By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — The Crestwood School District started the search for a new superintendent after former Supt. Laurine VanValkenburg retired, according to a letter from the district on July 25.
Crestwood Director of Curriculum & Instruction Richard Klee will serve as interim superintendent during the three-month search process, while also holding his current position.
“I would like to thank retiring Supt. Dr. Laurine VanValkenburg for her 15 years of service to the school district as assistant superintendent and then superintendent,” the letter from Klee read. “I look forward in continuing to serve the district in any capacity and to a productive school year.”
Klee holds a bachelor’s degree in geology, a master’s degree in secondary education, emphasis in physics, from Morehead State University and a doctorate in science education from the University of Southern Mississippi. He also earned a master’s in Educational Administration from Michigan State University.
Part of the superintendent search includes obtaining feedback from staff, parents and community members during meetings. Two more meetings are scheduled on Aug. 5, at noon for parents and community members and 6 p.m. for staff at the Highview Elementary School, 25225 Richardson.
The Crestwood Board of Education hired the Michigan Leadership Institute to conduct the search for a new superintendent with Regional President for Southeast Michigan John Silveri spearheading.
During the meetings, those in attendance were asked what key skills, qualities and characteristics should the new superintendent have to be highly successful in Crestwood Schools and what the greatest strengths of the district and community are.
About 20 parents along with school board trustees and Dearborn Heights Council members were in attendance providing their answers during the July 31 meeting.
Transparent, relatable, strong communicator, honest, learning leader, student and future, focused, innovative, engaged, accessible, embraces diversity, good listener and responder, brings new perceptive, energized, passionate and servant leader were some of the qualities and characteristics parents and community members wanted to see in the new superintendent.
They also added that whoever holds the position should be able to bridge the gap with the community, businesses or organizations, someone with an open door policy and also willing to challenge even the school board if needed, a person who is passionate about college and skills trade training options for students, someone who can help bring dual enrollment to the district, has central office and grant writing experience, a person who is engaged in community by attending school events, someone who can build relationships with colleges or universities and is connected with community or students.
During the meeting, Councilman Dave Abdallah said that in the past, the community has had challenges when they would bring suggestions or ideas that could benefit the district.
“When we come to the board, especially in the past and we make suggestions or things need to be implemented, specifically in terms of the diversity of the community,” he said. “For example, in this case at one point for halal food, at one point is for some Arabic classes, a very important one was to have a diverse as far as teachers. The community had to sue and bring in the department justice to be able to get this, that’s crazy that we would have to that in this era, in 2019.”
A parent said it was “super important” to her that whoever is the next superintendent has some classroom experience with the students.
“I think it’s important to get somebody in there that is not just a leader, but they’re also an educator — they’ve been in the classroom, they’ve worked their way up because they need to understand what the needs of the kids are, see the needs are being met, not just told they’re being met, and understands what accountability looks like, not just on paper, but in the classroom and we’re missing that piece,” she said.
Board Trustee Nadia Berry said that everyone in attendance at the meeting knew that the board members are listening to the community, parents and staff during the search process.
“We are thrilled to have you here,” she said. “We’re taking everything in, we want to hear what you have to say, and we will work with what you’re saying. So, please don’t think this is a waste of your time and we’re moving forward.
“What happened in the past, I totally agree with you, I’ll come out and say it should’ve never happened. It’s taken us a long time to get where we are now and we’re going to move forward to make this the best district we can make it because our kids deserve better.”
When asked to for points of pride in the school district and area parents listed: community support, growing district, programs, field trips, two graduated Rhode Scholars, priority by parents for children to attend college, Ivy League graduates, community eager for change, colleges or universities in the surrounding area, multi-cultural, and religious diversity.
Councilman Ray Muscat said at the meeting the new superintendent should know that the Dearborn Heights community is getting larger and evolving with younger, vibrant parents who want the best for their children.
As a Relator for 32 years in the area, Abdallah said families moving in over the last 10 to 20 years have a higher number of children with the average going from 1.4 children to 4.1.
Parent Hassan Bazzi said the next superintendent will have the support of the community, sighting the passing of a $35 million bond in 2016 for infrastructure, property and technology needs.
“The community support has always been there,” he said. “Trying to work with the school board for several years now. We brought our concerns, issues — we have our ups and downs with the board of education. Glad to say that we are getting to a point, we start to have some understanding about the future of the district and our kids.”
Following the Aug. 5 meetings, the board will get a list of skills, qualities and characteristics to the board and create a job posting next week.
Following that, applications will be accepted for five weeks. Silveri said he already had three people contact him about the open position, that he will be taking suggestions on candidates to contact, and possibly would recruit candidates if they are a good fit for the position.
The board will then know who has applied and will have the candidates presented to them in three groups which are highest, middle and least qualified or matched for the superintendent seat.
Ninety-minute interviews are scheduled to take place during the week of Sept. 23 with the estimated five to six candidates. The following week, the board will interview the two remaining candidates for one hour. Both rounds of interviews are open to the public, who will be able to provide feedback to the board.
Silveri said feedback forms are given to the board after each set of interviews so they know what the community, students, parents and district staff think about each candidate.
Trustee Sue Kaminsky said opinions from the community will be taken very seriously.
“This board is working very hard together to get the community involved and we see the need for the community to be involved, and that’s why we’re doing things the way we’re doing it,” she said. “So, I know you haven’t been happy in the past, you have had some reasons to be doubtful and not happy in the past. It’s a new day and I would like to move forward as does the rest of the board to involve the community going forward for a better, cohesive community and district.”
The two finalists will spend a half day in the district and meet with stakeholders who will provide further feedback for the board of education.
Two or three Crestwood trustees will visit the home district of the candidates and generate a summary for the other board members to review.
During the week of Oct.14, the board will hold a meeting and publicly select the superintendent, then negotiate a contract before the hire is made official at another board meeting.
Silveri mentioned a target date of Nov. 4 to have a new superintendent hired, but that it could also happen sooner than that date as well.
Information on the search is available at www.csdm.k12.mi.us.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])