Leadriane Roby said she is excited to lead a school district that has done “phenomenal” work around building community partnerships, expanding opportunities for young people and increasing achievement and graduation rates.
The Grand Rapids Board of Education voted Monday night to offer Roby the position of superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools. She readily accepted and expects to work out a contract soon, she said.
“I feel very blessed. I feel thankful,” Roby said Tuesday morning. “I am so very excited, and I’m humbled that the community and the school board showed a vote of confidence in me. I’m ready to get to work.”
The board voted 7-2 to select Roby, assistant superintendent of Richfield Public Schools in suburban Minneapolis. If hired, she will take over from interim Superintendent Ronald Gorman and succeed Teresa Weatherall Neal, who retired in June after seven years as superintendent.
Roby was chosen over Erick D. Pruitt, deputy chief of high schools for Chicago Public Schools, and Darrin Slade, assistant superintendent of school leadership for Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri. Those finalists were narrowed from five candidates the school board initially interviewed after 39 applied for the position.
The dissenting votes were cast by board Treasurer Kimberley Williams and trustee Raynard Ross, who favored Slade. Trustee Jose Flores also initially pushed for Slade, but cast his vote for Roby to show broad support from the board. All board members said they will support Roby, however.
“A 7-2 vote does not mean it’s a split board, by any stretch,” Ross said. “I am not at all disappointed that our next superintendent is going to be Dr. Roby.”
Difficult Choice for Board
Board President Kristian Grant called it a difficult choice among “three really amazing candidates,” but said she feels Roby was the best choice.
She cited Roby’s clear understanding of issues the board has wrestled with, such as English-language learners and special education. Grant also pointed to Roby’s roots as a teacher and her extensive experience working with teachers. Those are key in a district that must be focused on “culture and classroom,” including equity, investing in literacy and closing the achievement gap, Grant said.
“The last time we took a vote and decided to not move forward with any of the candidates, that of course was not a good feeling,” Grant said, referring to the board’s decision last spring to reopen the search after not being satisfied with their candidates. “Tonight we walk away knowing there is a lot more work to be done but we’re headed in the right direction, and I believe we have a superintendent we’re excited about.”
Dr. Leadriane Roby
• Assistant superintendent, Richfield Public Schools, Minnesota, 2014-current
• Assistant associate superintendent, Minneapolis Public Schools, 2013-14
• PreK-8 principal, Minneapolis Public Schools, 2010-14
• PreK-5 principal, Covert Public Schools, Michigan, 2006-10
• Grades 6-12 principal, Covert Public Schools, 2001-06
• Ph.D. in K-12 education leadership, research and technology, Western Michigan University, 2012
• Master’s degree in education administration, Saint Mary’s of Minnesota, 1998
• Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, University of Minnesota, 1993
• Family: husband Steven; daughter Tayler, 32, and sons Julian, 26, and Cedric, 22
The board received “a huge amount of feedback” from the public in surveys, e-mails and phone calls, and heard broad support for Roby, Grant said. Roby said she has a good impression of the community as well, following visits to schools last week and meetings with the public, staff and students, along with the other two finalists.
Roby, 52, said she was impressed with the high degree of energy people felt about their schools, which have seen gains in graduation rates and educational innovations despite the formidable problems of a largely low-income district.
“People are engaged,” Roby said after one of the forums. “When you have a community that is engaged, students can’t help but achieve. Your community supports this district. It’s evident as I’ve talked to people.
“I’d like to continue to build upon that good work and then take it to the next level.”
Building Relationships Key
Roby – her first name is pronounced Lee-dree-in – started out as a Minneapolis Public Schools teacher and has an extensive background in educational administration. She has worked in Minneapolis in several roles including principal, coordinator of teacher development and assistant associate superintendent. She also worked for several years as a principal in Covert Public Schools, south of South Haven.
She’s worked the past six years in Richfield Public Schools, a district of 4,400 students south of Minneapolis. About 70 percent are students of color, and 65 percent receive free or reduced lunch. She oversees teaching and learning, community education and support for students’ emotional and social needs.
The fact GRPS has more than 15,000 students doesn’t concern her, she said, noting she worked in Minneapolis which enrolled some 37,000.
“Whether the system is large or small, you have to have relationships with people and have collaboration with people around the work,” she said Tuesday. “Good work transcends the size of the district.”
She said she will prioritize building upon the district’s Transformation Plan, an ambitious effort Neal led to close some schools while opening or remaking others with innovative themes. Saying she wants to consult stakeholders and study the district’s history, she called Grand Rapids “a great community” that has shown commitment to building partnerships with the schools.
“I’m not recreating the wheel,” Roby said, adding she wants to “take the lessons learned” from the plan so far and use that to guide moving the district forward.
She said she looks forward to immersing herself in the community and finding out “the things that make Grand Rapids so special.”
“It’s like my 10-year-old self on my birthday,” she said of her selection. “Oh, this is just the very best!”