Harper Woods school board interviews final three candidates for superintendent

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published June 22, 2017

 Steven McGhee

Steven McGhee

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HARPER WOODS — Following a final round of public interviews June 21 in the Harper Woods High School auditorium, the Harper Woods Board of Education began discussing its three candidates to fill the position of school district superintendent.

The board scheduled a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, June 26, to continue the discussions and reach a final decision. The board has until Friday, June 30, to either name a new superintendent and negotiate a contract, or name an interim candidate while continuing the process into the next school year.

The board originally planned to reach a decision on the matter following the June 21 interviews, but it decided it needed more time to deliberate.

“We decided we wanted to take a closer look at all of our information,” said school board President Regina Williams. “Each one of the candidates brought a lot of good components, and there are strengths in each one of them, but this search is very important and we don’t want to make a rushed decision. We thought it would be best to give ourselves more time to make the right decision for Harper Woods.”

The three final candidates are Steven McGhee, John Dignan and Jennifer Martin-Green.

McGhee currently is the director of career and technical education for Osborn Collegiate Academy. His father was a teacher for Detroit Public Schools for 30 years and was a huge influence on him, and even taught him in middle school. McGhee has a master’s degree from Wayne State University.

“I’ve been a teacher, an assistant principal and acting principal at Mackenzie High School, an assistant principal at Frederick Douglas Academy, and principal at Osborn Collegiate Academy before moving into my current position,” explained McGhee.

Dignan said he has worn a lot of hats in his time as an educator and believes he brings a wealth of experience to the position.

“I started in Ypsilanti Public Schools as a teacher before working in the private sector for a while,” said Dignan. “I then became a football coach at the University of Maryland and Eastern Michigan University before I returned to Ypsilanti as a teacher, and then as assistant principal at Lincoln Consolidated High School, and then the principal. I have spent the last five years at Warren Mott High School (as principal).”

Martin-Green graduated from Wayne State University. She is coming from the Westwood Community School District in Dearborn Heights, a district similar in not only size, but also student demographics.

“I have been in education for 22 years, serving at all levels of schools,” said Martin-Green. “I have worked at the elementary, middle and high school level, and worked as a teacher, curriculum coordinator, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and executive director of innovation and instruction. I also am a doctoral candidate with Michigan State University, where I am examining the collective responsibility of school partnerships relative to underserved student populations.”

Williams and the board said that among the aspects they were searching for in their candidate was a clear plan to improve student achievement, increase attendance and decrease dropout rates, and foster diversity in the district.

“They need vision. We want to know how they can improve student achievement. We want a candidate who can manage the staff and work with them,” said Williams. “We hope they will become part of the community and become a key part of moving Harper Woods Schools from good to great.”

Each of the candidates laid out their vision for the district.

“I place an emphasis on early childhood education. We are providing for college readiness and job readiness. Students need to be able to achieve a quality high school diploma to move on,” said McGhee. “I’m a transformative leader, I have great communication skills and, based on my background, I have true grit and a passion for education, supporting teachers and supporting children.”

“I want to use professional learning communities as a means to improve the district and focus on student literacy to raise the test scores,” said Dignan. “I have a comprehensive plan that I shared with the board. One of the big things is a superintendent’s entry plan for the district to ensure a strong relationship through the transition period and foster positive relationships while increasing efficiency.”

“If hired, my objective is to carry out the vision of the board, which is to improve academic achievement, embrace diversity awareness, and recruitment and retention of students and staff,” said Martin-Green.

McGhee said he plans to implement a 120-day entry plan, if hired as superintendent, to help him get to know the district he would be overseeing and determine the best path forward.

“In terms of the entry plan, it is a three-phase plan. The idea is hearing the Harper Woods story from the board, the students and the community at large to see where the community is at, so we can do a needs assessment and determine where we need to go,” said McGhee. “I want to come in and communicate and work together so we can marshal the resources we have and move forward.”

Dignan wants to implement a three-tiered system, which he said has worked well at his previous positions, to improve student achievement and development, with tier one being students learning at the normal classroom level, tier two being students who need some additional assistance to catch up or stay on par with classmates, and tier three, which requires personalized attention and specifically designed aid to help struggling students.

“The biggest thing is creating interventions to meet the needs of students who might not be at their level,” said Dignan. “We need to meet students where they are at. We need to have tier-two and tier-three interventions in order to ensure they are getting a proper education. ... You have to include community leaders and have community input when facing attendance issues to form a plan to improve where we’re at. If the students aren’t in school, it doesn’t matter what other improvements you make.”

Martin-Green has worked with other districts to help improve student achievement and wants to form a personalized plan for Harper Woods by looking at what it is doing right and where it may be lacking.

“There’s no one particular means to improve schools. I would work to determine a root cause for underachievement and build a plan for academic improvement through systems development and sustainability,” said Martin-Green. 

The board said they were impressed by all three final candidates and were grateful that the community provided input on the matter.

“We really appreciate the community coming out and attending the meetings during this process,” said Williams. “We really want to hear what people have to say and have taken the questions they’ve asked us very seriously. We hope they continue to trust our decision-making and hope they stay engaged. We want them to be a part of it.”

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