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Q & A With the New State Superintendent

DashBoard, June 10, 2015

On July 1, Brian J. Whiston will take on the position of Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction from the retiring Mike Flanagan. He has spent the last seven years as Superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools and was recognized by the Michigan Association of School Administrators as the 2014 Superintendent of the Year. As he prepares for his new role, he answered a few questions for MASB:

MASB believes we need to convince the public of the importance of service on local boards of education. We are seeing a declining interest in running for these important seats. Do you see a role that you can play as state superintendent in helping in that effort?

I had the honor and privilege to serve on a local school board for 17 years. I enjoyed the experience; I believe working with administration and our employees made a positive difference for students. Yes, tough and unpopular decisions need to be made (contracts, budgets, closing schools, etc.), but I believe there is no greater service then giving back to the community than by serving in this position.

I encourage parents, grandparents, business and community leaders to run for boards and to give back by serving in this capacity. Giving of your time, your passion and your commitment for students and staff is a great way to serve your community.

I will, as State Superintendent, encourage young people to go into the field to teach and for community members to serve on Boards of Education. I will do this by highlighting the great teachers and board members that we have. . .those making a difference by enriching the lives of our children.

Looking ahead, what is the priority of the issues facing the State Board of Education?

To work with the Governor and Legislature to make sure Michigan is a top five performing state in five years. We need to look at what we will hold schools accountable for and then determine what measure(s) we will use to hold them accountable. We owe it to the young people in our state to prepare them for success in life, college and work. The Board will be working with the education community, business leaders, parents, and the Governor and Legislature to help set the agenda moving forward.

What do you see as the best ways for public schools to expand educational opportunities for our students?

In Dearborn, we created My Learning Plan; while we are just starting, the goal is for students and parents to take ownership of the learning. We want students to set academic and personal goals and then track those goals throughout the school year. In addition, we want students and parents to determine how they go through the educational system. . .we want them to have choices. . .we want them to design their school plan. I believe students and parents should have options so that we are meeting their needs, their wishes and desires.

Do you view MDE as a service provider or a compliance officer in their relationship with local districts and why?

The truth is the answer is both. I want to lead the department in a way that fosters customer service as a top priority. However, at times, if that does not work, we will have to go into a compliance mode. Our first priority will be to offer our help and assistance to local districts so that they can meet the needs of their students. We will hold schools and districts accountable to meeting the needs of students.

It seems like we often hear of inconsistent messages from MDE staff people working with the same district; how would you go about fixing this communication problem?

All large organizations have this issue. I will work hard to try and resolve this so that we give one answer and stick with that answer. We will do this by sharing information, doing Q & A fact sheets and by setting this as an operational expectation. If districts do get different answers I would encourage them to contact me so that it can be resolved quickly.

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