GRPS board plans next steps for superintendent search

Results from community input process released

School board members have begun the search for a new superintendent for the 16,300 students of Grand Rapids Public Schools

Grand Rapids Public Schools board members will decide in early January their next steps for hiring a new superintendent, following input from about 900 community members on the qualities they would like in a new schools chief.

GRPS Board of Education members agreed Tuesday, Dec. 18 to consider hiring the Michigan Association of School Boards as search consultants at their Jan. 7, 2019 meeting. The board will then decide at its Jan. 14 work session whether to conduct a national search, focus on an internal candidate or a blend of the two.

The board is aiming to make a decision by April for a successor to Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, who will retire at the end of June after more than seven years of leading GRPS.  Eight current board members, plus incoming members Kimberley Williams and Kimberlie Davis, met Tuesday with leaders of Kent ISD to help strategize the process and hear the results of community input gathered over the past month.

The feedback from those sessions — including town-hall meetings at five schools, an online survey, meetings with staff and students, and more than 30 meetings with community stakeholders — will help inform the board’s decision. But board members still must decide the key question of whether to conduct a national search or focus first on what board member Tony Baker called “a strong internal candidate.”

Both approaches have merits and potential downsides, Baker said, but stressed it’s imperative the community trust the board’s decision.

“We have to make sure our process not only gets the board to make the right decision but that the community supports the decision,” said Baker, head of an ad hoc committee that organized the input process.

The community survey found people lean towards a person who is familiar with the school district, but “It’s not a slam dunk,” said Ron Caniff, superintendent of Kent ISD, who conducted the input process along with Assistant Superintendent Ron Koehler.

In presenting the findings, Caniff said key qualities participants said they want in the next superintendent included:

  • A results-oriented person with a strong track record in an urban school district;
  • Someone who understands and values cultural diversity;
  • A strong team leader;
  • Someone focused on improving equity among students;
  • A collaborator who will work with community partners and build alliances;
  • A person who is visible, personable, approachable and relatable.

Overall, the input process showed a lot of support for GRPS and the gains it has made under Neal, Koehler told the board.

“What we got out of it was a lot of hope for our community,” Koehler said, and “a demonstration of huge commitment by our community to our children and to our schools.”

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Superintendent Search Community Input Report

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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