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Interim Cedar Springs chief’s top priority: smooth transition for district

Looking forward not back

Mark Dobias, who stepped in this week as interim superintendent for Cedar Springs Public Schools, is clear on what his role should be.

“My job here is to help this district and everyone in it to have an exceptional end of school year and a good start to the 2018-2019 academic year,” Dobias said.

“There is so much to celebrate at the end of a school year: graduations, students transitioning to new classes, staff members that have in some case given decades of their lives to the district and deserve to be recognized.”

Dobias was appointed to lead the 3,500-student district following the March 26 resignation of former superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn. The board hired Michigan Leadership Institute to head up the search for the new superintendent.

Dobias’ primary focus is on the future of the district, and he sees his role as providing “support for transition between now and when a new superintendent is appointed by the board.”

As for helping the community as well as district leaders heal from the divisions highlighted in the push to oust VanDuyn, he said, “I would be glad to speak to that if I had the answers. I suspect it will take a lot of listening and a lot of understanding to make things better for some.”

He noted that he “came with no preconceived notions,” and said he doesn’t “have a desire to know or find out what happened.”

“I am here to help with whatever I can — to roll up my sleeves and be willing to figure out what needs to be done,” Dobias said. “I will be trying to find out what is important to the people involved, help handle distrust and help them get to a place to move forward.”

High praise for district

The former superintendent of the Allegan Area Educational Service Agency, Dobias came out of retirement to accept the interim post. He sees a lot of positive in Cedar Springs despite the controversies leading to VanDuyn’s resignation.

“I believe that the district is moving in the right direction,” Dobias said. “It is a remarkable district with many amazing things happening.”

After spending his first day with the district touring and meeting administrators, he pointed to some of the highlights.

“There is an amazing commitment to early childhood education, evidenced by all the programs they have in place,” he said.

He recalled a visit to Cedar Springs Middle School when he was a principal in the Fennville district. He was impressed then and is again now.

“It was good to see them still using the unusual model they have in place that allows teachers to work so closely together and gives students so much support.”

Also impressed by high school offerings, he pointed out one highlight. “I see that they still have shop classes, which so many schools do not, and we know how much they are needed today.

“After only a day and a half on the job,” Dobias said Tuesday, “I can truthfully say that I would be proud to send my children here.”

Interim superintendent takes time to meet with one of the district’s administrators

Active After Retirement

Dobias retired from his position as superintendent of the Allegan Area ESA in September, 2016. He previously served as a special education teacher, a principal and superintendent of Fennville Public Schools.

He lives in Holland just down the road from the state park with his wife, Patti, who serves as director of instruction for Holland Public Schools. He has two grown daughters, one who is employed with Head Start and the other with Priority Health. One of his favorite pastimes is walking his dog to and along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Calling education the most noble of all professions, he has remained active in the field since his official retirement by serving as a consultant and on several search committees.

Becoming an educator was a natural choice for him.

“For me growing up as youngest of six, it was always expected that I would go to college. I guess I just backed into the field of education naturally.”

Being asked to head up the Cedar Springs district is special, he said. ““I am flattered to be asked to come back to a K-12, and humbled that somebody thought that I could do the job.”

Much to Do

Referring to himself as a “student learning what needs to be done” in Cedar Springs, he is ready to get to work. “I take my appointment to this position very seriously,” he told district parents in a memo, asking them for support and open communication.

“Successfully educating students cannot be done in isolation. It is essential that parents, staff, and community members all collaborate to give our students the greatest chance to succeed.”

While the school year is coming to a close, he said there are still “decisions that will need to be made — such as budget concerns, whether or not to fill positions from which staff retires, programming.”

He pointed to a “good staff” already in place, and said that he will rely heavily on them for support as he tackles what needs to be done.

Dobias also points to help from Kent ISD as a positive.

“I have such great support from an outstanding organization with tremendous resources,” Dobias said. “I am confident that they will be a great help as I work with staff here to figure out what’s next for Cedar Springs.”


Cedar Springs Public Schools

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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