Former superintendent Klein welcomed home for North library renaming

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 22, 2024

 During the 13th annual Community Luncheon May 17, Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Arthur Bryant presents former Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent C. Suzanne Klein with a proclamation from the Michigan Legislature to mark the Grosse Pointe North High School library being named in Klein’s honor.

During the 13th annual Community Luncheon May 17, Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Arthur Bryant presents former Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent C. Suzanne Klein with a proclamation from the Michigan Legislature to mark the Grosse Pointe North High School library being named in Klein’s honor.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The 13th annual Community Luncheon — held May 17 at Grosse Pointe North High School in Grosse Pointe Woods — brought representatives from schools, cities, nonprofits and religious institutions together to celebrate someone who holds a special place in the hearts of many.

C. Suzanne Klein — who was the Grosse Pointe Public School System’s first female superintendent and longest-serving superintendent — was the guest of honor this year. The luncheon was held inside the North High School Library/Media Center, which was just renamed the C. Suzanne Klein Library in her honor.

“It came as an amazing surprise and I’m not sure I really believe it,” Klein said before the lunch of learning the library was being named for her. “There’s so many parts of this district that (still) feel like home.”

Klein served as superintendent from 1996 until her retirement in 2011. She had a long and distinguished career with the GPPSS, starting as a developmental preschool teacher in 1970. She served as chair of the Teacher/Consultant Department from 1978 to 1984, assistant principal of Pierce Middle School from 1985 to 1986, assistant principal of Parcells Middle School from 1986 to 1987 and principal of Pierce Middle School from 1987 to 1990. She became a central office administrator when she was named director of instructional services, a post she held from 1991 to 1994. Klein was assistant superintendent for instructional services from 1994 to 1995.

New GPPSS Superintendent Andrea Tuttle, who is only the second female superintendent in the district, called Klein “a pioneering force in Grosse Pointe education” and a “legendary superintendent” as she read from remarks that North Principal Kate Murray had been slated to deliver; Murray was unable to attend the luncheon.

“Looking back over the years, I was very fortunate to come here,” Klein told luncheon attendees. “I grew up professionally here. … Children were valued (here). I knew I had come to the right place.”

Kerby Elementary School Principal Walter Fitzpatrick — who’s retiring from the GPPSS June 30 after 30 years in the district — said Klein made a lasting impression on him after their first encounter.

“What I am so impressed about Dr. Klein is, I met her once and talked about my family, and the next time I saw her she remembered all of their names and asked about them,” Fitzpatrick said.

He said he has since tried to model that behavior.

A number of current and former Board of Education members were on hand, including John Steininger, who was the board president during Klein’s last two years as superintendent.

“Anybody that can put in 11 years of solid governance deserves all they can get,” Steininger said. “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to work with her. She has the ability to bring a semblance of order to almost any chaotic situation.”

Former Board of Education President Joan Dindoffer — who served on the board during Klein’s full tenure — also praised her leadership.

“Suzanne was our very own Mary Poppins — practically perfect in every way,” Dindoffer said. “She brought continuity to the district. Many of our superintendents were here for a year or two. Suzanne was able to bring consensus and guide us. (She made) sure that the main thing was the main thing — that we stayed focused on what is important.”

Many others also quoted Klein’s affection for keeping “the main thing” at the forefront.

“Teaching and learning is the main thing … and it’s the only thing in this organization,” Klein said of the school district. “This is a district that cared deeply about education and learning.”

In a video montage, community leaders from the district and even Klein’s adult son and daughter shared their thoughts about her, with many describing her as wise and compassionate. Her love for the color purple was among the observations.

Her son, Andrew Klein, recalled attending plays, football games and other school functions with his mother.

“In doing so, I got the greatest gift of all, which was seeing her in action,” Andrew Klein said.

Retired GPPSS deputy superintendent for business and operations Christian Fenton — who spent about six months as interim superintendent until Tuttle was appointed — worked during Klein’s tenure.

“Without question — and I mean this sincerely — by far she was the best boss I ever had,” Fenton said.

Klein always knew that the district — even during difficult times — was a unifying force.

“Dr. Klein once told me the school system is the one thing in the Pointes that holds all of us together,” said Alicia Carlisle, one of the organizers of the luncheon. “It’s the one thing that connects us all.”

And, indeed, the district encompasses not only all of the five Grosse Pointes — with the exception of a roughly two-block section of Grosse Pointe Shores that’s located in Macomb County — but also a portion of Harper Woods.

Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Arthur Bryant presented Klein with a proclamation from the Michigan Legislature — signed by House Speaker Joe Tate and state Sen. Kevin Hertel — in honor of the library naming. Attendees were treated to music by the Full Circle Choir and the North Choir.

Tuttle said the North library was renovated and expanded last year thanks to bond proceeds and gifts from the community.

“It’s wonderful,” North Librarian Amanda Pata said of the library being named for Klein. “She represents a lot of the things that make Grosse Pointe what it is now.”

Klein may no longer be working in a school district, but she continues to leave her imprint on educational leaders of the future. She’s an associate professor and the director of the Galileo Institute for Teacher Leadership at Oakland University, where she trains superintendents and sometimes school principals. She has a doctorate in psychology and education from the University of Michigan.

“It’s been interesting to see her transition into a professor,” said Steininger, who still occasionally meets Klein for lunch.

Sometimes it was tough sharing his mom with the district, but Andrew Klein beamed with pride as he talked about her and the positive impact she had on the district as well as her own children.

“This is… an award in recognition of her life’s work,” Andrew Klein said.

Following the luncheon, a community open house was held at the library.