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Shibler to step down as district superintendent at year’s end

Kent County’s longest-serving district leader announces retirement

Rockford — Michael Shibler, Kent County’s longest-serving superintendent and an educator for more than 50 years, announced his retirement today, June 25, as head of Rockford Public Schools, effective Dec. 31. 

Shibler, who’s led the Rockford district since 1989, said he’d considered retiring last year but felt compelled to continue when the COVID pandemic hit in the early spring of 2020. Now that safe protocols have been implemented and students returned to classrooms, the time is right to step down, he wrote in a letter released this morning to the Board of Education. 

“I have never been more confident in the direction our district is moving and the leaders we have in place to make it happen,” wrote Shibler, one of Michigan’s longest tenured school district leaders. “This makes me feel very comfortable with my decision to retire.

“Rockford has been a huge part of my life and will always be a part of who I am.” 

Reached in his office this morning, Shibler said he’s ready for this change in his life after devoting the majority of it to public education.

Dr. Michael Shibler

“I turn 75 in September, I think it’s about time,” he quipped. “I feel very positive about it. I want to do some traveling not only in the United States but outside the United States as well. I want to spend more time with my loved ones as well.”

Gov. Whitmer’s recent lifting of most COVID safety protocols promises a more normal school year this fall, Shibler said, adding he’ll be involved in crafting the district’s 11th strategic plan before he leaves at year’s end. 

“I will not be a lame-duck superintendent,” he said. “I have always believed in the practice of finishing strong, whatever I do. I will work full-time as superintendent of Rockford Public Schools through Dec. 31.” 

The board is expected to approve his retirement at its Monday, June 28 meeting, and to begin a search process for his successor in January. 

Building a Strong School System 

Besides leading Rockford Public Schools for 32 years, Shibler has been an educator for 53. He’s led the district through a period of dramatic growth and success in its academic, athletic and artistic programs. He was instrumental in resolving a teachers’ strike in 1992 and has presided over five major bond issues, the latest a $185 million package in 2019

He has been a leader among Kent County superintendents through the COVID crisis, closely following safety recommendations from county, state and federal health officials and implementing a virtual school that initially enrolled more than 900 students. 

He’s also been a strong advocate at the state level for increased and more equitable funding for schools. He lauded legislation passed Thursday by the state House of Representatives that provides equal base funding for all students, calling it “a historic budget for schools that will go a long way in helping address the needs of our students.” 

Shibler said today he is proud of what Rockford Public Schools has accomplished in his three decades at the helm. 

“Everybody involved here, from the community through the employees and students, have built a strong school system,” he said. “It has to continue in the philosophy of continuous improvement.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive 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 and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio

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