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‘All students are different, they all need different things’

Meet Your Administrator: Caroline Ernst

GrandvilleCaroline Ernst is the new director of student services for Grandville Public Schools. 

In your own words, what will you be doing in your new position? “My main role is to support students who receive special education services and staff that provide those special ed services. Really, it’s anything and everything under that umbrella: transportation, working with students who get accommodations under 504 (education plans), working closely with our MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) coordinator, overseeing part of our SEL (social emotional learning) coaches’ work in the buildings — those are some of the big parts of my job.”

What previous positions have you held in Grandville? Ernst is kicking off her 22nd year in the district and has spent her entire career here, starting as an English teacher at the high school for 13 years and then at the middle school for another year. For the past seven years, she was an assistant principal at the high school. 

“I’ve never been anyplace else; Grandville is very important to me. We live in Grandville. My kids go to Grandville Public Schools. It’s important to me on many levels.”

‘You should never be distracted from the voice of the student. The more you listen to them, the more they’ll tell you what they need.’

Now that you are supporting students and staff at all grade levels, how will that change your approach to the work you do? “This is not a change in my approach, because there’s always things to learn, but I have to make sure that I’m paying close attention to all the different areas that we support. I’d worked in the high school for such a long time, supporting students and staff and parents of kids who were (ages) 13-18. … Now, it’s really more like (supporting ages) zero to 26; the range is so much broader. I think the change in my work is just stepping back to think about what they might need, and asking a lot of questions, because sometimes I might not know what the student needs, what their family needs or what these staff members need.” 

Ernst, center, with some of the Grandville High School students and administrators she enjoyed working with last year (courtesy)

What are you most excited about in your new position? “I’m really excited to help support a wider range of students in all of their different needs. That’s always been my mission … In that assistant principal role, I did learn that (special education) is a really good fit for me, and something that I am passionate about. All students are different, whether they have a disability or not, so I’ve always approached students with that mindset — they all need different things. I feel like I can make a difference for the people I’m working for, and the attitude of servant leadership really speaks to me.”

What is your top priority or goal? “Seeking understanding from those around me. Going into any new situation, I think you should understand what’s going on first before you try to give people what they need, because you don’t really know what they need. I don’t think I can do a good job supporting until I understand what’s going on.”

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from Grandville students? “You should never be distracted from the voice of the student. The more you listen to them, the more they’ll tell you what they need.” 

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter (covering Cedar Springs, Grandville, Lowell and Rockford), editor, copy editor and social media manager. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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