Superintendent Thomas Reeder knows how to direct students toward success: remove barriers. He has taken it upon himself to clear pathways, whether it be to get a student to college or teach them to read.
“I’ve tried to implement things to give every kid a shot,” he said. “I feel this huge desire to give back to the community to remove barriers, whatever those are,” said Reeder, who retires June 30 after nine years at the helm of the district.
“When I speak about removing barriers, it is about challenging and ensuring equity and inclusion for all students and families,” he said.
From removing pay-to-play fees for athletics to starting the Wyoming Middle College dual enrollment program so students can earn a tuition-free associate’s degree in high school, Reeder has kept his eye on giving students opportunities they need to thrive. He was instrumental in a region-wide effort to boost reading proficiency and was the grant-writer who made a city-wide after-school program possible.
“Everything in Wyoming for me feels so personal,” said Reeder, from his office in the Wyoming Public Schools Administration Building, just a a street away from the house where he grew up. “I can’t imagine doing anything other than coming here. Our kids are so good…I will miss it tremendously and when good things happen I will watch from the sidelines and cheer.”
Current Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Services Craig Hoekstra will replace Reeder as superintendent July 1. “You have your time and your window. For me, my window has come to an end,” Reeder said. “New leadership, able to to take us to a better place than I could, is necessary. I think Craig will do a wonderful job and has the skill set to do that.”
Reeder led the district through a time of change, including difficult financial years when he and the Board of Education made tough – though ultimately successful – decisions. He led the consolidation of schools, including:
- merging Wyoming Rogers and Wyoming Park high schools into Wyoming High School
- consolidating seven elementary schools into four, and two junior highs into one.
- adding Wyoming Intermediate School, a fifth- and sixth-grade building, at the former Jackson Park Junior High
- adding early-education centers at two of the former elementary schools
- closing two alternative education high schools
Blending the maroon of Wyoming Rogers’ colors and the blue of Wyoming Park’s colors, Reeder helped create a unifying mascot, the purple Wyoming Wolves. And he worked tirelessly to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population of students.
Reeder spent 27 years as a Wyoming educator. He graduated from Wyoming Park High School in 1981 and received his bachelor’s degree at Aquinas College, his master’s at Grand Valley State University and his doctorate at Eastern Michigan University. After starting his career as a math teacher in Mason County Central Schools, he returned to Wyoming for a job as a math consultant in 1991. He went on to become the director of instruction and then assistant superintendent in 2002 until he became superintendent in 2009.
“I have wonderful memories of this community. I didn’t see a reason to ever work anywhere else,” he said. “I enjoy the people I work with; they are wonderful, dedicated staff. I love the community. I love the people.”
Board of Education Trustee Mary Vandewater said Reeder’s heart has always been in Wyoming.
“I’m sure everyone will tell you that Dr. Reeder will be known for being the one to combine our high schools, uniting our community. They will also say he’s the one who finally found a way to pass our bond. He’s a genius in math. He’s incredibly frugal and incredibly generous. I’ve worked with Tom for 17 years. (I knew him before his mustache turned gray). The first thing that impressed me about Tom was his deep love of his family. You can see it in his eyes whenever he talks about them. He also has great love and compassion for the children in our district and the struggles they face,” said Board of Education Secretary Mary Vandewater.
“Through the years I’ve known him to make decisions by asking, ‘What will this do for the kids?’ We could count on Tom to be completely honest and to always do the ‘right thing’ Even when it’s not the popular thing to do. I hope he enjoys retirement and all the great things it will bring, but I’ll miss him.”
Ready to Build
One of Reeder’s major goals was to put the district on solid financial footing. While his tenure included several years of budget-cutting, he is optimistic that Wyoming has weathered the storm. “Now we can start building again instead of surviving and reacting,” he said.
With the successful passage of a $79.7 million bond issue last November, following two failed proposals in 2013, Reeder is ready to watch the district transform through investment. Administrators are designing a major renovation of Wyoming High School, with ground-breaking in spring of 2019. District-wide renovations will continue through 2024-2025.
“I feel very blessed that the community supported the bond, the county millage, and the sinking fund. Those three (sources) put us in excellent shape moving forward to take older facilities and do some really good things for our students and staff.”
Reeder considered the 4,200 students who now call themselves Wolves and reflected on the united district. Not only did consolidating schools allow for the addition and growth of programs like FIRST Robotics, Science Olympiad and many clubs, it brought together a family of students and staff, he said. The district enrolls a diverse population of students, representing many countries and languages.
“Our students embrace each other well enough that they are excellent role models for adults,” he said. “They don’t need all those other barriers that adults put in like religion and race and economic status.”
He’s seen the district’s demographics shift over the years and face the reality of a changing economy for blue-collar workers. In 1991, 8 percent of students qualified for free and reduced priced lunches, compared to more than 80 percent today. The number of English-language learners has increased from 25 to about 1,000.
But he always believed in embracing needed change, and said his staff always put children and families first. “I have seen staff, no matter their positions, step in to help parents and kids who have challenges at home, to assure our kids have the best chance they can get.”
Oriole Park Principal Jennifer Slanger said she has seen Reeder’s love for Wyoming families many times. “Dr. Reeder is one of the most passionate leaders I know. In the 15 years I have worked with him, he continually puts our students first and advocates for what is best for them. He has led out district through challenging situations and, it’s my opinion, we are better for the challenges we encounter,” she said.
“A few examples that come to mind,” Slanger continued: “the consolidation of our high schools; handling the untimely death of students; and persevering through failed bond attempts. All of these situations have worked to bring our district together; that would not be possible without his support and guidance. He is a man that genuinely cares for the staff, students, and families of Wyoming.”
Pathways to Success
Despite closing buildings, Reeder created new opportunities to help shape the lives of students after high school. The Wyoming Middle College allows students to receive associate’s degrees by taking GRCC courses beginning in 10th grade, with a fifth year as a high school student on the GRCC campus. Some students double the courses up with Advanced Placement classes. “We’ve had kids who have left our school with 70 some credits and they have no bill,” he said.
One of the final programs he’s launching is a certification program for commercial construction and manufacturing/welding with GRCC to potentially start next winter at the Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC Center.
Reeder has also worked to remove the barrier of low-reading proficiency in all of West Michigan. He was instrumental in the development of Reading Now Network, a collaborative effort in 20 counties to implement best literacy practices across West Michigan. The goal is to boost proficiency to a minimum of 80 percent of third graders through shared data and knowledge. “Certain things in school we should never compete about. We can raise the bar for every kid,” he said.
He also wrote the 21st Century grant application 15 years ago to secure funding for the after-school program TEAM 21, meeting the educational and recreational needs for hundreds of students each school year.
Reeder plans to spend more time with his wife, Maggie Reeder, a retired Byron Center High School teacher, his four children and eight grandchildren, plus focus a little on some other goals. “I want to lose 50 pounds, read 50 books and do 50 things for my community,” he said. He said he has heard many “thank you’s” since announcing his retirement. “No one owes me a thank you, it is I who owes all of them thank you’s…for helping me, supporting me, and challenging me in developing our children to become their very best, academically and so much more.”
While he’s leaving the main office, one can guess Reeder will remain a Wolf on many levels.
“You can not think of Dr. Reeder without the word ‘passion’ attached. The district and our families within are his heartbeat,” said Board of Education Treasurer Lisa Manley, commenting that he approached changes, successes and defeats with passion and compassion. “He lived here; he went to school here; he taught here; he led here. No matter the sacrifice, there was always dedication, loyalty and endless hours of behind-the-scenes work. When I think of Wyoming, I think of Tom Reeder.”