Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 2, 2010

Superintendent interviews this week

TRAVERSE CITY — On paper, Traverse City school board members say all six candidates to replace outgoing Superintendent James Feil appear to have important qualities.

They'll learn more when public interviews start this week.

Community members will be able to offer written questions for semifinalists Monique Beels, assistant superintendent for academic services in Novi Community School District; Steve Cousins, superintendent of Reeths-Puffer Schools in Muskegon; Michael "Jon" Dean, assistant superintendent for human resources in Birmingham Public Schools; Tom Goodney, deputy superintendent of Educational Service Center of Central Ohio in Columbus, Ohio; Elisabeth "Lisa" Noonan, chief academic officer for Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev.; and Joe Redden, an independent consultant for executive management development in Marietta, Ga.

"I'm certainly interested in hearing more," board member Megan Crandall said. "I just want to see how they interact with us."

Two candidates, Beels and Dean, come from Oakland County districts that receive $9,080 and $12,367 per student, respectively — figures unadjusted for a $165-per-student cut, and well above Traverse City's base of $7,316.

Both received additional funding under Section 20j of the School Aid Act until Gov. Jennifer Granholm cut the payments this year.

Prior to Birmingham, Dean worked in school districts that are at or near the base level this year. Beels worked in Lakeview Public Schools in Macomb County, which does not receive "20j" payments but takes in $8,277 per student.

"We're all cut pretty much equally," said Beels, a frequent visitor to Traverse City, whose district offers multiple foreign languages. "You work with what you have, and you give the best program you can for your kids."

Dean, who specializes in labor relations, said the state needs to find a way to replace a "broken" Proposal A.

"There are situations where sometimes you do need to provide more funding, and I'm not advocating for Birmingham when I say that," he said, citing schools with high numbers of at-risk students as examples.

Noonan's Nevada district includes more than 63,000 students, 94 public schools and runs off a $500 million budget.

She said she wants to be the superintendent in Traverse City, which enrolls 9,800 students, because it is small enough to form relationships with the school community.

"I'm just one of those people that likes to bump into people at the Cherry Festival or the grocery store and say, 'Hey, how's it going?'" said Noonan, whose family had a summer home on Walloon Lake. "Not just the name on the stationery, which is often what happens in a large, urban area."

Redden spent 35 years in the Air Force before retiring in 1999. He was involved with immediate and long-term strategic planning, budgeting and training.

As superintendent of Georgia's Cobb County School District for five years, a group of parents sued over stickers placed in science textbooks that called evolution a theory, which later were removed.

Also, a bid process that contracted with Apple for a personal laptop program led to an audit, a grand-jury investigation and Redden's resignation.

"When you work with any group for awhile, you reach a point where you philosophically agree to disagree," he said. "I chose to go do something else."

In 2006, Cousins was a finalist for superintendent of the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, a position that went to Mike Hill. He started at Reeths-Puffer as a high school assistant principal in 1994.

Cousins helped launch a foundation to pay for students' advanced placement tests. It now funds six scholarships. He also records quarterly podcasts.

Such communication tools could work here, he said, but administrators have to study "what is going to be successful in getting information out to folks."

Goodney, of Ohio, works in a system comparable to Michigan's intermediate school districts. He taught in Cheboygan and Marquette public schools early in his career.

He meets with superintendents and tries to customize programs to fit individual districts, experience he said will translate from a regional organization to a local one.

"It's with the expressed needs of the member school districts in mind," he said. "There's going to have to be a lot of careful listening."

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