Kent City — Mike Weiler, a longtime leader in the Kent County educational community, passed away last week after battling an incurable blood cancer for over a decade. He was 72.
Weiler had a long and distinguished career in public education. Beginning as a teacher at Newaygo High School, he went on to serve as a superintendent in Hart, and as superintendent of Sparta Area Schools from 1987 to 1999. He then led Kent ISD as superintendent from 2001 to 2006. After a brief retirement, he served as superintendent of Kent City Schools from 2011 until retiring for good in 2022.
He is remembered by colleagues as a trusting leader who valued relationships and put kids first.
“People are feeling the weight of losing such a gifted leader and extraordinary person,” said Kent City Elementary School Principal Pam Thomas on the Kent City community’s reaction to his passing.
Weiler made significant contributions to the places he worked. Over his tenure as Kent ISD superintendent, he broke down the silos between various divisions within the agency and helped create a more seamless web of services, according to Ron Koehler, the current superintendent.
He led the staff to work together in ways they never had before, Koehler said.
“In many ways, Weiler forged the Kent ISD we know today,” wrote Koehler in a note to staff about his passing.
Won Crucial Millage Votes
As a leader, Weiler focused on improving student outcomes while seeking staff and community input.
Not long after becoming Kent ISD superintendent, Weiler championed a millage that would increase the formula for special education funding, according to Koehler. Originally, there wasn’t as much support for the increase among voters as ISD officials had hoped, so Weiler worked to address the community’s other priorities, like reducing truancy, Koehler said. In doing so, he demonstrated the agency’s responsiveness to community interests. The special education millage passed in 2004.
“He was committed to making that happen and he united our community behind it,” Koehler said. “It was a great demonstration of leadership.”
Weiler’s work on behalf of all schools in Kent ISD earned the respect of his colleagues in other districts, including retired Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler. In an online obituary post, Shibler wrote of Weiler, “his influence as an advocate for public education was unmatched, and will always serve as a standard for leadership in public education.”
‘It’s about the people. Relationships matter. And always keep the kids at the forefront.’— Principal Pam Thomas, on what she learned from Mike Weiler
During his time at Kent City Community Schools, Weiler led efforts to revamp the district’s infrastructure, according to current Superintendent Bill Crane. In 2019, Weiler helped gain the trust of Kent City voters, who approved a $21.9 million bond proposal that allowed for improvements like updated science labs at the high school and HVAC work around the district.
“Our district got a facelift thanks to him,” said Thomas.
Leading with Empathy and Trust
In addition to making practical improvements to infrastructure and organizational structure, Weiler left a positive impact on the people he worked with.
“He took such good care of all the employees in our district,” said Thomas, who worked with Weiler for 12 years.
She recalled that when her father passed away, Weiler assured her that he was not concerned with how many days of work she missed, but that she took the time she needed to be with her family. “I felt so supported, cared for and valued.”
Weiler helped to change the culture of the Kent City district, so that each employee felt that they mattered and played an important role in students’ lives. While he was always available to give guidance, he never micromanaged others, according to Crane. “He would allow his leadership team to do what was needed,” he said.
Thomas echoed Crane’s sentiments, noting that Weiler fostered a culture of trust between staff and administrators. She summed up the leadership lessons she learned from him: “It’s about the people. Relationships matter. And always keep the kids at the forefront.
“His impact on our district will remain forever.”