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Connecting both ends of the talent pipeline

Kent ISD — Ryan Graham admits he is a connector. He said he enjoys working with students to help them find their career path, and working with businesses to help fill the employment gap.

So when the Kent ISD community and parent liaison position was created, Graham said he thinks his 14 years as an administrator — three as the Kent Career Tech Center principal — and 20 years in education, “led me to this place.”

“Having worked both in middle and high schools along with serving at the Tech Center, I have a unique understanding of what the different needs are and how to connect them to the programs at the Tech Center and the Kent ISD.”

That unique perspective includes the challenges of serving as the Tech Center principal.

“My time was split between promoting and educating schools and families about the programs at the Tech Center and meeting the day-to-day facility needs,” Graham said. “By splitting the community liaison position from the principal position, I am able to focus more on reaching out to the community, while Joe Lienesch (the new Tech Center principal) is able to focus on student needs and administration.”

Kent ISD assistant superintendent Sue Gardner said the reason for the new position was the need for work-based learning to grow and expand for both state and federal compliance. 

The goal is to increase the work-based learning programs by 30% in the first year and then, it is hoped, double it in the second year, which will increase Kent ISD partnerships and interactions with business and industry, Gardner said.

“Ryan has a tremendous ability to build connections and relationships,” Gardner said. “This is so needed with our business and industry partners, parents, students and local districts. We are a service agency, and service is all about relationships. Ryan is a master at it.”

Kent ISD Community and Parent Liaison Ryan Graham stops to chat with some students on break at the Kent Career Tech Center

School to Work

Graham’s new position includes increasing awareness of Kent ISD secondary education programs such as at the Tech Center, Kent Transition Center, Launch U and MySchool@Kent.

This includes visiting middle and high schools when asked, and meeting with school staff and families to educate them about programs offered, Graham said. He can also direct local school administrators to Kent ISD resources in other areas, such as curriculum and finances. 

“We saw the need to increase our work-based learning and it really is so timely right now,” he said. “We need to continue to grow our career and college readiness programs, coordinate with those who want internships and those who have them, and help students and parents be aware of all the options that are available to them.”

Graham has discovered that while staff and families may know of a Tech Center program, such as the certified nursing assistant, they may not realize the center offers a number of opportunities in a given field. For example, along with offering CNA courses, the Tech Center has medical assistant, diagnostics and emergency medical training. 

Gardner noted that there is also a need to streamline a connecting point to career and tech education programs run at the local level. Districts such as East Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming offer CTE programs in construction, architecture and information technology, respectively. Graham will serve as  liaison to those programs, and connect them to resources that can help maintain compliance and funding for CTE programming.

The other part of Graham’s duties is working with local business and industry, helping to build a pipeline to fill the needs of these companies.

“I get phone calls, almost daily, from local businesses looking for help to fill that employee pipeline,” he said. Graham will work to learn what the needs are in a business and then make sure students know what is available. 

Graham pointed to SpartanNash as an example, which has needs beyond food distribution and retail such as IT, facilities management and heating, ventilation and air conditioning services. The Tech Center has programs in all of these fields.

He said a job board for Tech Center students is in the works. 

More recently, Graham said he has added other tasks to his position such as facilitating principal meetings and attending business service meetings such as those at local Chambers of Commerce.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio


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