TRAVERSE CITY — A cigarette lighter (without fluid). A ball of steel wool. Extra shirts and pants. A can of Crisco shortening. A 20-by-20 foot piece of canvas.

Among a list of 12 available items in the hypothetical event of a plane crash, including a compass, small ax and a loaded pistol, these were deemed the top five most critical for survival in 40-degree below temperature.

The situation at Traverse City Area Public Schools is far from as dire as a plane crash, but Ann Cardon — the district’s new superintendent — just wanted to see how well her board of education trustees and executive team worked together.

Cardon first had the group individually rank the 12 items and then broke them into two groups of three and a group of four to come to a true consensus on the top five items. Conversation and debate bubbled during the board retreat at the Sabin Data Center, but the team-building exercise remained lighthearted, if not a bit competitive, throughout.

Once the exercise wrapped, there was real business to attend to. Cardon unveiled her entry plan to the district that will stretch across the first semester of the upcoming school year.

The new TCAPS leader plans on seeing the district through as many avenues as possible until the holiday break, going on what she called a “listening and learning tour.” Cardon is already meeting one on one with trustees and executive staff and plans on doing the same with administrators, teachers and even students. Her hope is to gain an accurate enough perspective on the district to know how to move TCAPS forward.

That is the only way Cardon believes she’ll learn “what’s really going on.”

“I do want to dig into the weeds. I want to know what our practices are, what kind of instructional strategies are we using. I want to be able to get in there and visit classrooms,” she said. “I’m going to roll up my sleeves and talk to anybody that wants to talk to me. I plan on being everywhere. I won’t be in my office.”

Matt Anderson, board treasurer, likes Cardon’s approach.

“Coming into the district, it’s hugely important to get through that and meet with all those constituencies,” he said. “It’s going to take time to do that.”

Cardon said establishing a presence in the community and the schools allows her to assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for growth and to identify immediate needs.

“It’s going to give me a really good vantage point when I come back to (the board) in December when we’re talking about goal setting and moving forward with what I’ve been hearing and what I see our work is,” she said.

Cardon said her plan is “wide open and fluid” as she seeks as much input as possible. Pam Forton, board secretary, sees that malleability as important characteristic in her superintendent.

“The last thing I wanted was somebody coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to do this, this and this,’ without knowing what we’re all about,” Forton said.

The board will have “welcome to the district” event for Cardon at the Aug. 26 meeting.

“Ann has a wonderful energy and a good focus. That’s the reason we hired her,” Board President Sue Kelly said. “We like her. She has the credentials. She has some charisma that we’re just starting to see — after just a week.”

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