VALPARAISO | One month into her new job with the Valparaiso Community Schools, Cicely Powell already has touched the hearts of students.
“I’m so upset because I’m a senior and I don’t get to have four years with you,” Valparaiso high school student Analyse Peña told Powell recently.
Powell, 30, is serving in the district’s newly created position of Director of Culture and Student Services.
Originally from Fort Wayne, Powell majored in political science at the University of Indianapolis and earned a master’s degree in social work from IUPUI. She previously worked as a therapist and social worker at schools in Indianapolis.
This past summer, she married Darius Powell, a police officer at Valparaiso University.
“We decided that Valparaiso was the place we wanted to raise our family,” she said.
In her new role with the Valparaiso schools, Powell is focused on supporting students and increasing attendance and graduation numbers.
While Valparaiso has a good track record, there is always room for improvement, she said.
“We just know we’re not at 100 percent (graduation rate),” Powell said. “School climate is what drives good numbers.”
Powell, along with team members Denise Koebcke and Michelle Bush, will be working proactively to close the gaps and prevent any students from slipping through the cracks.
“Our job is to try to provide better opportunities for students and continue to build a safe climate in the district,” Powell said.
Students who don’t feel safe or listened to at school are more likely to have poor attendance or drop out, she said.
Students with certain characteristics are considered more at risk for having a bad school experience.
Some of these characteristics include learning ability, lack of family support, cultural and socioeconomic background, and mental and physical health issues.
“Student background is the highest predictor of student success,” Powell said.
Schools need to support these students because the educational experience “is not one size fits all. It’s about finding different shoes,” she said.
It’s also important for all students to gain more cultural awareness in order to thrive in a diverse world.
“I think we owe it to the students to enhance their experience here,” Powell said.