By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Former Dearborn Public Schools Supt. and State Board of Education Supt. Brian Whiston died at the age of 56 on May 7 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
The news of Whiston’s health struggles were made public during a State Board of Education meeting in January and in March he announced he was taking a medical leave.
Whiston’s long-term disability medical leave began on May 4. He served three years as the state superintendent after he was appointed following former State Supt. Mike Flanagan retirement.
Michigan Department of Education Chief Deputy Supt. Sheila Alles has been serving in an acting role following Whiston’s death.
Whiston, a Waterford native, graduated from Waterford Kettering High School in 1980 and from Wayne State University where he received a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
He served on the Waterford Board of Education from 1991 to 2008. Whiston also served as the director of Government and Community Services for Oakland Schools, the Oakland County intermediate school district for 11 years.
In 2008, Whiston became DPS superintendent for eight years where he developed award-winning programs for students, passing a $70 million bond proposal for infrastructure needs and creating the Collegiate Academy at all three high schools.
“While at Dearborn, Whiston’s collaborative model led to a primary focus on math, reading, and writing in the elementary grades to raise student achievement and provide an environment for students in grades six through 12 that kept pace with technology, prepared them for a post-secondary education or training, and met the state’s graduation requirements,” a Michigan Department of Education press release read. “Whiston worked to offer students a variety of options at the secondary level to break down the barriers of a typical high school classroom.”
The Michigan Association of School Administrators awarded Whiston Superintendent of the Year in 2014 for his work in Dearborn.
The legacy Whiston leaves behind was remembered by his peers both at the state level and local level in Dearborn.
“Brian was a great son, husband, father and grandfather and I am very fortunate to have been able to call him my friend,” DPS Supt. Glenn Maleyko said. “Professionally he was a mentor but it was the times I was able to spend with him outside of work that I will always treasure and will miss. His genuine kindness and friendly personality is what truly made him a popular figure in the district. His actions were not for show, rather they always came from the heart.”
DPS will remember Whiston with a moment of silence along with sharing a few photos of his time in Dearborn during a Board of Education meeting on May 14. To honor Whiston, the board and cabinet will wear blue shirts at the meeting as Whiston did so many times over his career.
Gov. Rick Snyder released a statement regarding Whiston’s death, saying he will miss working with Whiston.
“It is with a heavy heart that I learned the news of the passing of State Superintendent Brian Whiston,” Snyder said. “Brian’s dedication and work on behalf of all Michigan students and teachers was exemplary. He was an outstanding partner who understood that, just as teachers work every day to challenge their students to do better, we all need to challenge ourselves to do better for students. The partnerships to help struggling districts, his work to help implement the Marshall Plan for Talent, his Top 10 in 10 program, and many other initiatives he undertook during his career will be part of Brian’s longstanding efforts to make Michigan a national leader in education.”
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor also paid his respects, remembering Whiston’s smile and respectfulness after he met him while working for state Sen. Gary Peters.
“We became fast friends. When I ran for office, he always supported me,” Schor said. “First for County Commission, then for the House, then for mayor. When he was up for state superintendent of education, I emphatically supported his candidacy and was thrilled when he was appointed. It was so great to work with him on behalf of the children of Michigan, and he was making great progress. The state has lost a fierce advocate for our kids, and I have lost a good friend. I offer my condolences to the Whiston family. Rest in peace, Brian. And thanks for all that you have done for our children here in Michigan.”
Visitation for Whiston will be Wednesday and Thursday from 2 to 8 p.m at the Riverside Chapel, Simpson-Modetz Funeral Home, 5630 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford.
Visitation will continue at St. Perpetua Church, 134 Airport Road in Waterford, at noon May 11 until the funeral mass at 1 p.m.
Memorials can be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, the Waterford Foundation for Public Education or to the Dearborn Foundation.
Whiston leaves his wife, Beth, in addition to three children, five grandchildren, and he was preceded in death by two children.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])