Though new to Comstock Park’s superintendent position, David Washburn has already been given some very important student instruction.
“I’ve already been coached by a number of students that I have to call as many snow days as we are allowed,” Washburn said. “I’m sure they are only kidding me as they already have demonstrated how much they love school. But student safety, along with making sure all kids have a great learning environment, makes each decision extremely important.”
Washburn has plenty of experience with making decisions that impact a school community. Besides decades of working in area public schools, he grew up in a family of educators, including his father, former Forest Hills Superintendent Michael Washburn.
Steeped in Education
Washburn’s career started as an elementary school teacher with Rockford Public Schools. He was also a coach at Forest Hills Northern High School, and he later accepted a position at Northern Hills Middle to coach and teach in the same district. He went on to be assistant principal at Northern Hills, athletic director/assistant principal at Eastern High, and finally principal at Eastern Middle.
With that background, Washburn brings a wide lens to Comstock Park’s administrative team.
“I have been very fortunate to have worked in a district for the past 20 years that has been extremely successful in building a quality educational program,” Washburn said. “During that time, and before in Rockford, I have been able to experience education at each level: elementary, middle school and high school. I have learned the importance of making sure student learning doesn’t stop from one grade to the next, but transitions the same way individual courses do.”
For the last six years, Washburn has been principal of Goodwillie Environmental School, a fifth/sixth grade building that focuses on instruction through the focus of an environmental curriculum, as well as principal at Eastern Middle.
“I pride myself as a ‘teacher superintendent,’” Washburn said. “Regardless of resources, I don’t believe there is any profession more valuable to our country than our teachers. So often, they get maligned when they are doing such an outstanding job. Whether on the national scene, in Michigan, Kent County or Comstock Park, our teachers need to know their great value and are able to celebrate so many successes.”
A Family Tradition
Washburn credits part of his passion for education to his father, Michael Washburn, who was a superintendent for 27 years, 21 of them as superintendent for Forest Hills Public Schools.
“I learned so much from him; he was a great example of an educator,” Washburn said.
Adding to the family legacy, Washburn’s grandmother was a high school guidance counselor; his mom taught at an alternative high school program in Wyoming; his twin brother is a principal at Thornapple Kellogg; his wife, Kirsten, is a first-grade teacher at Collins Elementary School in Forest Hills; and his mother-in-law was a school secretary.
“I learned so much from the people around me and from the experiences I have had prior to this position,” Washburn said. “Education is in my blood it seems.”
As superintendent, Washburn said his short-term focus is listening, meeting students, staff, parents and community members, and absorbing the district’s culture.
“It is important to me to build trust with the board, staff and community,” he said. “How people are treated is a core value. I’m finding everyone to be welcoming, friendly and caring about education and its importance in Comstock Park.
“Our size is a great advantage — students will never be numbers,” he added. “Each one must have a great experience.”
On a larger scale, Washburn plans to focus on the challenges of financing the district.
“It is important to make sure our resources are spent wisely and efficiently,” Washburn said. “Decisions must center on what’s best for kids. Prioritizing resources to classrooms will make sure our greatest assets, our students, all get a quality education.”
Making those decisions includes ensuring that state and federal legislators understand the district’s challenges.
“While nearly every candidate espouses the importance of quality education, they are faced with so many challenges that education funding can easily drop through the cracks. Part of our mission is to keep parents, our citizens, the business community and all stakeholders up to date on the challenges we face in Comstock Park.”
Because teachers play a key role in addressing district challenges, Washburn wants them to be involved in important decisions.
‘I don’t believe there is any profession more valuable to our country than our teachers.’ — David Washburn, Comstock Park superintendent
“They are the important link when the classroom door closes. I hope to collaborate with our team of administrators, teachers and support staff to make sure all students, regardless of their learning styles, are successful.”
Learning from previous Superintendent Ethan Ebenstein, who was with Comstock Park for 10 years, Washburn said he doesn’t hesitate to call on other area superintendents for advice as he transitions to his new role.
“Each is only a phone call away,” Washburn said. “I’m so lucky to work in an area that is both rich in talent and collaborative, too. While daunting, I’m sure, having six fellow new superintendents makes networking a positive experience as we all learn our new roles.”