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New interim superintendent aims to build a culture of ‘we’

Meet Your Administrator: Joel Stoner

Sparta — A familiar face has taken over as interim superintendent following Pete Bush’s retirement on Aug. 12.

Joel Stoner, previously Sparta’s assistant superintendent, was named to the interim post for one year. He has worked in the district since 2000.

“It’s been 23 great years. It’s a great community,” Stoner said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, honestly, to lead the organization that you love, that you want to do so well for because you just have such personal relationships – the staff, the community, kids. 

“It’s a great honor to be given the chance to lead an amazing staff and a great community that loves their school system and cares for its success. The partnership is really exciting to be a part of.”

Stoner likes to go by the motto “We will,” stressing that school success is strictly a team effort.

“It’s the collection of efforts that makes the school become amazing,” he said. “We do that. I’m nothing without them. ’We’ is so much more powerful and beneficial than ‘me.’ We can flourish when there is a ‘we.’”

Read on to learn more about Sparta’s new interim superintendent: 

Other positions you have held in education: 

  • Fourth-grade teacher at Gull Lake
  • Elementary science specialist, Grandville
  • Assistant principal at Ridgeview Elementary in Sparta (supported Central Elementary as well)
  • Principal, Sparta Middle School
  • Director of human resources-personnel and early childhood, Sparta
  • Assistant Superintendent, Sparta

How about jobs outside education? Stoner worked as a bagger in high school and started college as a pre-law student, but a job at the local YMCA helped steer him toward education. He worked in before- and after-school child care and in summer camps. “I fell in love with the work with kids,” he said. “It changed the course of my life, that work. I would never do it differently.”

Education/degrees: Bachelor’s degree in education, Western Michigan University; master’s degree in Educational Leadership, Grand Valley State University

Spouse/children: He and his wife, Nicole, married for 20 years, have three children.

‘’We’ is so much more powerful and beneficial than ‘me.’ We can flourish when there is a ‘we.’’

– interim Superintendent Joel Stoner

Hobbies/Interests/little-known talent: “My hobbies are work and my family and my faith. I’m the father of three busy kids. I try to invest as much of my opportunity and time into my job. I love to work. I love to give to this craft that’s an honorable career. So, you don’t want to shortchange it, because too many kids are impacted if you don’t give it everything. So, my hobby is trying to find balance (as father, husband, educator).”

When he does find time, he likes to work in his yard, mainly growing perennials. “My wife loves fresh-cut flowers, so all summer I’m able to walk in with a bouquet of flowers without going to the market – I take great joy in that.” He added that it’s rewarding to see the fruits (or flowers) of his labor.

The biggest lesson you have learned from students: “They teach us every day about resilience. They teach us every day that life is going to provide challenge and you have an opportunity every day to face that challenge, learn from it and overcome it. So they’re the ones teaching us as well. They build resilience and grit within you, and honestly, there’s nothing more rewarding than being successful in that relationship with them and (having them) just teaching you love every day.” 

Stoner said that “kids give you an opportunity to love. You (love) with sincerity and integrity and not feign it. They’ll know when you’re feigning love.” 

He also said persistence, learning from where you failed and being honest when you fail are important. “Kids humble you,” he said. “Kids grow you.”

If I could go back to school, I would go to grade ? because… “I’d love to do my freshman year over again. More so, I wouldn’t worry about the world. I wouldn’t worry about people’s perceptions of me. I would have been more comfortable in my own skin. I would’ve loved to have just been who Joel really needed to be versus who Joel thought they wanted him to be. I would love to go redo that. I didn’t feel that sense of comfort, but now that I know, I would love to go back and apply what I know.”

If you walked into a school building to theme music by a favorite artist or band, what would it be? Stoner said he loves all genres of music and that music brings peace and comfort. His favorite band? Pearl Jam.

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Jane Lally
Jane Lally is a reporter covering Sparta. Recently retired after working in state government and other areas, she found her way back to the journalism field again. She graduated from Central Michigan University and spent most of her career in writing, editing, graphic design/print production and broadcast closed captioning. She has written for The Grand Rapids Press, The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant/Alma, MacDonald Publications in Ithaca, Leader Publications in Niles and The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph. She strongly believes in the importance of public schools as they bring communities together and make them stronger. She is happy to be able to tell the stories of Sparta schools.

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