Mentoring program through GVSU, which pairs a first-year BCPS teacher with a mentor from GVSU faculty. In addition to weekly meetings between the mentor and mentee, mentees also join a learning community with other first-year teachers, enabling them to problem solve and share best practices. The program has not yet taken place in a fully in-person environment, but interest was so high that it was expanded to include second-year teachers as well. In the 2020-21 school year, nearly half of the GVSU student-teachers were offered teaching positions at BCPS and all accepted. In the 2021–22 school year, BCPS will have 18 GVSU student-teachers, more than ever before.

GVSU Summer Programs for Students: Students in GVSU’s College of Education offer summer education camps for students at BCPS. The two camps include SHAPE, a program giving middle school students engaging, hands-on exposure to health professions like physical therapy, lab science and sports medicine, and STEPS, a hands-on and high-tech engineering camp where seventh grade girls build and fly radio-controlled model airplanes. 78 BCPS students participated in GVSU summer camps in summer 2021.

GVSU Full Scholarship Program: GVSU provides four-year, partial and full scholarships for BCPS high school seniors interested in pursuing education, nursing or health professions at GVSU. Through the partnership, 17 BCCHS students were awarded scholarships to attend GVSU in fall 2021, including six students who received full scholarships.

BCPS received support from GVSU in successfully applying for a state of Michigan Marshall Plan for Talent (MPT) grant, which funds educational initiatives that will help students explore in-demand careers and address the skill gap in Michigan. Together, BCPS and GVSU pulled together a consortium of more than 25 community leaders for the application process, and out of 30 grant applicants, BCPS was one of 13 groups to be awarded the competitive $842,858 grant in June of 2019.

The financial boost from the MPT grant provides a unique academic opportunity for students while meeting the economic needs of the community. For example, the MPT grant helped fund the construction of a new health care simulation lab at BCPS, which opened during the 2020-21 school year as the only facility of its kind in the region. The lab — the result of a planning process that included BCPS, GVSU, WKKF and Kellogg Community College — is a state-approved training site for the certified nurse assistant (CNA) and emergency medical technician (EMT) programs, and contains cutting-edge equipment, technology and supplies. BCPS students above the age of 18 can be fully certified as CNAs or EMTs through the lab while they are in high school, and apply for jobs when they graduate.

Number of students who participated in GVSU's summer education camps

In the second year of the programs, 78 students participated in GVSU’s summer education camps.

Community Health Partnerships

In order to help care for each student’s overall well-being, BCPS works closely with local health providers to ensure students have access to physical and mental health care services both within and outside of the school setting.

More than


high-needs students served by the Bearcat Health team since it was established.

The Bearcat Health Team, established at the beginning of the transformation, is a cross-system collaborative team that meets monthly to discuss and problem solve student and family challenges. Key participants include mental health providers Summit Pointe and STARR Commonwealth, representatives of the juvenile justice system, Battle Creek Police Department, Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Grace Health, Calhoun County Health Department and local charitable and nonprofit partners. Subcommittees include a team that focuses on evaluating students for wraparound services, a team that works with kids with criminal justice system involvement and a team focused on addressing chronic student absenteeism. Since it was established, the Bearcat Health Team has provided wraparound services, including mental health services and in-home interventions, for more than 245 high-need students.

Local health provider Grace Health offers student health centers in middle and high school buildings. Centers are staffed with a nurse practitioner, social worker and support staff. The nurse practitioner can serve as students’ primary care provider or offer supportive care services. Centers offer routine well-child exams with immunizations, school and sports physicals, preventative care, urgent care and behavioral/mental health services. By ensuring kids can get care right at school, the health centers keep students healthy and minimize their need to miss class. Grace Health also offers mobile dentist visits to each elementary and middle school twice a year, and can provide basic six-month checkups and cleanings.

A local mental health facility and care provider, Summit Pointe is a close partner of BCPS that provides in-school counseling, wraparound services and intensive crisis intervention. The district also worked closely with Summit Pointe to create its Trauma-Informed Schools Guidebook that includes documents like intake questionnaires and release forms, and creates a seamless continuum of care between in-school, at-home and professional care services. During COVID-19 school closures in the spring of 2020, BCPS’s partnership with Summit Pointe enabled 51 students to continue receiving mental health support throughout the pandemic, and many more to begin intake processes.


Local companies depend on the pipeline of talent coming out of Battle Creek Public Schools, just as families rely on job security and stability in the local economy. BCPS partners directly with local government and businesses to help support the economic success of the community at large.

Shifting the narrative about BCPS and turning the tide on declining enrollment are key elements of the district’s long-term transformation so significant resources have been invested in communications support for BCPS from the beginning. Fenton, a full-service communications firm specializing in behavior change, strategic communications and training for nonprofit and advocacy cause organizations, and Burrell Communications, a marketing and communications agency specializing in branding and marketing within multicultural communities, helped design and place advertisements for Believe in the Change, a branded campaign to build awareness and support for the BCPS transformation within the Battle Creek community.

They also worked alongside BCPS to craft messaging, build communications infrastructure and increase capacities on the team. Communications is an essential and embedded element of the district’s efforts to increase enrollment, requiring BCPS to improve its reputation and rebuild a positive narrative in the community.

In early 2020 the district launched a mobile-friendly website to improve engagement and access to information among parents and the community. The new streamlined site, complete with a functioning search feature, interactive calendar and newsfeed, replaced an outdated site with poor user experience, where information was often only accessible within a patchwork of PDF documents.

In fall 2018 BCPS hired a full-time communications manager to improve reputation, morale, language access and transparency.

Thanks to communications activities, the district’s reputation within the community continues to improve. According to Burrell Communications’ (Burrell) 2021 BCPS Brand Tracker Survey, 78% of parents who did not send their children to BCPS had the impression that BCPS is changing for the better, an increase from 67% last year. Among the same group of parents, 74% had the impression that the district prepares students for college or career, a significant improvement from 54% last year.(Graphic that charts the survey percentages)

Thanks to communications activities, the district’s reputation within the community continues to improve. The Burrell brand tracker survey found favorability toward the district is high (61%). The brand tracker also found high levels of awareness (74%) of BCPS communications among city parents whose children attend and don’t attend BCPS.

All city parents showed an increase of 11% in favorability toward BCPS from last year’s survey.

  • Community Engagement and Partnerships Intro
  • Parent Engagement
  • Community Economic Partnerships
  • Community Health Partnerships
  • Communications