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Three superintendent candidates advance to final round of interviews

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The search for a new superintendent began after Alena Zachery-Ross’s resignation in late summer 2018. Interviews for the position began earlier this month.

In the first round of interviews on October 8 and 9 there were four candidates: John Hood, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in Okemos; Dr. Aaron Johnson, Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services and Organizational Leadership in Farmington; Dr. Venessa Keesler, Deputy Superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education and Dr. Gary Kinzer, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources in Novi.

The first interviews were open to the public and were held in the District Administration Building, next to Central Elementary School.

Hood, the first candidate, started off by handing out a resume and information sheet to the audience, as well as a pamphlet of documents he called “artifacts.” Hood’s experience as a 6th, 7th and 8th grade teacher at Chippewa, principal of multiple district elementary and middle schools as well as administrator roles provided him with plenty of examples to speak to his experience both in working with and connecting people and the Okemos district itself.
When asked about working through educational challenges, Hood started by referencing the day-to-day difficulties with education.

“That’s what we do as public educators: we have challenging environments daily. Our staff is remarkable in the way that they handle those challenges,” Hood said.
He then went on to describe a specific issue he had dealt with in the past: math fact automatic recall.

Hood also shared his viewpoint on the impact in specific schools of choices made at the district level.

“When I was principal at Edgewood, I learned that difficult decisions made by the board and superintendent can impact a school and small community,” Hood said. “Putting kids first isn’t always easy; sometimes what’s right for all isn’t right for one.”

The second interview on Oct. 8 was Johnson’s.

“I’ve been a leader all my life. I’ve served on various committees in high school and college. In my second year of teaching I was tapped on the shoulder to become the lead for the AdvancED process which was a bit daunting because I had not been in that sort of role before.”

Johnson has held positions in many levels of the district.

“I’ve served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of secondary instruction and currently Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services and Organizational Leadership in Farmington,” Johnson said.

With diversity comes issues in getting everyone’s voices heard. Johnson speaks on his experience working to make sure people get what they need.

“We’ve had several different instances where portions of our community feel like they’re not being heard,” Johnson said. “The biggest challenge with that is to first apologize to the community and own what the problem is and to really understand how people are feeling.”

The third candidate was Keesler, on Oct. 9.

“My directors at the department have a lot of experiences that are different than mine, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from them, leverage their experiences, listen. I think that’s important for a leader in this position,” Keesler said.

Similarly to Hood and Johnson, Keesler began in teaching.

“I started in education as a teacher,” Keesler said. “That is my foundational piece that brings me to any job in education: what it was like to be ready to give [students] the best possible education, to differentiate to meet their needs, and to try to understand the interplay of national, state and local priorities.”

One of Keesler’s major past challenges was working to bring a large group of people to agreement, something that she thinks could help her in the superintendent position.

“I have supervised a lot of programs that are contentious and always have a lot of opinions,” Keesler said. “Here’s my process: get all the voices in the room that you can, and try to have a diversity of voices. Ensure that we start by sharing information, not everybody comes to every topic with an equal amount of knowledge. 100 percent consensus is an ideal goal but is not always achievable.”

The fourth candidate, Kinzer, did not make it past this round of interviews.

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Three superintendent candidates advance to final round of interviews