The way Superintendent David Britten approaches his job is hands-on, vocal and in a way that touches others’ lives. He’s at many athletic and extracurricular events, he’s outspoken about issues that affect students, teachers and classrooms, and he’s known for encouraging every child he meets.
Britten will continue to work hard to improve the lives and education ofstudents while heading the small, low-income district until June 30, 2017, when he plans to retire, he recently announced.
Britten, 61, in his eighth year as superintendent, said his retirement will come after two lengthy careers in education and the military.
“I have as of this year had 42 years of two very stressful careers,” Britten said. He noted that he loves the intellectual part of serving as superintendent and working directly with students, but is tired of dealing with the state government on education issues and budgets.
His Heart is with Students
Britten is a vocal leader in the district and a public-education advocate. He is known for speaking out on many issues that affect education, and for his familiar presence in school buildings, at athletic events and extracurricular activities.
“I don’t know if I’d be retiring if I was still principal at Lee Middle/High School,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy to be derived from being around kids.
“It gets harder and harder to do that in this job,” he added. “As more and more requirements come down from Lansing, and as we have to keep squeezing our budget and cutting administrative costs, I have to take on more roles that keep me from being around kids.”
A graduate of Grand Valley State University, Britten was an Army reservist for eight years starting at age 19. He taught at Muskegon Catholic Central High School for two years before beginning active duty in the U.S. Army, which was his career until he took early retirement in 1995.
After that, Britten served for six years in Wayland Public Schools as an elementary principal. He then served as Lee Middle School principal from 2002 to 2004, which evolved into a combined post as Lee Middle/High School principal until 2008.
Big Shoes to Fill
Godfrey-Lee School Board President Eric Mockerman said the board is in the process of determining how to proceed with a search for a replacement, possibly with help from a search firm or adviser. The board is surveying parents and staff members about what they would like to see in Britten’s successor.
Plans are to post for applicants early next school year, conduct interviews around January and make an offer by spring break. “We really want to have someone coming into place by March or April of next year so we can have a couple months of transition,” Mockerman said.
Mockerman hopes choosing a new leader will be a tough decision. “We have a lot to offer at Godfrey-Lee and I’m hoping we get some really good candidates,” he said.
Britten is leaving “big shoes to fill,” he added. “It’s a tremendous loss. He’s been a tremendous and visionary leader for the district.”
The district is in the first full year of a human-centered design process, which involves exploring ways to revamp education in the district. Britten said he’s confident the process will continue after his departure.
“That was a big push by Dave to change the way we as a district think and go about educating kids,” Mockerman said.
Rebranding Godfrey Lee
Britten has been an active presence in the district, which consists of a majority of Hispanic students, as it has grown from 1,400 to 2,000 students since 2002. It has also experienced a large increase in the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, now at 95 percent, and in those who live in poverty, at 37 percent.
Britten has been at the helm during efforts to beautify the district, equip it with technology on par with more affluent schools and build community support. He also implemented a plan that helped turn high school achievement around after it was designated a Priority School, meaning among the lowest 5 percent in achievement, according to the state’s Top-to Bottom list rankings in 2010. The designation was lifted last year.
“The most rewarding part about being superintendent has been beingable to rebrand this district,” Britten said. “It’s a much more successful district than people thought it was… It had a bad image. Now it’s a place people want to come to.”
Mockerman said Britten’s commitment is remarkable. “He’s been an amazing example of how involved people can be. He is deeply involved in the lives of the kids. He’s at every event going on.
“He lives for the kids. It’s amazing.”