FERNDALE — When Gary Meier took the superintendent job at Ferndale Public Schools in 2000, he couldn’t have guessed he would spend the next 14 years in the position.
Meier’s career has spanned 45 years, 33 of which were in a superintendent position, but most of his time was spent in Ohio, where he grew up in Toledo. But something about Ferndale kept him around for more than a decade.
“Every district I have gone to has been a district that was facing some challenge, and I don’t think of myself as a superintendent that maintains the status quo; I like to go into a district where there were challenges and be part of the process that ultimately works to resolve those challenges,” Meier said. “Back in 2000, Ferndale was having some bond issues and dealing with some infrastructure issues, and it looked like a district that would be good for me. I’m not sure I anticipated staying for 14 years, to be honest.
“I think I learned more and benefited more from my 14 years’ experience in this district than any other experience.”
However, despite his continued allegiance to the Ferndale school community, Meier has decided that it is time to retire as superintendent effective June 30.
Having talked numerous times with his wife and taking into consideration his desire to spend more time with his grandchildren and traveling, Meier said it was a decision that had to be made.
“For me, it has been a process that has taken a while for me to decide upon because my work is really my life,” he said. “Some people can look at their job and balance it with other things, and I like to play golf and I like to read, but when it comes right down to it, I define myself by my work. There is that time in your life when you begin to think about what it is that you want to do for the rest of your life, or what I sometimes say, ‘What I want to do when I grow up.’ It is just the right time, and I am at peace with that.”
Meier received his undergraduate degree in business administration and spent a few years in the private sector working for a public relations firm. However, Meier said he always loved football and wanted to be a coach, so he went into education and eventually coached and taught at a high school in Ohio.
But Meier always had a desire to make an impact on a school district as a whole, so he was pulled into the administrative side of education.
“I coached high school football for about seven years, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I knew if I was to stay in education, it wouldn’t be long-term as a coach or teacher,” he said. “I wanted to be where I thought I could have the broadest impact, and clearly that was going to be at the administrative level. In 1981, I took my first superintendent job in Ohio and had two more there before I moved to Michigan.”
In his time in Ferndale, Meier has been able to be involved in passing two bonds in 2004 and 2012, as well as opening University High School. Meier was also part of changing the infrastructure by consolidating schools and repurposing old buildings.
However, Meier said it might be the day-to-day grind that he may miss the most.
“Every day is a new adventure, to some extent, and it is kind of an adrenaline rush with what we do here on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Some days, you may think there are some things you may get accomplished, and by the end of the day, you haven’t even got to your first task because of the nature of the job. I am going to miss, to some extent, the daily adrenaline rush that comes with dealing with and addressing the life of a school district.
“There is so much going on every day, and so many decisions being made that impact lives of your people and school families, and managing that process is exciting.”
Moving forward, Board of Education President Jim O’Donnell said the board is hoping to have a new superintendent hired by July 1 — if not before, to allow Meier to work with the new hire before he leaves.
While the board has to focus on working with the new superintendent to implement the new strategic plan and improve enrollment, O’Donnell said the board also wants to reflect on a good working relationship with Meier.
“I have seen how incredibly hard he works and the number of challenges he faces every day,” O’Donnell said. “When he gets issues to address, they are not easy issues, so I see how professionally and diligently he approached the job, and the amount of time and work he puts into his job. We are going to miss him in that job, and this district is a lot better off now than before he came.”
Ultimately, moving from a job that could demand his time 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Meier said it would give him more time to spend with family. And while it will be an adjustment at first, he is ready for the transition.
“Over 33 years, it seems I have spent more time with other people’s children than I did my own, but I was only able to do that because of their incredible support,” Meier said. “I want to have the opportunity to give back in some respects what they have given me.
“When you define yourself with the work that you do, you have to kind of come to terms and reconcile that things may change a bit.”