Rochester school board selects Shaner as new superintendent

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 25, 2013

The quest to find a new superintendent has been a wild ride for Rochester Community Schools, but it’s a ride that has finally come to an end.

After an hour of deliberation during a special meeting Jan. 24, the Rochester Community Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to offer the superintendent position to Robert Shaner, the current executive director of instruction and technology for Warren Consolidated Schools.

The other finalist in the process, Dave Richards, superintendent of Fraser Public Schools, withdrew his name early Jan. 23.

Richards has ties to RCS. He served as the district’s director of technology from 1995-2005. He believes Rochester has a “talented staff and dedicated school board,” but after undergoing the superintendent search process, “I just did not feel I was the right fit.” So he withdrew from the running.

“It was the most difficult professional decision I ever made,” Richards said. “It was really a personal decision for me.”

Board President Beth Talbert said finding a new superintendent is the most important decision a board must make.

“Choosing an educational leader to guide our district is a responsibility we have undertaken with great seriousness and deliberation,” she said.

While Talbert admitted that the board was “disappointed” that there weren’t two finalists to interview, she said the board absolutely respects Richard’s decision.

“It’s much better to make that decision beforehand than to have someone who joins our district and later discovers it might not be a good fit,” she said. 

During his final interview, Shaner said the RCS superintendent position is “a premier job.”

“I applied to this job because I want to make a commitment to it,” he said, adding that it was a decision that was backed by his family.

If an agreement can be reached, Shaner will replace interim Superintendent Tresa Zumsteg, who has agreed to help Shaner transition into the position during the next month or so.

Shaner has served as executive director of instruction and technology for the Warren Consolidated School District — which has an enrollment of 15,600 students and a $160 million budget — for the past two years. Prior to that, he held various positions in the Warren Consolidated School District including, high school principal, middle school assistant principal, high school teacher and crisis coordinator. He also served as a juvenile detective for the Troy Police Department for three years and served in the Marine Corps. Shaner has a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Oakland University, an educational specialist degree in educational leadership from Wayne State University, a master’s degree in education from Central Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Detroit. He lives in Shelby Township.

Talbert believes Shaner will respect the staff that he supervises, treat everyone with dignity and respect, and will be someone people can trust.

“I think he’ll help us put the past behind us. I think he’ll harness creative talent of teachers and staff, and I think it’s very clear that he wants us to offer a world-class education for every single child, and that is absolutely what I want as a board member. I have absolute confidence and faith that he has a vision and that he will get us there,” she said.

Board member Chuck Coutteau said he was “impressed” with Shaner’s credentials and is “confident” in his ability to serve as superintendent.

“He has demonstrated to me that he has the right skills, he has the knowledge and the collaborative personality that would serve us well in this district,” he said. “He is honest, he is passionate and he is knowledgeable about things that work to bring about change in a positive way for student achievement.”

Board member Jane Pierbon said that without a doubt, Shaner has integrity. She also described him as loyal and a visionary instructional leader and noted that he has high standards.

“Good superintendents are hard to come by. There are a lot more vacancies than there are superintendents, and of course they don’t grow on trees — they are created. And this is a talent that is right there in front of us. This is an opportunity to bring this open mind, this collaborator — it’s a clean slate for us, and I am so excited to bring in somebody who is fresh,” she said. “I think it’s really exciting. He’s almost like a superhero in a disguise. I think he is the person that we need for our district.”

Board member Michael Zabat described Shaner as authentic, genuine, honest — a person who cares about kids, a man of honor who is scholarly, collaborative and approachable.

“He is a man who is truly dedicated to public education and his values reflect ours,” he said. “I think he will be a good fit for Rochester. I think we can grow together to be great.”

Rochester Education Association President Doug Hill spoke during the meeting on behalf of the 900 teachers in the district.

“While I have certainly enjoyed our time with Dr. Zumsteg and really appreciated her guidance and leadership in this transitional period, I’m equally excited to forge a relationship with Dr. Shaner and begin working with him. I think I can speak relatively comfortably on behalf of 900 teachers when I say that we’re all ready to keep moving forward. … I think there is a lot of untapped potential in this district. The term ‘world class’ means something, and I think that we can get there and I think that Dr. Shaner is certainly the individual who can help lead us there,” he said.

As for Richards, he feels Fraser Public Schools is where he should remain.

“It really became evident to me how fortunate I am to be in Fraser and for the opportunity to serve this community,” Richards said. “It’s more in alignment of what I want to accomplish as a superintendent. You won’t see my name in another search.”

Richards said he was “up front” with the Fraser school board and staff about his initial interest in the RCS superintendent position.

“I did not keep it a secret,” he said. The superintendent realizes there could be some uncomfortable feelings over the situation, but said, “The staff has been very kind in welcoming me back.”

Staff Writer Maria Allard contributed to this report.