Excellence in Education

To alleviate the racial disparities in outcomes for students, and to realize the vision of “every Bearcat graduating career, college and community-ready,” Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS) is making intensive investments in academic achievement programming for students and professional development, engagement and retention efforts for teachers.

The district’s kindergarten readiness rate has more than tripled over the past seven years, from 15.5% in 2013-2014 to 50% in 2020-21

Focus on Early Education

Recognizing improved curricula and practices provide the biggest gains when students experience them starting early in their education, the transformation of BCPS includes significant support for the youngest students. Investments include new programming, curriculum and resources to improve kindergarten readiness, early literacy, intervention support and character education. Overall, the district realizes the strongest gains from these students. BCPS has made significant investments in early learning and literacy, and data reflects that the benefits of these investments remain with children as they progress through the grades.

Kindergarten Success Program (KSP) is a free BCPS summer program for students entering kindergarten that began in 2017. The program is designed to help address racial and socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement and college and career readiness. Superintendent Carter described the program as an early intervention — a way to ensure that by the time today’s kindergarteners graduate from high school they are ready to succeed in careers, college and their community.

KSP helps children build core readiness skills like color identification, number and letter recognition and fine motor skills, which are proven to help students make the most of learning in kindergarten and beyond. After taking a pause due to COVID in 2020, starting in the summer of 2021, the program began to offer multiple sessions to accommodate more families. Families could either attend one three week session or two, for six weeks total, to create more flexibility. The program runs mid-June through late July, and provides free transportation, breakfast and lunch, school supplies and full-day, play-based learning and enrichment for students entering kindergarten in the fall. Since the program began, KSP has achieved greater enrollment numbers each year and has led to lasting improvements in academic achievement as well as attendance for participating students as they enter kindergarten and move up through elementary school.

140 students signed up for KSP in the summer of 2021, the most in the program’s history.

At BCPS, literacy is a key focus. The district has invested in individualized instruction to ensure that every K-2 classroom includes a literacy tutor in addition to the classroom teacher. BCPS uses an approach called disciplinary literacy, which means that literacy is taught across all content areas, through every subject, at all grade levels. This is a key tactic for catch-up growth in middle and high school, since younger students have benefited more from the early interventions that began as part of the transformation.

BCPS actively engages families in their literacy programming and aims to foster a lifelong love of reading among students, hosting family literacy nights, sending books home with students and continually growing classroom libraries.

All BCPS kindergarten classrooms have a student-adult ratio of 12:1 or smaller, and the district tracks every student’s progress using benchmarks to measure growth and to identify early students who are struggling. The district now has 37 literacy tutors and six literacy specialists, and is providing all K–5 teachers with Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training, a research-based approach to the science of teaching reading.

During summer 2020, the district mailed 24,300 books to students in pre-K through 12th grade to ensure students had access to books to read during the pandemic.

In the 2020-21 school year, BCPS also purchased 22,568 books to continue growing elementary classroom libraries.

DIBELS COMPOSITE SCORES FOR KSP vs. NON-KSP STUDENTS

In fall 2019 for the third consecutive year, students who attended KSP scored higher DIBELS (a composite score estimate for reading proficiency) than their counterparts.

STUDENTS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE READING BUDDIES PROGRAM

Data from October 2019 to January 2020 demonstrates that 68% of students who participated weekly in the reading buddies program achieved growth.

New Schools and Programs

The launch of new programs and partnerships during the 2018-19 school year marked visible, tangible progress in the transformation. Proactive and intensive communications efforts helped build confidence in the transformation during the early stages, but the biggest shifts in public perception were achieved after the launch of three highly visible and easily explained programs: the opening of Fremont International Academy (Fremont), the opening of Battle Creek STEM Innovation Center (BC STEM), and the implementation of Career Academies at Battle Creek Central High School (BCCHS). At the same time, the district realizes that its largest remaining area of growth is its middle schools. With that in mind, BCPS is making a concerted effort to further transform the middle school experience, by making significant changes at Northwestern Middle School (Northwestern) and Springfield Middle School (Springfield).

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of 82 new Fremont students
were new to the district in 2021

More than

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new students brought into the district by new schools and programs and propelled partnerships with nearly 60 local businesses

BC STEM was launched in 2019 as a standout addition to the district because of its project-based learning curriculum and investment in top technology. The curriculum marries learning with interactive projects. The immersive STEM-focused education at the school aims to prepare students for fast-growing career opportunities in the STEM field, as well as help them become creative thinkers. The curriculum, co-designed by experts at Grand Valley State University, applies the engineering design process to lessons across multiple subject areas, helping students engage in research, evaluation, prototyping and testing that carries a consistent topic through all units of study. For example, in the unit on bridges, in English classes, students looked at how writers built bridges between people, and focused on building empathy for each other and for people of different races. In science classes, students looked at the force and motion of bridges, and modeled bridges as structures, which they pitched to “Shark Tank”- style judges from the community.

In 2019, BCPS reopened Fremont Elementary School as Fremont International Academy, an academically rigorous magnet school currently serving students in grades K-4 (expanding to fifth grade next year). The school’s curriculum and design are based on the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme model, for which the school is in the process of becoming officially certified. At Fremont, all students receive Spanish language instruction and the student experience is focused on experiential learning, problem-solving skills and global ideas that help students build curiosity and expand their horizons. Fremont Elementary School had closed in 2016, along with another school because of budget shortfalls caused by declining enrollment. The closure of Fremont was a major setback to the district given its well-loved reputation and longstanding history in the district. The reopening of the beautiful and historic building, along with the school’s ability to offer special magnet programming, has been a major boon to the district, as well as the community’s perception of and belief in the success of the transformation.

Launched in 2018 at Battle Creek Central High School with the class of 2022, the career academies model created small learning communities within the high school where all students are part of an academy and receive instruction that is tailored to their interests while developing the skills they need to excel in school, the workforce and beyond. By reimagining the high school experience, BCPS aimed to encourage students to engage more deeply with their learning and form meaningful relationships with their teachers as well as set out on a path toward success after graduation.

The career academies model includes Freshman Academy in grade nine to ease the transition into high school. At the conclusion of ninth grade, students declare a career-focused pathway and begin interest-based and experiential learning in their sophomore year. The pathways program was created in partnership with Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL), a national expert in school career preparedness and student engagement that worked with the Battle Creek community to shape the model and offerings according to the needs of its people and economy: what jobs are available, where industries are growing and the biggest needs in the economy and workforce. In 2019 Battle Creek became only the second designated Ford NGL community in the state of Michigan.

In late 2020 BCCHS opened a healthcare simulation lab, with cutting-edge equipment, technology and supplies such as hospital beds, stretchers, tables, lifts and “practice patients” in the form of high-fidelity medical dummies. Health career pathways students over the age of 18 can gain full Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification through the pathways program.

“The kids love BC STEM. Students with special learning or language needs who can feel left out of traditional settings particularly shine.”

Jamesia Nordman, BC STEM teacher

Teacher Retention and Professional Support

Personalized, caring relationships with teachers are proven to increase student performance. Yet, BCPS, like districts nationally, struggle with teacher retention. To recruit and retain the best teachers in the region, BCPS has partnered with the city and other entities to offer incentives that draw teachers to the district and keep them here. Data reflects that these hiring and retention efforts are reducing teacher turnover.

Number of Teachers Who Have Resigned from BCPS from 2017-2020

“All of the financial incentives have motivated me to stay. Money isn’t everything, but I have to support my daughter. If all of these little incentives weren’t there, I can’t guarantee that I would have left my previous job to come to BCPS.”

Lena Oliver, Fremont International Academy teacher
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BCPS teachers participated in GVSU professional development programs in 2019-2020
0 %
of teachers who attended TTI sessions reported learning and changing their teaching practices
0 %
of teachers reported that financial incentives factor into their decisions to stay in the district

Superintendent Carter believes that enticing teachers and staff to stay with the district by offering paid professional supports will not only help reduce teacher turnover, but also help strengthen the district’s teaching practices and boost academic achievement. As such, BCPS introduced the TTI in the first year of the transformation, which allows teachers to participate in seven paid “institutes” that cover different areas of interest, each with eight professional development sessions. Topics include data-informed practices, literacy support, early warning systems and more. In the program’s fourth year, BCPS offered 132 TTI sessions and nearly 70% of teachers attended at least one session, with participating teachers attending an average of eight sessions each. Among teachers who participated, 67% reported changing their teaching practices as a result.

Early in the transformation process, BCPS recognized that the district and the entire community must continue to invest in and retain public school teachers, while also attracting more talent to Battle Creek to meet educational hiring needs.

In a major milestone for the district, BCPS launched its partnership with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in 2019. One of the major components of the partnership helps teachers to enhance their teaching and classroom management techniques to boost students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Through this partnership, GVSU’s College of Education offers professional development opportunities to BCPS teachers through new teacher mentoring, leadership development and various programs to support curriculum development and instructional practices.

Additionally, BCPS hosts GVSU College of Education student-teachers to help young educators get a strong start in the district. 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.

In 2020-21, teachers felt they had more supports than previous years to properly teach ELL students, but there’s still room for growth. In 2020–21, 56% of teachers said their school had a clearly defined plan for providing instruction to ELL students, an increase from 34% in 2018. Similarly, 43% of teachers said they had adequate curriculum and instruction materials to address the needs of their ELL students, compared with 25% in 2018. Additionally, 42% of teachers said they had received adequate training on effective instructional practices for ELL students, an increase from 37% last year.

At the start of the transformation in 2016–17, the average annual teacher salary in BCPS was about $48,000, less than what colleagues earned in neighboring school districts and across the state. Declining enrollment led to reduced funding and stagnated teacher raises and led to pay freezes. BCPS could not compete with neighboring districts, meaning it wasn’t able to recruit or retain the educators it needed.

The historic three-year Battle Creek Education Association (BCEA) contract approved in June 2019 helped shift this dynamic. As the transformation continued, BCPS was able to offset key expenses using grant dollars, freeing up budget in the general fund to help improve compensation. After extensive negotiations with BCEA, the approved contract with teachers guarantees annual compensation increases for the first time in more than 15 years. The contract includes the reinstatement of “step” salary increases for all teachers during each of the three years, and two additional “makeup” step increases over the course of the agreement for teachers who missed step increases in the past due to pay freezes.

This contract not only helps improve retention, but also helps BCPS attract new, top-tier teaching talent and compete with neighboring districts.

Recognizing teacher turnover can make or break a district, BCPS worked creatively and aggressively to market itself to new teachers, and to retain its current staff for years to come. Prior to the historic BCEA contract, the district offered numerous incentives to offset their inability to support raises across the board. For example, the district offers a housing incentive, in partnership with the city of Battle Creek, supported by a grant from WKKF, that includes matching funds on down payments or remodeling to entice teachers and staff to not only settle in Battle Creek, but also to help ensure they can contribute to revitalizing the community beyond their role as teachers.

Since the housing incentive program’s launch, 43 teachers and staff have used it to purchase homes, rent, or make renovations.

In addition to the housing incentive, BCPS offers performance bonuses, retention bonuses as a reward for teachers who stay in the district, stipidents for teachers working in Michigan Department of Education-identified priority schools, tuition reimbursements for board-approved coursework, and attendance incentives for those with 0-3 days of absence within a contract year.

  • Excellence in Education Intro
  • Focus on Early Childhood
  • New Schools and Programs
  • Teacher Retention and Professional Support