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Business-minded man meets sweetheart, turns to education

Meet Your Administrators: Joe Lienesch and Gerry Verwey

Kent ISD — Joe Lienesch and Gerry Verwey are the new principals at Kent Career Tech Center, and at Kent Innovation High and MySchool@Kent, respectively. SNN gets to know them in this edition of Meet Your Administrators.

Joe Lienesch is excited to celebrate Kent Career Tech Center’s 50th year

Joe Lienesch 

Other positions in education: Lienesch was assistant principal and principal at Caledonia High School, and held other positions in Caledonia such as interim special education director and early childhood center principal, special education teacher and teacher consultant.

Education/degrees: Lienesch grew up in Muskegon and graduated from Mona Shores High School in 1998. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and special education, and a master’s degree in special education administration​​, both from Grand Valley State University, plus certifications in special education and administration.

Jobs outside education: His first job was as a restaurant dishwasher at age 16. He held other jobs in food and hospitality through college and had an internship through Brunswick Corp., as he initially entered college to pursue a degree in business and marketing. Meeting his wife, Lilly, as summer camp counselors in Pentwater turned him toward education.

Family: Wife, Lilly, is a special education teacher at Thornapple Kellogg Schools. Son Haden and daughter Ellery attend Caledonia Community Schools. 

Why the Tech Center is a great fit: “Every clue and indicator I have is that people here are on fire for great outcomes for post-secondary education, and that’s how I feel. When I was in school we didn’t have CTE programs but I took every CAD, metals lab, engineering, wood course that I could, and did a bunch of independent studies. For me it was the intrigue of starting from nothing and identifying a problem to be solved and going through design to implementation. 

“I came (to the Tech Center) when I was a teacher consultant, and every day now I learn about something new about this place that I could have offered to students. I’m excited to tell our story more.”

Joe Lienesch and, from left, son, Haden; wife, Lilly; and daughter, Ellery

Hobbies/interests: Dad stuff, bass fishing, watching his children play sports. He and his wife have participated in the remodeling of their homes and cottage in Hastings. “Just having that confidence that you can do it will take you far, and that was thanks to my experience in high school,” he said. 

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this school?

Lienesch played three sports and was involved in DECA. “I had a great high school experience, so when I got into education and found out that isn’t the experience of every student it was a shock,” he said. “Now I want to give as many students as possible the resources to make it a great experience for them too.”

If you walked into your new school building to theme music, what would that be?

“Count Them All” by JJ Weeks Band

Runner, photographer, ice-skater, science guy   

Gerry Verwey does a wavy guy impersonation for Kent ISD’s opening day video

Gerry Verwey

Other positions in education: Verwey previously taught science at Creative Technology Academy in Cedar Springs, and was a physics facilitator at KIH. At Kent ISD he was a career readiness/STEM consultant and design thinking coordinator.

How about jobs outside education? Verwey first went to work in junior high “dead-heading geraniums in the greenhouse” at a landscaping company. In college he explored a career in natural resources through a job as a park attendant and seasonal park supervisor for Ottawa County. “There’s a lot of transferable skills between what I did then and what I’m doing now,” he said. “Interacting with the public, managing people, working with younger students, trying to teach them employability skills and how to be successful.”

Education/degrees: The 1996 Grand Haven High School graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2002 from GVSU, with minors in health and earth science. He also earned an endorsement in integrated science.

Spouse/children/pets: Wife, Jennifer, was his Biology Lab 112 partner in college. They have two cats, Sam and Mia.

Hobbies/Interests: Verwey is a runner and cross-country and track coach at Grace Christian University. He also enjoys nature photography, hiking, fishing and biking, the latter of which produced a couple scrapes and bruises from a recent trip over the handlebars. He said few people know about his ice-skating skills from having previously been a hockey player.

Snapshot from Gerry Verwey’s high-school graduation

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school? “I was a pretty quiet kid, kind of shy, a good student. Maybe lacked confidence a little bit, but I grew out of that. I was the kind of kid who would say something funny to one other kid, who would then tell it to everyone else. I can relate with these kids now who are kind of quiet too.”

The biggest lesson you have learned from students is… “The first thing that comes to mind is that we never really know what their stories are until we get to know them, once they begin to trust and open up to us. … As a principal that’s one of my biggest challenges because I’m not in the classroom every day; how do I provide those opportunities for students to get to know me so I can get to know them?”

Paused on his Pandora app at the time of this interview: Hootie and the Blowfish radio.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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