Van Dyke superintendent retires after 36-year career

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published February 3, 2011


Watching her students’ eyes light up when they understood a concept for the first time was probably the most rewarding part of teaching for Kathleen Spaulding.

“Being able to see them do something they weren’t able to do and watching that light go on is really exciting,” said Spaulding, who had been the Van Dyke Public Schools superintendent since 2005.

Another fun part was sharing a laugh with a student over a simple joke or receiving a warm hug from a kindergartener.

After a teaching career that began in 1975 and spanned over three states, Spaulding decided to retire earlier this school year. She retired last fall, but stayed on as the school board searched for a new top administrator. On Jan. 24, the school board appointed Mount Pleasant Superintendent Joe Pius to fill Spaulding’s shoes. Her retirement became official Feb. 8.

“It’s been an absolute wonderful experience. It’s bittersweet. I feel sad. It’s hard to leave this district. I find this district to be warm and friendly and value-driven with people who want to do the right thing,” Spaulding said. “I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive Board of Education. I’ve had a good administrative team and a good staff. I’ve been very fortunate.”

“Kathy Spaulding always put the students and staff first throughout her career at Van Dyke. She was instrumental in implementing several programs and services to increase student achievement,” said Renee Burch, community affairs coordinator. “She was the visionary behind the district’s bond initiative and worked tirelessly to help secure the future of Van Dyke Public Schools. Her smiling face and positive attitude will be missed and I wish her nothing but the best in her retirement.”

But as Spaulding says goodbye, she said she is “excited about being able to start a new chapter. I’m anxious to do some traveling and re-connect with family and friends.”


The retiring superintendent, who grew up in Morristown, N.J., always knew she wanted a career in education.
“As a student school was always very interesting and a place I enjoyed,” she said. “I also was influenced by a lot of great teachers in my life. It made me want to do the same thing for someone else.”

Spaulding taught in New Jersey and Naples, Fla., during the early part of her career. In 1979, the educator relocated to Michigan with her musician husband, Marc, who at the time, played with a rock band called Bolts. The band cut a record and had a following locally and in parts of Canada.

Spaulding felt right at home in the metro Detroit area. “Since I grew up in New Jersey this was very familiar to me,” Spaulding said.

One aspect stood out.

“I love the architecture here,” Spaulding said. “I was immediately impressed with the beautiful brick homes. You don’t see them in the Northeast as much.”

Her first teaching job in Michigan was at Seminole Middle School in Mount Clemens. Spaulding, at one point, worked as the Title I assessment director and then as the curriculum director. She hadn’t put much thought into becoming an administrator, but someone she knew encouraged her to try.

In 1997, Spaulding left Mount Clemens to become the principal at Lobbestael Elementary in the L’Anse Cruese district, where she enjoyed “the opportunity to re-connect with the students.”

“That’s something you give up when you move from the classroom,” she said. “I enjoyed working a lot with the parents and the staff. It was a lot of fun. Each grade has something special about it that makes it challenging and interesting.”

Four years later, Spaulding arrived in Van Dyke as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, which came with plenty of responsibility.

“You were the lead administrator with the development of the curriculum, and also involved with the MEAP program,” Spaulding said. “There are so many pieces to it. It’s an interesting job.”

Being an educator also came with its challenges, including the “dwindling financial resources” and “this whole school funding issue” coming from the state.

“You are asked to make decisions that impact the lives of your staff,” Spaulding said.

And with less money coming from the state to districts, school personnel are required to be even more and more accountable to the state.

“The state comes and asks for more information,” she said. “There’s a loss of local control.”

The one-time superintendent said she is forever grateful to the taxpayers, who in May 2008 voted in favor of $62.6 million bond issue for to fund building improvements throughout the district.

“We had well-maintained facilities. They needed to come into the 21st Century,” Spaulding said. “I would like to thank the Van Dyke community for supporting the students in Van Dyke. They’ve given sacrificially so the children will have the best educational opportunities."