Meet the FPS superintendent finalist candidates

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published May 20, 2019






FARMINGTON HILLS — On May 14 and 15, the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education held interviews with seven candidates chosen from a pool of 29 applicants to find the school district’s next superintendent.

The district’s current superintendent, Dr. George Heitsch, will retire effective July 1.

After two nights of public board meetings, held at the district’s administration building, school board members came to a unanimous consensus to invite candidates Sarena Shivers and Robert Herrera back as finalists for consideration. The final round of interviews will be held May 29.


Sarena Shivers, Redford Union School District superintendent
Shivers said she learned firsthand from her family’s long line of educators just how powerful education can be in changing the lives of students, which is why she’s dedicated herself to a career in education.

Shivers, who is currently the superintendent of the Redford Union School District, has held a variety of positions throughout her career, from teaching in Baltimore, the United Kingdom and Indiana, to positions as an assistant principal, principal, director of curriculum and instruction, assistant superintendent of achievement, and many others. She holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from Indiana University.

It’s this career trajectory and her experiences that she said will allow her to best serve the Farmington Public Schools district if chosen as the new superintendent.

“Most importantly, my passion is really to inspire students,” she said. “I ultimately want to see them at the highest level possible, and I have a deep experience and responsibility for curriculum, instruction, assessment and achievement, and I’ve been at every level, so I understand what is needed in order for students to do just that — excel.”

When it comes to addressing the transition the school district is in currently, moving from three high schools to two, Shivers said it’s not the change itself that is an issue, but more so the opportunities the people affected by the change have to learn and grow from one another.

“I think the most important thing through this transition is to support all of the stakeholders that are being impacted by this change,” she said. “We have to change the narrative and turn it into a wonderful opportunity for growth.”

If offered the position, Shivers said her main goal and primary responsibility would be to continue to speak to the success and pride already within the district. One of the ways she would work to do this would be by maintaining a strong commitment to being visible in the schools and the community, and listening to people’s concerns, she said.

Shivers explained that in her current position, she holds tri-annual community roundtables where she invites members of the community from diverse industries to come together and discuss how each of them hopes to help the school district, as well as what they would like to see the district invest in itself.

“When we all get together in the same room, we kind of see we all want the same thing,” she said of her past experiences. “It creates a really great opportunity for me as a leader to create ambassadors, but (it) also creates this really great and powerful opportunity for people that may never interact with each other for the whole and the good of the school district.”

Regardless of whether the superintendent position is offered to her, Shivers said she’s “honored and privileged to be a finalist for the position.”


Robert Herrera, CEO of Benton Harbor Area Schools
As a long-standing educator and administrator, Herrera said he is no stranger to shrinking enrollment, fiscal deficits and a variety of other issues that plague school districts across the state, including Farmington Public Schools.

Herrera, who holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University and currently works as the CEO of Benton Harbor Area Schools, said he was recruited by the Michigan Department of Education’s school reform office last year to try to help turn around the growing achievement gaps and financial deficits the Benton Harbor district has faced in the past few years.

He said he believes he can bring that level of expertise and forward thinking, among other things, into the role of Farmington Public Schools’ superintendent.

“I thrive on innovation and looking toward the future and being future-focused,” he said. “So I’d be very interested in continuing to explore those opportunities to see what we could bring in for the kids and our future high school students over the next decade.”

Herrera said one of the things he would attempt to do to address the transition from three high schools to two would be to look at what the district has already put in place for the transition and to explore “the mechanics of the transition.”

“I’d have to do some fact finding to see where (residents) may have concerns, or where there may be uncertainty about the transition, and continue to work with the parents and students to break through any of the challenges they may be facing,” he said.

Herrera said his main goals and responsibilities as superintendent would be to communicate effectively with all necessary stakeholders to ensure the proper actions are being taken to move the district forward, as well as forming effective teams to ensure those actions are taking place under the right guidance of staff members who have the particular experience to do so.

“We need to make sure our teams have the capabilities and capacities to work together toward shared goals, to make sure we’re leading the district, managing the district, and overall ensuring the district is growing all together,” he said.

Herrera said one of his other top priorities would center around school safety, something he believes all levels of staff within the district need to have knowledge in.

“It’s absolutely a no-brainer for any superintendent, principal or administrator to go in and make sure you’re very familiar with your emergency operational plans, building emergency management guides, and even making sure that you have a better standard for what teachers, classrooms and service staff have for their response guides,” he said. “You never know when an incident is going to happen … so we want to make sure we have everything in place for safety and security of the kids.”

Herrera said he’s interested in joining the Farmington Public Schools district because he believes it would be a great opportunity for him to “help take Farmington to the next level.”