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 Farmington Public Schools’ new superintendent, Robert Herrera, and Board of Education President Pamela Green welcome residents to the meet-and-greet for Herrera at the Maxfield Education Center June 5.

Farmington Public Schools’ new superintendent, Robert Herrera, and Board of Education President Pamela Green welcome residents to the meet-and-greet for Herrera at the Maxfield Education Center June 5.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

FPS selects new superintendent for the district

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published June 19, 2019

FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — In a unanimous vote June 4, the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education approved a three-year contract for the district’s new superintendent, Robert Herrera.

Following the retirement of current superintendent George Heitsch, Herrera will begin his term July 1.

Herrera holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biological science from Michigan State University. He currently works as the CEO of Benton Harbor Area Schools. Before his role as CEO, Herrera held the positions of superintendent of South Haven Public Schools and assistant superintendent of the Lenawee Intermediate School District.

As a long-standing educator and administrator, he said he’s no stranger to shrinking enrollment, fiscal deficits and a variety of other issues that plague school districts across the state, including Farmington Public Schools.

“It’s a very welcomed opportunity to be able to come in and help support their current efforts, and then begin to really take a closer look at where Farmington Public Schools would like to go in the future,” Herrera said. “Every day I think about it, and the more conversations I have with board and community members, the more eager I am to get there and get things going. I can’t count down the days fast enough.”

The board initially voted 4-3 May 29 to extend a contract to Herrera for the position of superintendent against one other finalist, Sarena Shivers. That vote was followed six days later by the 7-0 vote to accept his contract and offer him the position.

Pamela Green, the president of the school board, who voted against extending Herrera a contract at the May 29 meeting, said she felt the vote was as close as it was in the beginning because many of the board members, including herself, didn’t feel they had adequate time to meet each of the candidates. Green said she needed more time to gain an understanding about how the candidates might fit in and benefit the district, and how they might work and communicate with various stakeholders.

However, Green said that after having a chance to sit down with Herrera one-on-one between the two board meetings, she felt much better about the board’s decision to move forward with Herrera.

“After talking with him at length, I walked away feeling very optimistic and really excited, feeling like Dr. Herrera is the right person to not just be our next superintendent, but to be a champion for our district,” she said.

“I think the board as a whole now is excited to have somebody with Dr. Herrera’s skill set and experience to lead us in the district,” she added.

Herrera said he’s ready to tackle some of the district’s current challenges and help the district determine where it wants to go next. He’s already identified a few focus areas he’d like to work on.

He said the district could benefit from creating a future-focused budget that looks at potential loss-or-gain scenarios. He also wants to build a better relationship between board members and the superintendent. He also mentioned working to build better intervention programs and close the achievement gap for minority and subgroup populations, and bringing the district up to speed with technology integration for students and staff within the schools as his goals.

“I don’t foresee any reason we couldn’t move the district forward from where it is currently positioned, and I think we could effectively address some of the challenges the district has been facing,” Herrera said. “I think we could even create some very innovative, popular or future-focused programming opportunities.”

Green said her main focus for Herrera is to have him begin looking more deeply at refining broad, systems-based approaches to various operations within the district.

“We’ve got a lot of good things in place; we just need to do some refining, as far as we need to evaluate these systems and ask if they’re the most effective,” she said. “And I believe Dr. Herrera’s experience is going to definitely lead us in that direction, and I think the possibility to move us to that next level is going to be outstanding.”

“When you have a system, and the processes in place, you don’t have to go back to the beginning and start over all the time. You can begin to break it apart and focus your energy on where it’s needed … so you can get a quicker return on that investment,” Herrera said.

Farmington Hills resident and former teacher Max Chu, 46, said he is happy the board chose Herrera, but he doesn’t think issues like the achievement gap are the real issues within the district. Instead, he wants to see Herrera focus on establishing effective leadership.

“Effective leadership is really important, and by that I mean having thin but effective leadership,” Chu said. “When you have a lot of people basically corralling and telling you what to do, the end provider there is usually the teachers, coaches and support staff at the school. … If we can focus on supporting those people and remove the roadblocks from them so they can do their job well, that’s what I want to see.”

Farmington Hills resident Jackie Boleware, 69, wants to see the district’s test scores increase. She said she’s waiting to formulate a final opinion on Herrera until she sees new “data-driven, successful approaches” before passing any judgment.

“I’d like those metrics maybe within a year or two years, and judge him against those benchmarks, whenever they’re established,” she said. “I guess the verdict is still out.”