Laura VanDuyn and her husband, Randy, had long wanted to return from California to their native Michigan and raise their two children here. So when she saw a job posting for a new superintendent in Cedar Springs Public Schools, she said to Randy, “You’re not going to believe this!”
Today VanDuyn can’t believe her good fortune, after having been hired to lead the 3,400-student district beginning July 1. The San Francisco area special-education executive will succeed Ron McDermed, who is retiring from the post he’s held for five years.
“This is truly a dream come true for us,” VanDuyn said after being selected by the Board of Education in a special meeting March 26. “We are just thrilled.”
VanDuyn was chosen over finalist David Cairy, Cedar Springs’ assistant superintendent for administrative services, on a 5-2 vote. They were among five candidates interviewed by the board, which plans to vote on her contract April 14.
VanDuyn’s broad experience, leadership skills, approachability and sense of humor all were factors in her favor, said board President Brook Nichols.
“It was really a gut feeling I had about her,” Nichols said, adding, “I have nothing against Dave. I think he has done a great job. It was not easy.”
After two interviews with VanDuyn and a video conference with her staff and community members, Nichols said she feels VanDuyn will be a good fit for Cedar Springs.
“She strikes me as someone that won’t ever settle. She always wants to improve herself and whatever district and organization she’s a part of.”
Seeking Good Schools, Close-knit Community
VanDuyn is executive director of the Contra Costa Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), which oversees special-education services in 16 school districts serving 10,000 students in the San Francisco Bay area. Her office allocates about $16 million in funding to the districts, provides professional development, helps resolve disputes and supports parents.
She has held the post since 2010 after having served nine years in a variety of administrative positions in California, including elementary school principal. Prior to that she taught elementary school and was a principal in Minnesota.
VanDuyn holds a doctor of education degree in organization and leadership from the University of San Francisco, a master’s in education administration from Minnesota State University and a bachelor’s in education from the University of Nevada.
She grew up in Memphis, Michigan, a small town about 60 miles north of Detroit. Randy grew up in Jenison and, Laura noted with some pride, marched as a Jenison High School drummer in the Cedar Springs Red Flannel Festival parade. For several years they longed to move closer to their families and find the right school for their children, Isadora, 5, and Vance, 2.
“We were seeking out good, solid schools and communities where our kids could thrive. Cedar Springs really offers that,” said Laura, 47.
She plans to focus first on getting to know the schools and surrounding community, and plans on driving around its 110 square miles. “My goal is to be a listener and a learner,” she said.
For now, though, she is preparing to move to her home state as soon as possible. She said she feels “an incredible sense of joy,” adding, “To be in a place like Cedar Springs, I don’t think it gets any better than that.”