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A familiar face returns to lead Kent ISD

Kent ISD – Ron Koehler had just a few months to settle into retirement and consulting, when he got a call from the Kent ISD School Board asking if he would serve as the interim superintendent.

Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff had announced he would be retiring at the end of December 2020. Because of the growth of Kent ISD over the past eight years, the board decided the next superintendent needed a strong understanding of the internal workings of an intermediate school district. 

“It was important to the board to have someone very knowledgeable about ‘how it all works,’ as the interim superintendent has to keep moving this institution forward, even while we search for a new superintendent,” said Kent ISD School Board President Andrea Haidle. “We cannot afford to take a ‘gap’ period of time during this transition. The board felt Ron would be able to do this.”

According to Haidle, Koehler was selected because of his knowledge and experience of all aspects of Kent ISD, both internally and externally during his 24 years there, as well as his work across the state with the School Finance Research Collaborative, which has allowed Koehler to become even more familiar with ‘the big picture’ of public education in Michigan.

The board also wanted someone in the interim role who was retired as they hoped that would encourage a larger pool of applicants to apply for the position. 

“I love Kent ISD, its mission, its staff, the work it does with students and the community,” Koehler said. “With the prospect of a totally new superintendent coming in July 2021, I felt it would be comforting for staff, for our member districts and our community partners to have a familiar face in that position during the superintendent search.”

Three of Ron Koehler’s grandsons enjoyed the balloons at Grandpa’s retirement party

Koehler and Kent ISD

Koehler, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in public affairs from the University of Illinois-Springfield, started his professional career in journalism. He served as Grand Rapids bureau chief for the international news agency United Press International. He also worked for former Governor James Blanchard’s office in the communications department and at one time, owned an ad agency.

Koehler’s career in education started in the 1990s as a consultant with Grand Rapids Public Schools. While there, he provided assistance with government and community relations. 

He joined Kent ISD as the director of communications in 1996. He was tasked with creating the ISD’s first communication department while serving as a consultant to area superintendents and liaison to the greater community. This department, which today is a five-member team, provides communication assistance and marketing to all of the ISD initiatives, departments and the schools (such as Kent Career Tech Center) Kent ISD operates. 

In 2010, under retired Kent ISD Superintendent Mike Weiler, Koehler was named assistant superintendent of Organizational and Community Initiatives and Legislative Affairs. He is the past president of the National School Public Relations Association, and was awarded one of its top honors, the Barry Gaskins Mentor Legacy Award in 2018. He also served as president of the state-level organization, Michigan School Public Relations Association. 

His work and leadership resulted in many innovative initiatives for the schools and community. This includes School News Network, where he continues as an advisor, along with Kent School Services Network, Kent Innovation High School, and MySchool@Kent.

He also led and expanded work with policy-makers across the state on behalf of education, leading to the West Michigan Talent Triangle, a joint effort of Muskegon, Ottawa and Kent ISDs advocating for schools. 

Koehler has been a leader on a number of key education issues. He served on the steering committee for Launch Michigan, an alliance of leaders from Michigan’s education, business, labor, civic, and philanthropic sectors, focused on improving K-12 education outcomes. Koehler also helped lead a campaign to pass a countywide enhancement millage in 2017. This millage raises about $20 million annually for Kent ISD’s 20 districts, helping shore up district budgets for classroom and other needs.

He retired from his assistant superintendent position in the summer of 2019, consulting with state education organizations and superintendents before returning to Kent ISD this week as its interim superintendent.

“The departure of a long-serving superintendent and the prospect of a new leader unknown to the organization can lead to some degree of uncertainty among staff,” Koehler said. “I hope to provide stability and the support necessary to ensure every teacher, every support staff member, every administrator and every department achieve their goals and position themselves in the best light when a new superintendent takes the helm.”

He added that during this transition period, he also would like to work with the Kent Intermediate Superintendents’ Association to identify and address issues important to the local superintendents.

Koehler lives in the Grand Rapids area with his wife, Jeanne. The couple have two sons, Wynn and Alex, both of whom attended Rockford Public Schools, and five grandchildren ranging in ages from 8 years to six months, the youngest being their first granddaughter, Ryan.

The Superintendent Search Continues

The Kent ISD School Board is currently conducting a national search for Kent ISD’s next superintendent and is working with the Michigan Association of School Boards on the process.

“It is going to be an intense next few months, but the Board is committed to finding that individual who will be the best fit for all the work that Kent ISD will be doing in future years,” Haidle said.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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