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New School Chief Aims to ‘Build Trust and Relationships’

Polston Identifies with Immigrant Student Experience


Superintendent Kevin Polston is greeting people in the neighborhoods, school and local businesses. He’s talking to students, letting them see he wants to know each of them, what they like to do, what grade they are in.

Reaching out is key, he said, in keeping momentum going forward in the district, which has experienced successes and growth in recent years.

Meet Kevin Polston
Superintendent, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

Family: Lives in Grand Haven with his wife, Amy, and their children, Sophia, 9, and Max, 6.

Experience: Lakeshore Middle School principal in Grand Haven Area Public Schools since 2011, and assistant principal for two years before that. He has also worked as a curriculum specialist and social studies teacher in Grand Haven.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies–human resources and secondary social studies education from Michigan State University; master’s degree in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University.

“I want people to get to know me and build trust and relationships,” said Polston, who started as superintendent July 1. “I don’t take the responsibility lightly of parents trusting us with their children for the better part of their day. That’s an honor and responsibility that I take seriously: to be good stewards of that time, resource and trust that parents give us.”

Polston, 39, the youngest superintendent in Kent County’s 20 traditional districts, takes the reins from David Brittenwho retired from the post after nine years.

Staff members said they look forward to the vigor and fresh insight Polston can bring to the job. His purpose as an educator complements doing just that.

“My mission in education was to change the world,” Polston said. “The people that came before me made great sacrifices so I can have opportunity. I take that responsibility as,’How can I provide those opportunities as a school leader for our students, here?’

“One of our responsibilities is to provide a better future for our youth, and there’s no better vehicle to deliver that than through education.”

Identifying with Newcomer Experience

Polston shares with many Godfrey-Lee studentsthe experience of being raised in an immigrant family. Polston’s mother, Elizabeth Polston, immigrated from Palestine as a child. The family was proud of their culture, which was ingrained in his upbringing.

“Arab Americans are very familial. It’s a very close-knit community,” he said, relating it to the largely Hispanic Godfrey-Lee community. “There’s a lot of parallels with the Latino and Hispanic community and the community I grew up in.”

He remembers realizing as a ninth-grader, while attending a primarily Caucasian school near Lansing, that people wondered about his background. Friends would ask, “What are you?” when inquiring about his ethnicity. “It was really people trying to get to know me but they didn’t have the words to ask.”

Still, over time, he became aware of perceptions and double standards when it comes to different ethnic groups. “You soak up all those things. They are either implied or explicit; regardless, they have an impact on you.

“The brain has this desire to categorize and compartmentalize information and we have to actively work to disrupt our natural reaction to things. That’s where education comes in. That’s where relationships come in.”

Superintendent Kevin Polston takes a look at senior Adriana Sanchez’s schedule

Seeking ‘Something More’

Polston said he was very happy as a middle school principal in Grand Haven, but always sought “something more.” He was executive director of an after-school program that served low-income students. He also chaired a committee focused on diversity. “When you look at the places where I had a choice to spend my time, it was with populations that are similar to the populations here,” he noted.

He’s already caught on to the family atmosphere in Godfrey-Lee.

“The school staff is so committed here. They care deeply about their students, and they work tirelessly to deliver the best instruction possible. It’s more than instruction, it’s the best possible education.”

Staff members said they are embracing possibilities.

“We are excited to see a new face in that position, though we’ll miss (Britten),” said Tom DeGennaro, a high school social studies teacher. “We look forward to new ideas and a different energy level. Change can be exciting.”

Said Brett Lambert, Lee High-Middle dean of students, “The room is full of positive energy and we’re ready to roll.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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