Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Jon Dean — seen here in his office — has stepped down from his role running the district.

Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Jon Dean — seen here in his office — has stepped down from his role running the district.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Jon Dean reflects on career as he steps down from helming school district

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 5, 2023


GROSSE POINTES — Grosse Pointe Board of Education member David Brumbaugh remembers visiting Brownell Middle School with Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Jon Dean one year.

A student struggling to open his locker saw Dean walking down the hall and asked him for help, only recognizing Dean as an adult, not the district’s top administrator. Dean deftly jiggled the locker and got it open, explaining to the student the trick to unlatching it. Brumbaugh was impressed on a number of levels, not the least of which was the fact that the superintendent knew how the lockers worked at different schools. It was just one of the many times Brumbaugh would be wowed by what he said was “the depth of (Dean’s) knowledge” about all aspects of the GPPSS.

“I would try to go to different schools with him on the first day of school, and he would know the teachers, the janitors, the students,” Brumbaugh said. “He seemed to care about having a personal relationship with people. … He never saw himself or his title as being more important. He saw the kids and the teachers and the work as the most important.”

That combination of knowledge and interpersonal skills were among the hallmarks of his years in the GPPSS. Those are among the reasons Dean’s supporters in the district were sorry to learn that he was retiring as superintendent and transitioning into a consulting role as of Sept. 1. Dean will serve as a consultant to the district through June 30, 2024, at which time he said he plans to retire from public education. The announcement came during a special Grosse Pointe Board of Education meeting Aug. 23 at Barnes Elementary.

Dean’s career in education isn’t surprising, given the fact that his mother was a teacher. After he earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Wayne State University in 1995, he taught math at Osborn High School in Detroit. Dean taught and served in a handful of other districts before being hired as an elementary school principal for Birmingham Public Schools in 2005. By the time Dean left BPS in 2012, he had achieved the rank of assistant superintendent/director for human resources. He joined the GPPSS in February 2012 as deputy superintendent for educational services.

“He’s got a passion for education and a work ethic that’s hard to match,” Brumbaugh said. “It’s one thing to know the job. It’s another … to know what everybody needs to be successful.”

It was Dean’s wife, Sally Dean, who introduced him to the the Grosse Pointes. Sally Dean, also an education major at WSU, was assigned to student-teach at Ferry Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Woods

“She said, ‘Jon, this would be an amazing place to raise a family,’” Dean recalled. “‘They have great public schools.’”

It was eye-opening for Dean, who had grown up on the west side of Detroit.

“I thought only really rich people lived in Grosse Pointe,” Dean admitted.

Thanks to Sally Dean’s first student teaching assignment, the couple bought their first home in Grosse Pointe Woods in 1997. They later moved to a different home in the Woods. Today, daughter Alex, 23, is finishing her last semester at George Washington University, while son Noah, 19, just started his sophomore year at Kenyon College. And Sally Dean — who took some time off to raise her kids when they were younger — is back to teaching; coincidentally enough, her husband said she’s at Ferry — in the classroom across the hall from where she student taught.

“One of the beauties of this district is how supportive it is, how many people live and work here,” said Dean, who estimated over half of the GPPSS staff lives within district boundaries.

Dean became the GPPSS superintendent on July 1, 2021, succeeding Gary Niehaus.

“It was a dream fulfilled,” Dean said. “The opportunity to support my community was wonderful. This community had given me and my family so much. … I was able to be onstage for both of my kids’ graduations. And that’s a wonderful feeling.”

While he wasn’t the superintendent when a bond for infrastructure work passed in 2018, Dean said he’s happy to report that the district honored its pledge to use those funds for the improvements it said it would. He said the district completed construction on the second floor of Pierce Middle School this summer as part of that bond.

Brumbaugh said Dean was someone who didn’t shy away from difficult conversations or decisions and listened to what others had to say.

Whether it was tackling the strategic plan, budgetary challenges or division in the community, “You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who would have done a better job than Jon,” Brumbaugh said.

GPPSS offers Advanced Placement classes for academically gifted students, but Dean said the district also offers career and technical training, art classes, special needs programs and more.

“We do a great job of providing opportunities and challenges for all of our kids,” Dean said. “That range of opportunities is one of the best things about Grosse Pointe public schools.”

Roy Bishop, deputy superintendent for educational services, has known Dean for 17 years. He said they met at an Eastern Michigan University job fair, where Dean — at that time working as the assistant superintendent for Birmingham Public Schools — recruited Bishop for that district.

“A lot of the great people we have now is due to him and his vision,” Bishop said. “He’s made sure we have very qualified and outstanding people throughout the district.”

Bishop estimated Dean has hired about 70% of the staff in the district, including most of the administrators who served with him.

Since 2014, Dean has been an adjunct faculty member who teaches education classes at WSU, something he said he plans to continue. As a consultant to the GPPSS, he will be working remotely and on an as-needed basis.

During his career in education, Dean’s primary focus was on the students.

“Jon’s somebody who puts the mission first and cares about the kids,” Brumbaugh said. “He works really hard, and he’s comfortable with data.”

Bishop echoed that sentiment.

“I think Jon definitely brought to the job a sense of keeping students first,” Bishop said. “He made sure every student felt like they belonged and were seen. … (He) strongly believes in equity and making sure every student has what they need to be successful, and that’s definitely going to be missed.”