John Bernia named district’s new superintendent

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published May 3, 2024

 John Bernia, who previously worked in the Warren Consolidated Schools district, has been the superintendent in Walled Lake since the fall of 2022.

John Bernia, who previously worked in the Warren Consolidated Schools district, has been the superintendent in Walled Lake since the fall of 2022.

Photo by Maria Allard


WARREN/STERLING HEIGHTS — In 2019, John Bernia set a goal.

“I told Dr. Livernois my goal was to take over for him someday,” he said.

The aspiration came true.

At the May 1 Warren Consolidated Schools Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 7-0 to appoint Bernia as the district’s next superintendent.

Bernia will succeed Superintendent Robert Livernois, who is retiring effective Aug. 30. Bernia’s official start date has yet to be announced.

The district must now negotiate a successful contract with Bernia in order to move forward. Once a contract is negotiated, it will come back to the school board for a vote.

Bernia previously worked in the district in different roles, including the Carleton Middle School principal and the chief academic officer. He left Warren Consolidated Schools in the fall of 2022 to become the superintendent of the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools District.

The school board interviewed Bernia publicly April 30 at the district’s administrative building. According to a press release, he was chosen from a field of six candidates. He was the only candidate the school board interviewed. Of the other candidates who applied, Board President Susan Trombley said they “did not come close to meeting our level of standards.”

Those standards included certification in the state of Michigan as an administrator, a doctoral degree and 10 years of administrative experience.

“Dr. Bernia has many if not all of the qualities I am looking for in a superintendent,” Trombley said. “The familiarity of our district provides an advantage in my opinion.”

After his approval, Bernia took to the podium to address the school board.

“I can’t tell you what this means to me and means to my whole family. I can’t thank the board enough for the opportunity,” Bernia said. “I want you to know that I will come back and I will work as hard as you would expect me to. I will work with everyone and deliver a product you can be proud of.”

Bernia said Livernois is like an older brother to him.

“Dr. Livernois saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself a long, long time ago and I owe him a lot,” Bernia said. “I know how much he cares about this place, and I promise you I’ll take good care of it. I’m ready and I’m very interested in serving as the superintendent of schools here.”

The board met for a special public meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 1 — prior to the regular meeting — to discuss Bernia’s interview.

“He would hire people that aren’t afraid to be (held) accountable. I think that’s really important. He said he believes in his people and mentoring and that he lifts them up,” Board Secretary Leah Berdy said. “Overall, I really loved that he embraced that he would keep the things that were working well in our district but that he is going to bring in new ideas and new strategies in areas where we might need to change some things.”

“Dr. Bernia, welcome back to Warren Consolidated Schools. I can tell you for sure that I have three Broadwells at home that will be very excited to see you back in the district and in the neighborhood,” Board Trustee Megan Papasian-Broadwell said. “Yesterday, what really resonated with me is that comfortability and the strong agency that you showed within yourself to be creative and collaborative and really get out there and be a problem solver with the team that’s in place here.”

As superintendent, Bernia will have an initial 90-day plan.

“A key part of that plan is meeting with, really, everyone. I’ll ask where our strengths are and where we need to grow. Then I’ll very specifically ask what people need from me,” Bernia said. “The strengths, we celebrate. In the areas that we grow we build plans and goals around, we measure and see how we’re doing, and we report that out. I’ll build some goals for myself around what people say they need from me.”

He also said that at Walled Lake, he does cabinet instructional visits in which he and all the district’s assistant superintendents visit the school buildings.

“When we arrive we talk to the principal and we hear about what the school is working on, what their goals are for the year and how they have been spending their professional development time,” Bernia said. “Then we go through the school. We go classroom to classroom and see what the kids are doing and talk to the teachers. Then we meet again as we wrap up the visit and we debrief. We talked about what we saw.

“Over time, I sit down with the learning services team and say, ‘Here’s what we saw and here’s what we’ve learned. How does that impact our professional development plan for next year,’” Bernia said. “I think the instructional visit team that we build will be welcome here.”

During his interview, Bernia was asked about several issues, including school safety, curriculum, diversity, innovation and special education. Bernia feels the critical issues in the next five years will be finance, losing staff members to pending retirement, the impact of artificial intelligence on teaching and learning, and finding enough staffing for special education students.

Board Trustee Brian White asked him what his approach would be to maintain positive relationships with employee bargaining groups.

“I came to the district level when our employees were taking massive concessions. It was really the peak of concessions, so I’ve been through some hard negotiations and I’ve been through some hard times,” Bernia said. “What I can tell is that was the period of time when I knew they were in it for the right reasons and they knew that I was in it for the right reasons.”

When answering the question, he mentioned Robert Callender, president of the Warren Education Association.

“I think (when) Mr. Callender and I talk there are things we agree on and there are things we don’t agree on,” Bernia said. “But what I know to be true is that what he’s saying and his perspective is shaped by a deep care for the system, and he knows that about me, too. So I think that mutual respect has been beneficial to the system. We have to have a positive working relationship both when times are good and when times are a little more difficult.”