Superintendent interviews at Adrian Public Schools wrap up Wednesday

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ADRIAN — The interview process of the Adrian Public Schools Board of Education’s search for its next superintendent wrapped up Wednesday.

James Anderson, principal at Wayne Memorial High School, which is a part of the Wayne-Westland Community Schools, interviewed a second time for the position in front of the board Wednesday, which has quite a bit to consider when making the eventual decision of who will be the next leader of Adrian schools. Not only does the board need to factor in the two interviews it heard from Anderson and the other finalist in Nate Parker, principal at Springbrook Middle School in Adrian, but it also will be leaning on feedback from the public, which has been encouraged to participate throughout the superintendent search process as much as possible.

James Anderson, one of two finalists for the superintendent role at Adrian Public Schools, presents on Michigan's third grade reading law during his second interview Wednesday with the Adrian Board of Education. Nate Parker, principal at Springbrook Middle School in Adrian, is the other finalist.
James Anderson, one of two finalists for the superintendent role at Adrian Public Schools, presents on Michigan's third grade reading law during his second interview Wednesday with the Adrian Board of Education. Nate Parker, principal at Springbrook Middle School in Adrian, is the other finalist.

Entry plans and the candidate’s 90-day proposals have also been reviewed by the board and are another facet of the process that will play into the decision.

Earlier finalist interview: Superintendent interviews at Adrian Public Schools continue with second round

The board is expecting to announce its choice for superintendent at its regular Jan. 24 meeting. There are no interviews or board meetings scheduled until then. The only thing remaining in the process will be site visits to the candidates’ home districts, which are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 18 and 19.

Adrian’s current superintendent, Bob Behnke, will be retiring March 31. The district’s new superintendent will take over following spring break.

Anderson, who has been the principal at Wayne Memorial High School since 2019, said he was excited to become Adrian’s superintendent based upon how well meetings went with community members and prearranged focus groups from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, prior to his second interview with the board.

“Today was a reinforcement for me, for sure,” he said Wednesday. “Meeting with so many great stakeholder groups made my decision about coming here that much stronger.”

The prearranged community and school groups were put together by the board to speak with the finalists and learn more about each of the candidates and their vision as superintendent for Adrian Public Schools.

Anderson, who resides in Livonia and is an administrator at a school district that services portions of Wayne, Westland, Canton Township, Inkster and Romulus, said as he “digs deeper” into the Adrian and Lenawee County communities, he gets more excited about the possible career move.

“I’m am very excited about becoming a part of Adrian Public Schools,” he said. “I think it will be a great fit for everybody.”

At age 27, Anderson took on his first educational administration role. Since then, he said, he has learned quite a bit about himself, his style of teaching, leadership, guidance and working as a team player. Though he has never been a superintendent during his educational career, which spans more than 20 years, he told the board he is ready for that next step.

“I’m a learner,” he said. “I was able to learn on the job as I transitioned from an upper elementary principal to a high school principal, and this shouldn’t be any different. My weakness (of not having previous superintendent experience) is also an opportunity for me to show what I am made of.”

Because he does not know all of the ins and outs regarding Adrian Public Schools — having not lived or taught in the district — Anderson said he does not have a clear and cut plan in place if he is named the district’s next superintendent. Instead, he said he is going to be quick to listen and slow to react during his first 90 days on the job. He will listen to the thoughts and concerns of Adrian’s school team and community and will enact necessary action after.

With an educational career spanning more than 20 years, James Anderson, principal at Wayne Memorial High School in Wayne, said he is ready to take the next step in his educational career by becoming superintendent of Adrian Public Schools. He interviewed a second time for the position Wednesday in front of the Adrian Board of Education and is one of two finalists  remaining.
With an educational career spanning more than 20 years, James Anderson, principal at Wayne Memorial High School in Wayne, said he is ready to take the next step in his educational career by becoming superintendent of Adrian Public Schools. He interviewed a second time for the position Wednesday in front of the Adrian Board of Education and is one of two finalists remaining.

“(At Adrian) we have a talented central office, a talented team of building principals and great teachers,” he said. “For me to ignore the talent and the experience that we have in this district would be foolish. The more people I talk with, the better my communication in this district will be.”

One aspect of Anderson’s 90-day entry plan is that “leaders must understand, then be understood.”

“I am going to seek to understand what is working (at Adrian schools) and what needs to change,” he said. “… I’m really excited about the possibility of becoming a Maple.”

Something Anderson said excites him the most about becoming Adrian’s superintendent is his office will be in Adrian High School, meaning he will be able to see students and staff regularly throughout the school day. At larger school districts, like Wayne-Westland, central offices are somewhat isolated from buildings of instruction.

Visibility as a superintendent is key, he said.

“Going out and spending time with the students is really exciting for me,” he said. “It’s not something I am going to do just in my first 90 days here, but continually as superintendent. I intend to be a champion for all of our kids.”

Understanding Michigan’s third grade reading law

In 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed a law requiring schools to identify those students who are struggling with reading and writing and to provide those students with additional help. The law, “Read by Grade Three,” states third grade students may need to repeat the grade if they are more than one grade level behind when it comes to reading and writing.

School districts are encouraged to adopt a 90% reading goal, which means 90% of third graders should be reading on or above grade level by the end of the school year. Prior to his interview, Anderson gave a presentation on the reading law, which looked at the letter of the law and how it currently affects Adrian schools and what he could do as superintendent to maintain positive reading and writing by Adrian elementary students.

Literacy skills, he said, are a foundational piece to everyday life. Those students who end up falling behind in reading level assessments might run into additional struggles throughout school, possibly resulting in students dropping out.

James Anderson, principal at Wayne Memorial High School, which is a part of the Wayne-Westland Community Schools, interviewed for a second time Wednesday for the superintendent position at Adrian Public Schools. Wednesday's interview also consisted of a presentation about Michigan's third grade reading law and how it affects Adrian Public Schools.
James Anderson, principal at Wayne Memorial High School, which is a part of the Wayne-Westland Community Schools, interviewed for a second time Wednesday for the superintendent position at Adrian Public Schools. Wednesday's interview also consisted of a presentation about Michigan's third grade reading law and how it affects Adrian Public Schools.

Retention, meanwhile, is never the answer, he said, if a student is struggling.

“Retainment of a student could be detrimental,” he said, citing that students who are held back might become clinically depressed or face a variety of other struggles such as making new acquaintances with new, younger students.

Literacy struggles, he said, are not an Adrian schools problem or a Lenawee County issue, but are struggles districts all over Michigan and across the United States are facing. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has not made reading struggles any easier to hurdle, he said.

Keeping strong, up-to-date data on its student reading progress and analyzing and understanding that data is important, Anderson said.

“It’s imperative that we see which students are doing well and those who are not,” he said.

As superintendent, Anderson said he would put together an early literacy task force, which would address student literacy struggles by using ongoing data reviews, engaging in community partnerships and offering incentives to encourage reading.

While collecting such data is important, he said, making sure that teachers have a majority voice in the discussion is also imperative in addressing reading issues.

“My job is to bring people together and make sure the best ideas come forward,” he said. “We need to do this together. We need to make sure we are at full strength as a team in Adrian. That’s how we are going to address this issue, by working together.”

Being proactive rather than reactive is also important to keep in mind, he said. Students who are currently in third grade have not had a “normal” education for the majority of their schooling, because of the pandemic, he said. This could create an additional burden upon students who are struggling to read.

“(As educators), we have to help our students along the way so that they can be literate and then ultimately successful in their lives.”

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Superintendent interviews at Adrian Public Schools wrap up Wednesday

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