Grosse Pointe Schools chooses its new superintendent

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 5, 2015




GROSSE POINTES — After weeks of searching and many meetings, the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education chose Gary Niehaus as its next superintendent.

It was a process that involved the entire district with participation from students, parents and other community members, as well as teachers, staff and administrators.

“We’re a passionate community, and it showed up in this process,” Trustee Lois Valente said.

With 31 candidates initially recruited, the decision came down to two final candidates, Niehaus and Steve Matthews, and it ended with a 5-2 vote during the May 4 board meeting in favor of Niehaus. The appointment is contingent on a contract agreement.

Board Vice President Dan Roeske talked about some of the reasons why he thought Niehaus was the right fit for the district.

“He has a clarity of focus on his decision-making that is always informed by what is best for the students,” he said. “And he matches almost all of these attributes that we said we wanted.

“To me, Dr. Niehaus is a leader,” he said. “He’s the leader that our community and their attributes and their surveys said they want, and I think he’s the leader that we need.”

Board President Judy Gafa also supported Niehaus, saying that when she called references, she asked about his support for students, and she heard that his support was unwavering.

“Whoever supports students unwaveringly is the person who’s right for Grosse Pointe,” Gafa said.

After the appointment, the board called Niehaus to give him the news.

“That’s fantastic,” he said. “I’m ready.”

He said he is looking forward to the move and being a part of the community.

“I believe that this is a great place to be and one that I really, truly want to be in,” Niehaus said.

According to his résumé, Niehuas earned his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies in 2002. He has years of experience as a superintendent in Illinois. Prior to working as a superintendent, he was a principal for several years.

“I am honored to become the next superintendent for the Grosse Pointe Public School System, and I will work hard to continue the district’s tradition of excellence,” Niehaus said in an email after the decision. “I look forward to getting to know the community, and work with the school board to continue to offer excellent educational opportunities for all students.”

While not everyone favored the same candidate, Gafa said she hoped that things would not turn into an “us versus them” mentality.

“I think what I really hope is that we all come back together as a community and support whoever this board votes in as the new superintendent of the school district,” she said.

Even though the vote wasn’t unanimous, Niehaus is coming to the district with the full support of all seven board members.

Trustees Ahmed Ismail and Cindy Pangborn, who backed Matthews during the vote, gave their reasons why they wanted to see Matthews in the post. However, they also commented on the decision after the board voted in favor of Niehaus.

“We’ve had a lot of talk over the last few years about a board that is disjointed, or whatever word you want to use, but I have to tell you through the process that we’ve done with the superintendent, I think there’s a new understanding amongst the board and amongst the community of how we’re going to get things accomplished,” Pangborn said.

“We will all be working hard to help our new superintendent, and I congratulate him,” she said.

Ismail had similar sentiments.

“I think we’re all going to pitch in and make Dr. Niehaus as successful as he can (be) because, ultimately, that’s what we’re here for,” he said.

Resident George McMullen Jr. was one of the residents who stepped up to the podium to address the board after the decision.

“It would have been a great decision either way,” he said. “(It’s) very exciting to have a new superintendent.”

He called it a positive process with respectful discussions — some of the most positive he’s seen at board meetings.

“I look forward to the trend continuing,” he said.

Board Secretary Margaret Weertz also believed that either candidate would have been a good choice for the district.

“I would be happy and honored to have either man come here to lead our district,” she said.

“I feel a real urgency in our district as a parent and now as a school board member,” she said. “I have a feeling of being somewhat static the last few years.”

She is concerned that the district may be falling behind some other districts.


“Without change, we will soon not be able to attract young families to our district,” she said. “We need to get things done.”

She said she thought Niehaus would be able to get things done.

The final interview with Niehaus can be seen on the district’s website.