McGowan Sees the Future, and it's Children

McGowan Sees the Future, and it's Children

Kyle McGowan
Kyle McGowan -Watch Video Clip

Crete Public Schools enrolled its first non-English speaker in 1989. The student was Vietnamese.

Now, 40 percent of students in the Crete Public Schools are minorities and 99 percent of that group is Hispanic, according to Kyle McGowan, Superintendent of the Crete Public Schools. About 1,700 K-12 students are enrolled in the system, with another 180 children enrolled in the system's preschool. A new middle school was built in 2004, but the growing student population has McGowan thinking about an addition to the building.

Crete Public Schools has built a reputation of excellence in academics and in sports, and now has a growing reputation of serving a diverse community through education and outreach.

The concept of change drives McGowan. "We never assume everything is okay. When you become complacent, that's when you're in trouble," he said. "The world has changed," McGowan said, "and we are changing with it."

In her book In the Middle of Everywhere, Lincoln psychologist and author Mary Pipher says teachers and schools are the cultural brokers for many immigrant and refugee families. That's what's happening in the Crete schools.

Language Learning
English Language Learning (ELL) is an important part of the school curriculum, McGowan said; "we teach Spanish as a world language starting in kindergarten. But we're also teaching English to parents," and the scheduling is oriented toward the shifts employees work at the local Farmland pork slaughtering and manufacturing plant. "The families all want to learn English; they know it's their chance to improve," he said. And Farmland wants long-term employees, so management encourages them to learn English, as well as the cultural practices of the United States. Representatives of the Crete Public Schools go to Farmland every week to provide an orientation session, McGowan said.

"We want to build up trust - that's the central part of a school system. What wouldn't you do as a mom and dad for your children? The concept of being a parent is universal.

Teaching Values, Culture, Trust
Common values are important for us to maintain as a nation, he said, but immigrants can't learn those values unless someone teaches them.

Many immigrant families fled their home countries to escape unspeakable situations - corruption, poverty, violence, relatives who raped. "We want to build up trust - that's the central part of a school system," he said. "What wouldn't you do as a mom and dad for your children? The concept of being a parent is universal."

The system McGowan heads is teaching classes, but also filling other kinds of needs where necessary, bringing people together through outreach and inviting immigrant families to tell their stories. And the system is listening to people. It has instituted a Hispanic Parents' Night, and the system has a board that meets quarterly to "catch all the rumors," he said, and respond accordingly.

The system has hired a bilingual counselor who also serves in outreach and advocacy roles. "The system works, but you have to be able to access it. Osmosis doesn't work," McGowan said. A diversity plan is helping kids succeed in the schools and also understand the culture of Crete.

Effective Communication
"Good schools have good, multiple ways to communicate," McGowan said. "It's not enough to use normal forms of communication," he said. The school system continually works on an informal network to get families of all ethnicities involved in school. McGowan has researched the best ways to reach his changing audience. "If I need to advertise for a bilingual employee, I use the Internet," he said, because he's found it's a more effective way to reach the bilingual audience.

He learns the newest communication technologies, and listens to what young people are using so he knows how to reach them effectively. As with many school systems, he's found that text messaging is among the best ways to reach young people and people of various ethnicities.

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