Joseph Trommater is the new leader at S.P.A.R.K.S., Students Participating in Academics and Recreation for Knowledge and Success, a program of the Clare-Gladwin Regional Educational Service District. He's been involved with the program for years and watched it significantly increase graduation rates and connect children and their families to opportunities for learning and personal enrichment.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
S.P.A.R.K.S. Project Director Joseph Trommater
: The main thing it means is giving people a chance to do what they do best and giving them the flexibility and guidance to do it right. Some of it comes out of Dale Carnegie training, which I took a few years back. Basically, part of that is learning to listen. To put it bluntly it's keeping my mouth shut and my ears open. You want to get to know the people you work for and getting to know them helps you understand what they do best. If you don't listen you won't know what they do best. A good example of that is starting every one of our weekly meetings by sharing something ...in high school you see them put their money where their mouth is and choose what they want to do with their lives, with their high school career, their college career, their future.
about ourselves that no else knows. We learned that one staffer has a background in sewing industrial upholstery. That may be useful in our program, in the after-school programs that we offer. Also, sometimes, it's a matter of making sure you take the time to talk with them.
What is your dream for kids?
Oh, so big. It’s one of those things, you want everything for them, but the biggest dream is to have them want it for themselves. It becomes really evident in the upper grades, especially when the kids have more choices about what they want to do in school. In the younger grades it's more about shifts and behaviors in attitude that show you they want to do better, but in high school you see them put their money where their mouth is and choose what they want to do with their lives, with their high school career, their college career, their future. You see it in the success stories like students who are way behind on the graduation credits and they make the choice to work harder. They not only are caught up on their graduation credits, but they're half way through an associate's degree.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
The easiest one to say and the hardest one to do would have to be some continuity. We need to keep things on an even keel, rather than starting something, changing it, doing away with it, starting something new. Keeping continuity really hasn’t been done in a long, long time.
How do you know you’re making progress?
The easiest way is with data. We have a very good evaluator we use. We get our data back on our students and we can compare them to the rest of the school and the rest of the population and see if we’re having an impact. If we’re not, we can As budgets are getting tightened and raided and shifted around in the name of things like flexibility, these programs could just disappear and be replaced by programs that haven’t been proven successful.
dig down to make program changes and make sure that happens.
What are you most proud of?
It’s those individual success stories and being able to share stories about students who had a complete turnaround or are passing after being more than a year behind – or the sheer number of students that graduate. Last year, 25 percent more students graduated because of our credit recovery program. Twenty-five percent! That’s just floored me.
What keeps you awake at night?
Oh, four kids under six, a pair of them two-year-olds. No, work related what keeps me awake at night is the constant threat of these programs going away at the stroke of a pen at the federal level. As budgets are getting tightened and raided and shifted around in the name of things like flexibility, these programs could just disappear and be replaced by programs that haven’t been proven successful.