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Harper Woods Secondary School principal takes Ecorse post

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published May 2, 2013

 Harper Woods Secondary Principal Thomas Parker has some fun with students during a literacy night last year.

Harper Woods Secondary Principal Thomas Parker has some fun with students during a literacy night last year.

HARPER WOODS — Staff, students and board members stepped up one after another to tell Secondary Principal Thomas Parker what he means to them — some fighting back tears.

It was an emotional school board meeting April 30 when the school board voted to accept Parker’s resignation, as he has been appointed the Superintendent of Ecorse Public Schools.

The level of emotion was high for someone who had been with the district only a few years, but those years were key, turnaround years.

“It’s very difficult to lose a high-performer as he has been,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said.

“You have simply changed the culture and the expectations of this school and this community,” he said to Parker. “You are a tremendous individual.”

He added, however, there is a compliment in the fact that another district eyed one of Harper Woods’ staff and wanted them for their own district.

“Ecorse is getting a good one,” Biederwolf said. “I hate to see him go.”

“Good kids need great schools, not only here in Harper Woods, but all across the state,” Biederwolf said. 

Biederwolf wasn’t alone in his desire to see Parker stay.

Tearing up as she spoke, district secretary Phyllis Greene said she’s watched his positive interaction with the students during his time with the district.

“I am so very proud of this young man,” she said. “I wish you all the best. I (know) you’re going to be awesome. I just think this young man has been anointed to do great things.”

She recalled seeing a student who was walking by fist bump Parker and said that shows how “he has made an impact” on students, with them wanting to make contact with him.

Assistant Principal Kente Rosser said Parker has been a leader.

“I cannot think of a more deserving person,” Rosser said of Parker’s new role as a superintendent. “He serves as a mentor, a big-brother figure. … I’ve always followed his lead, and what a great lead to follow.

“He has had a great impact on the students here,” he said. “He has had a great impact on the staff.”

Staff member Deborah Whitelow said that Ecorse was getting a jewel.

“He’s been a great leader,” she said. “He has allowed me to spread my wings.

“I will soar and I will see you on the other side,” she said. “Thank you for all you’ve done.”

Some students stepped forward to make comments at the meeting, as well. One talked about how Parker sets high expectations, another thanked him for being a role model and a third called him her “big dog.”

When it came time to make a motion to accept his resignation, there was a moment of silence as no one stepped up to immediately make a motion. Then, board Vice President David Kien spoke up with a motion.

“If you don’t make it, he can’t just stay,” he said.

Board President Brian Selburn said he had met with Parker a couple of times to try to persuade him not to leave the district.

Selburn spoke of Parker’s can-do attitude.

“I think he needs a dictionary, because I don’t think he knows the word ‘can’t,’” Selburn said, adding that every time the district needed Parker to step up and take on an additional role, “He says, ‘Yes, I can do this.’”

Selburn talked about how Parker has made every student think about college because he believes “college ready, college prepared” is Parker’s mantra. He also mentioned Parker’s success and work with grant writing to help the district.

“I knew this day would come, but I was hoping it wouldn’t come so quickly.”

Parker is heading to another district that needs a key leader and a turnaround agent. Ecorse Community High School has made the list of low-performing schools for some time.

“There are some challenges,” Parker said. “I’m seeking to replicate some of the success that we’ve had here with the students at Ecorse.”

District officials didn’t have doubts that Parker was ready to tackle the issues in Ecorse.

“It’s going to be challenging; I think you’re up for it and best of luck,” Kien said.

Board Secretary Tracy Purnell said that while it will be challenging, some said that when he came to Harper Woods.

“You have done a wonderful job,” Tracy Purnell said. “You are very gifted and talented.”

Biederwolf agreed.

“I sit here very confident that you are going to have great, great success in Ecorse,” Biederwolf said.

When he came into Harper Woods, the district’s middle school was on that low-performing list and now it is the highest performer in the district.

“The work is hard, but it can be done,” Parker said.

He will start in Ecorse this month, splitting his time between Harper Woods and Ecorse until the end of the year. Rosser will step up to take on duties through the end of the year.

“We will proceed then with the interview process through the summer,” Biederwolf said, adding that they would be looking at internal and external candidates to find the best person for the school.

The district will look to find a new principal for the start of next year.

Parker said that, during his time in Harper Woods, he has worked to set up things so that students would  “have continuity, no matter who’s in that position.”

He said his job was to lay a foundation to allow success to happen.

“I walk away today comfortable and confident,” he said of Harper Woods Schools. “I look forward to hearing wonderful stories about success.”

“We’re in great shape,” Parker added.

Parker, however, did say that he has come to love Harper Woods Schools. He said when he brings his young daughter there, he feels safe letting her out of his sight because he knows there are many others who are there to keep their eyes out for her, like family.

“This has been and will continue to be my home,” he said.