This past September, the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools Board of Education selected John Bernia, left, to be the district’s new superintendent.

This past September, the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools Board of Education selected John Bernia, left, to be the district’s new superintendent.

Photo provided by Daniel Durkin

Walled Lake Consolidated Schools introduces new superintendent

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 19, 2022


WALLED LAKE — After learning last summer that Walled Lake Consolidated School District Superintendent Kenneth Gutman would be stepping away from his role, John Bernia began watching for a posting about a job opening for the position “right away,” he said.

Having worked in public education for approximately 19 years, 14 as a school administrator, Bernia had formed the opinion that Walled Lake Consolidated Schools was “doing a lot of pretty exciting work.”

The WLCSD was one of the districts he was on the lookout for, just in case the superintendent position became available.

When he learned that, in fact, it was, along with others, Bernia declared his candidacy.

The hiring process consisted of two interviews with the Walled Lake Board of Education and a community forum.

The Board of Education selected Bernia to be the district’s next superintendent during a regular meeting Sept. 9.

His contract and appointment were formally approved at a Board of Education meeting Oct. 6.

His start date was Oct. 17.

Bernia shared how he learned that he had won the job.

“In today’s game, on the superintendent interview process, you watch it online, so I was actually watching the meeting online and watching it stream as they were deliberating and making their decision, and then they called me shortly thereafter,” he said. “All the board meetings for the selection process were streamed live, and I have to tell you, interviewing for a job on YouTube is a real thrill; everybody’s got an opinion about the tie you wore and the answer to this question or the answer to that question.”

Bernia is married with two children, one in fifth grade and the other in first grade.

He was with his family when he learned that he had been selected as the WLCSD superintendent.

“I was so — thrilled isn’t even the right word; it was such a big moment for me, for my wife, my kids — just our whole family was so excited to come here and to be part of this community,” said Bernia, who grew up in Richmond, in Macomb County. “It was a good night.”

Prior to Walled Lake, Bernia’s most recent role was as a chief academic officer with the Warren Consolidated School District, where he worked for more than five years.

In that role, he supervised and led building administrators, the curriculum department, the special education department, public relations, student services and “all other duties assigned by the superintendent.”

According to a press release, Bernia has also gained experience with bond projects, negotiations, budgeting, millage campaigns, crisis management, strategic planning and board policy.

Bernia has also been a teacher during the course of his career.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history, along with a secondary teaching certificate, from Oakland University in 2003.

Bernia went on to receive a Master of Arts in education leadership degree from OU, and this month, he was set to earn a Ed.D. in organizational leadership from the university.

“On behalf of the Board of Education, I’d like to welcome Dr. Bernia to our Walled Lake family and congratulate him on his appointment,” Walled Lake Board of Education President Christopher Titus stated in the release. “He is a student-focused educational leader, and we believe his leadership will be a tremendous asset as we look to build on the strong foundations already in place within the District.”

Bernia discussed what he considers the biggest advantages of his role as a superintendent.

“I think the biggest opportunity is the forum, or audience, it gives you to talk about issues that you see as important,” he said. “It gives me an opportunity to impact a whole system of not just students, but teachers, support staff and employees. So that’s the biggest opportunity of it, and I think it’s also probably the biggest challenge, because it’s demanding to be responsible for this size of an operation. It’s fulfilling, but it’s a tough job.”

There are 20 schools and 12,457 students in the WLCSD this school year, according to Public School Review’s website.

From Bernia’s perspective, one of the positives the WLCSD has going for it is how much the community values the schools and how connected the community is to the schools.

“I think that sometimes when you’re in a really supportive community like that, you get the impression that everybody feels that way about their public school system, but that’s just not the case. And I think it’s so special, the way that the community comes out, supports and cares,” he said. “I met this group of retired teachers (at) Dublin Elementary, and they had worked at Dublin their whole career, and then I met some current teachers at Dublin who worked there their whole career, and everybody’s kids went to Dublin. … I think that is unique to this community and really beautiful about this area.”

In regard to goals for the district, Bernia has begun the process of meeting with administrators, staff members and students from each of the schools in the district to try to identify strengths, as well as areas that can be improved.

His intention is to repeat that process with community members.

Each of those processes may take around 90 days.

Bernia indicated that, before long, people may get tired of hearing him talk about the next 90 days.

“But I think that’s how good superintendents work,” he said. “That’s just my opinion.”

Bernia referred to the WLCSD’s current phase as one of renewal.

“I think we need to go back and look at what we do and ask ourselves, ‘Why are we doing that?’ We’re doing that division by division and school by school,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to have a problem in order to improve. We’re an outstanding school district; how do we become more outstanding? I think that’s the biggest challenge to us right now.”

As for a message to families within the district, Bernia said, “Thank you.”

“I really appreciate how kind and open and willing everyone has been to talk, to listen, to engage,” he said. “There’s (a) wide variety of opinions out there in our district right now, but what I’ve been most impressed with and what I’ve appreciated most is the civility with which people are expressing their opinions. So I’m grateful for everyone’s willingness to participate, and participate so respectfully, because we definitely have some different viewpoints, but everybody’s in it for the same reason: We (want to) have an exemplary school system that’s the best, not only in Oakland County, but the state and nationally.”