Gary Niehaus takes over as Grosse Pointe Schools superintendent

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 4, 2015


GROSSE POINTES — When Gary Niehaus walked into his office for his first day as the new Grosse Pointe Public School System superintendent June 1, he may have already gotten over the first-day jitters.

While Niehaus’ official first day was June 1, he started his work from the moment he decided to apply for the post.

“I’ve done a lot of homework,” Niehaus said. “I’ve also talked to a lot of people, and I’ve listened to a lot of people, and that helps me to get oriented.

“There’s a lot to learn if you listen,” he said.

After the school board chose him for the position, he traveled from Illinois to spend time in the district before his first day.

He visited schools, talked to district and community members, and stopped by some programs and events.

He and his family jumped into the work of finding a new home, and Niehaus set his sights on finding a home in the Grosse Pointe district boundaries. That was non-negotiable for him. 

“I’ve never lived outside the school district I work for,” he said. “It’s so important to be a part of the community. I should be paying my taxes to Grosse Pointe, which in turn pays my salary.”

He said it’s also his way of saying thanks to the communities that support him and the district. 

School Board President Judy Gafa is excited about the transition to Niehaus’ leadership.

Gafa said Niehaus has been excellent in how he’s been keeping her informed about everything that is going on, including sharing any community concerns that have been brought to his attention.

At the end of the day June 1, Gafa said she had talked to Niehaus, and while he had a busy day, he was calm and confident.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I think we have a really good superintendent on our hands.”

Niehaus said he has four areas that he is going to tackle as part of his goals.

One is making sure that the needs of special education students are being met.

Another is working on enrollment. He wants to make sure families choose the community as a place to settle down because of the school district’s quality. 

“The first thing I’d like to know is where we’re losing them to,” Niehaus said of working on declining enrollment issues.

He plans to work with the community to see what needs to be done to attract young families, and to ask questions such as whether local real estate agents are selling the Grosse Pointes.

Another area that he wants to work on is building the relationship between the high schools.

“We have two excellent high schools,” Niehaus said.

He said that right now, there is a much larger alumni base from South, since it’s an older school, but that alumni base might become more balanced as North graduates more students.

“I think we need to be more collaborative,” he said.

The fourth area is technology and making sure the district has the infrastructure it needs for testing and student technology use. 

“We have to build an infrastructure that will handle the 1-1 or the technology that we need in the district,” he said.

Another issue that has caused a need for more technology in students’ hands is the implementation of the Common Core standards and the need for online content to meet those curriculum needs. Current textbooks do not have that content.

While the district might not be able to have one device for every student right now, the district could bring in more netbooks or Chromebooks for digital content.

His policy as a leader is to be involved and open.

“You’ve got to be out in the community,” he said.

He also plans to reach out to city officials, because he believes those are important relationships for a school district.

“I need to meet the mayor and city managers and spend some time with them,” he said.

He has a history of working with local communities so that when issues that affect both the cities and schools come up, they can work together to solve them.

Having a good relationship with local police is in the best interest of school districts, so he plans to reach out to the public safety directors, as well. 

“It’s really important that I get to know them on a first-name basis,” Niehaus said.

He has another goal in mind as he takes his post — working to rebuild trust in the community.

The failure of the technology bond is an example of that trust issue, he said.

“Grosse Pointe traditionally has been very supportive,” Niehaus said. “That was our first chance to have to step back and say, ‘What’s up?’”

He believes that the answer to rebuilding trust is to be open, communicate and, most importantly, follow through.

“If you follow through, people know you’re listening,” he said.