Kentwood — Superintendent Kevin Polston has moved from Kent County’s smallest district to one of its largest, bringing with him a dedication to equity, educational excellence and the belief that all students should have ample opportunities to succeed.
“Each and every child deserves access to opportunities and resources to fulfill human potential,” said Polston, who began as superintendent of Kentwood Public Schools on July 1, replacing former Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff, who retired after heading the district since 2013. Polston served as Godfrey-Lee Public Schools superintendent since 2017.
Kentwood, the most diverse school in Michigan, has a population representing dozens of ethnicities and languages, while Godfrey-Lee is heavily Hispanic.
“Kentwood is an amazing community,” Polston said. “I loved being at Godfrey-Lee. It has an incredibly supportive community, schools and great staff. It wasn’t the idea of leaving Godfrey-Lee, but it was the opportunity of Kentwood.”
New Leader at the Top
Kevin Polston, superintendent of Kentwood Public Schools
Experience: Polston served as Grand Haven’s Lakeshore Middle School principal from 2011 to 2017 and as assistant principal there for two years before that. He has also worked as a curriculum specialist and social studies teacher in Grand Haven Public Schools.
Education: He received his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies – human resources and secondary social studies education at Michigan State University, and his master’s in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University.
Family: Polston and his wife, Amy, have two children, Sophia, 13, and Max, 10.
‘I hope we can serve as the exemplar, the model for what a truly global mindset looks like in education.’
— Kevin Polston, Kentwood superintendent
Polston, who has worked at a state level on the Student Recovery Advisory Council, believes strongly in equity and opportunities for all. “My personal vision is to change the world. With close to 10,000 students (at KPS), what an opportunity to have greater impact, influence change and amplify my personal vision.”
It’s a big leap in size from Godfrey-Lee, a one-square mile district with about 1,800 students, and Polston said that requires him to lead “from a servant’s heart and really engage in the community you are serving.”
“We have to be more systemic and structural in a larger district. The larger the district the easier it is for the superintendent to be removed from classroom-level happenings,” he said. “You have to make intentional efforts to stay plugged into and connected to students, teachers and families.”
School leaders said they are excited to see the skills and knowledge Polston is bringing to the job.
“He is clearly a strong leader who is decisive and cares deeply about what is best for the students in our district,” said Meadowlawn Elementary Principal Tom Hargis. “That’s what drives his decision-making process. It is early in his time as our district’s superintendent, so I am interested in seeing what new ideas and new directions he wants to take the district in to build upon the success of the previous leadership in Kentwood.”
Added Southwood Elementary Principal Jeff Overkleeft, “One of Kevin’s many strengths that he brings to Kentwood is the connections he has made at the state level,” a reference to his work on the advisory council to help assist schools with their return to in-person learning plans last school year. “The relationships that he has made at the state level is a tremendous benefit for our district.”
Digging Deep to Increase Equity
Increasing equity involves much more than just studying and talking about it, he said, but requires ensuring curriculum and programming are as free from bias as possible. It involves engaging families, community members and community partners and requires prioritizing resource allocation to the greatest need.
“Brilliance is universal and opportunity is not. Kentwood, like every other school district in the state of Michigan, has inequities along racial and economic lines. While we are very proud of our global perspective that we get to bring each and every day, and our kids do amazing, phenomenal things that we truly enjoy celebrating, we have work to do.”
He said former Superintendent Zoerhoff and other administrators and teachers have paved the way in developing a top-notch district for all students. He plans to “stand on the shoulders of the great things that have happened in Kentwood previously.”
“I hope we can serve as the exemplar, the model for what a truly global mindset looks like in education. While not every district has the diversity, linguistics, ethnicity or races we have, what it serves I hope is the example of what we can do when we shift our mindset beyond just our local community and when we look at it from a broader context.”