Nicholas Russo named new RCS superintendent

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 16, 2024

 Nicholas Russo is the new leader of Rochester Community Schools.

Nicholas Russo is the new leader of Rochester Community Schools.

Photo provided by Rochester Community Schools


ROCHESTER — The Rochester Community Schools district has a new leader.

The RCS Board of Education voted April 8 to approve the superintendent contract for Nicholas Russo, which passed with a majority vote of 5-1.

Trustee Carol Beth Litkouhi abstained from the vote, saying she wanted more time to review the specifics of the contract, while Trustee Andrew Weaver voted against the motion.

“I think there are too many unanswered questions for a situation as big as this,” Weaver said.

Russo will begin his term as superintendent July 1. His two-year contract includes an annual salary of $235,000, a $10,000 annuity, a reassignment clause and just-cause termination. The board will also need to vote each year to approve an extension of the agreement, if they so desire.

“I am deeply honored and excited to lead a teaching and learning community that values tradition, student achievement and excellence. Working alongside dedicated Rochester Community School District teachers, administrators, staff, parents, caregivers and community partners is an incredible opportunity,” Russo said in a statement. “Together, we can build strong relationships that lay the foundation for student success.”

Russo brings over 26 years of leadership in education, most recently serving as assistant superintendent of human resources for Walled Lake Consolidated Schools. Prior to that, he served as a principal in the Bloomfield Hills and Utica Community Schools districts. Russo holds an educational specialist degree in executive leadership from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts in educational leadership from Wayne State University and a bachelor’s degree in education from Michigan State University. He is a graduate of the Michigan Leadership Institute’s SUPES Academy and holds a Michigan Central Office certificate, among others.

Russo said his leadership approach “prioritizes collaboration, inclusivity and responsiveness to the needs of students and the community,” and he is committed to “fostering environments where both students and staff can thrive, advocating strongly for inclusion and equal access for all.”

Russo was selected from a pool of 20 candidates, which was eventually narrowed down to three finalists — including Russo, Bay City Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Bigelow and Fraser Public Schools Superintendent Carrie Wozniak.

The RCS Board of Education first voted 4-3 to offer the superintendent position to Russo April 3. Board members Jayson Blake, Carol Beth Litkouhi and Andrew Weaver voted against the motion, all citing concerns with Russo’s lack of experience as a superintendent.

Later, in a separate motion, the board voted unanimously to put its full support behind the selection of Russo as its next superintendent, conveying “a willingness to come together as a board and commit to the success of the district’s future leader,” according to RCS officials.

RCS Board of Education Vice President Barb Anness said hiring a superintendent is one of the most important jobs of the school board.

“As an individual member, I have my personal opinion and perspective regarding what is important when hiring one; however, our board tonight speaks as one, and that voice should always be focused on a positive direction with a future focused on all the students, educators and community we serve,” Anness said during the meeting.

Anness said she appreciated Russo’s philosophical outlook, approach to building relationships, preparedness to use the strategic plan to address individual learning needs, experience in various educational settings, human resource experience and candid demeanor while interacting with students.

“I feel Mr. Russo is the one to provide the leadership and stability needed at this time,” said Anness.

Board Secretary Jessica Gupta said Russo offers a “dynamic combination of leadership,” having been a teacher, a principal and now an assistant superintendent of human resources, bringing a diversity of relevant experience to the superintendent position.

“He has a demonstrated track record of improving literacy outcomes in lower elementary, experience in an (International Baccalaureate) environment, an interest in non-traditional secondary and post-secondary pathways, and a passion to build strong relationships to work together productively as a team, all of which would be great assets to our district in the future,” said Gupta.

President Michelle Bueltel said she found Russo to be “the most personable and relatable,” adding that he was “genuine,” had “a sense of humor” and a “desire to positively impact the district.”

“I liked that he has worked in larger districts, has been a building administrator at an IB school and has worked with and been successful with interest-based bargaining. As he visited buildings, it was surprising to see how many of the staff he already knew and how well he interacted with those he did not. Mr. Russo has a broad network that I believe would serve him well as he moves into the role of superintendent,” Bueltel said.

Former RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner resigned in August of 2023 after serving as the district’s superintendent since 2013. Since then, John Silveri, a retired superintendent from Waterford Public Schools, who did not pursue the Rochester superintendent position, has assumed the superintendent role on an interim basis.

The formal search for the district’s new superintendent began in November of 2023 and was conducted by Ray & Associates. During the search process, the salary range for the position was posted to be in the range of $225,000-$275,000, plus a comprehensive benefits package, although the district noted the final salary would be “based upon proven experience, qualifications and meeting Board of Education criteria.”