August 13, 2010

If you said collaboration, timing, commitment, caring, and a desire to see our children succeed you would be describing all the partners who came together to make SPARK happen in Massillon so quickly. The last months have been a whirlwind of activity getting SPARK going for one of our elementary schools. It all started when Dr. John McGrath, President of the Health Foundation of Greater Massillon, approached several people about an idea to bring SPARK to Massillon. He brought Lisa Carmichael, Superintendent of Massillon City Schools (MCS); Marva Kay Jones, Curriculum Director with MCS; Mike Medure, Principal at Franklin Elementary; Kristi Muzi, Preschool Director at Franklin Elementary, Erica Thom, Executive Director of the AHEAD Organization; Robert Rohrer, AHEAD Board Chairman; Dr. Peter Leahy, from the University of Akron; Joni Close, from Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton and several local Foundation representatives all together to discuss SPARK in Massillon. Dr. Peter Leahy was the most convincing with data that was so impressive around the KRA-L scores of SPARK verses non-SPARK children and the statistically significant differences in scores and then the OAT or OAA scores that showed SPARK children still scoring higher on those tests than non-SPARK children. The data really said a lot for the program.

After the meeting, Ms. Carmichael sent an email out to Ms. Thom, Ms. Jones, Mr. Medure and Ms. Muzi and said she was 100% behind making this work and would like to see SPARK at Franklin this coming school year. Within the coming months, Ms. Carmichael and Ms. Thom, with AHEAD, determined that the AHEAD agency was a perfect fit to take the lead on this project and Ms. Carmichael also decided to back the program with a $50,000 commitment from stimulus funds for the first year of the program. What an amazing Superintendent and what thought she always has for all the children in this district! AHEAD has committed to three years for this program initially and is already working on securing funds for the additional years but thanks to the commitment of Massillon City Schools we can begin this school year to work with 25 four-year olds from the Franklin Elementary area. Our Parent Partner, Denise Luchitz, has been hard at work already and it has only been two weeks.

We could not have done any of this without the wonderful support and training we continue to receive from Joni Close, Shana Rozier, Kelly Antoniades and the entire SPARK team. We also have to thank our own Board for the support they gave us in moving so quickly with a new and terrific program! Your encouragement and belief is truly appreciated. And to Mike Medure, a true leader in Principals, your heart is as big as your school and it is a real honor to work with you every day. We look forward to continuing these partnerships and building new ones. We are all very excited to watch these children as they grow, learn and succeed!


Erica B. Thom

Erica B. Thom,
Executive Director, AHEAD Inc.