When Kelly Souten was preparing to teach Advanced Placement calculus, Grandville Public Schools Superintendent Ron Caniff directed the class’ retiring teacher to work with Stouten every day for a whole year, ensuring a smooth transition.
“The students really benefited from her experience through me. It was really great,” Stouten said, noting that the retiring teacher had 30 years of history with the course’s content and test.
That’s the kind of thing Grandville staff, Board of Education members and parents noted about Caniff, who resigned in June after 12 years as superintendent to accept the job as Kent ISD superintendent. Former colleagues said his steadfast commitment to the staff and students contributed in countless ways to the district’s rock-solid culture and high student achievement.
“I really feel like he does things in the best interest of students,” Stouten said.
That sentiment was evident throughout the district, from classroom to administrative office, as Caniff finished up his work as superintendent in Grandville.
“The culture is pretty much his culture,” said Debbie Ghent, administrative assistant. “He set the bar very high in terms of integrity and treating each other like you want to be treated, respecting our students and our parents.”
Caniff sees it a bit differently.
“Grandville’s always had such a wonderful culture, since before I got here, and it will, I’m sure, for long after I leave. This is a special community. The people care about their children here.
“My job was to keep the train on the track and maintain that,” he said.
Broadening His Reach
Caniff started working as superintendent for Kent ISD in July, replacing retired Superintendent Kevin Konarska.
“It’s such an incredible organization and opportunity at the ISD. It’s not something I would have imagined or coveted. The ISD has the opportunity to have such an impact on a bigger level,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to help shape and have an indirect impact on education and the direction we are taking as a county. That’s exciting.”
Caniff now works with 20 local superintendents on the goals of improving kindergarten readiness, third-grade literacy, eighth-grade math proficiency and college and career readiness. Community organizations and businesses have invested in the same goals, he said.
“There is a tremendous amount of effort and work involved in those goals,” Caniff said. “The needs of our districts are very different; the demographics of student populations are very different and unique; the challenges they are confronting are different.”
Through relationship building, collaboration and providing programs with what they need, the benefits are collective. “It’s directing those resources to make the most difference,” he said.
A Bittersweet Farewell
“I’m so excited over this next chapter for my career. The Kent ISD is a great organization with great people, but when you spend 12 years at a place its hard to say goodbye.”
For Caniff, it’s always been more than a job.
“The highlights, for me, without question, are the people,” he said. “I’ve been so blessed to have so many wonderful people I’ve gotten to know and work with. It’s a wonderful community.”
Prior to his time in Grandville, Caniff was superintendent of Lapeer Community Schools. He has also served as assistant superintendent at Northview Public Schools; principal at Forest Hills Central High School; assistant principal at both Forest Hills Central and Northern; and a social studies teacher and coach at Forest Hills Central.
A Northview High School graduate, he earned his bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University, his masters’ in education from Grand Valley State University and education specialist degree at Central Michigan University.
Robots, Legos and AP
Caniff reflected on Grandville’s success during his superintendent tenure including expanding Advanced Placement classes at Grandville High School, and the growth of the robotics program. Hundreds of students are involved in FIRST Robotics and its feeder programs, VEX Robotics and Lego Leagues. The district operates its own separate facility, where many a competitive robot is invented.
“The robotics is so vibrant and thriving and so many kids are involved, Yes, it’s about STEM, but more than that, it’s great to see these kids find their niche and this is where they excel.”
The high school offers 15 Advanced Placement classes, last school year administering over 800 tests, of which 84 students scored high enough to earn college credit.
Caniff said he is also proud that the district is prepared for more growth and investment. In 2013, voters approved a $72.5 million bond proposal for facility improvements, improved safety, technology including providing devices to every student and transportation serving the 5,657 students in its nine schools.
“It isn’t the brick and mortar,” he said. “It’s what that represents. It’s the community’s support for our children.”
Perfecting the People Business
Communication was always a major priority with everyone involved at Grandville Public Schools, he said.
“Education is a people business and we can never lose sight of that. It’s about the people, and most importantly, it’s about the kids.”
Hudsonville Public Schools Superintendent Nick Ceglarek said Caniff has been a “blessing for Grandville” because of his collaboration style and leadership.
“In Grandville or Kent ISD, he will lead with a servant’s heart,” Ceglarek said.