WWTHS administrator receives top honors

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published January 3, 2020

 Warren Woods Tower High School Assistant Principal Colleen Gruben, second from right, was named the 2020 Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. Pictured with her are Warren Woods Public Schools Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici, far right; WWTHS Principal Mike Mackenzie, far left; and Wendy Zdeb, executive director of the MASSP.

Warren Woods Tower High School Assistant Principal Colleen Gruben, second from right, was named the 2020 Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. Pictured with her are Warren Woods Public Schools Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici, far right; WWTHS Principal Mike Mackenzie, far left; and Wendy Zdeb, executive director of the MASSP.

Photo provided by Colleen Gruben

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WARREN — According to Warren Woods Public Schools Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici, the genuine passion that Warren Woods Tower High School Assistant Principal Colleen Gruben has for the district’s students and families is “unmatched.”

Gruben was recently recognized for that dedication and beyond. The high school administrator was named the 2020 Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, or MASSP. Gruben found out about the award at a staff meeting Dec. 4 from WWTHS Principal Mike Mackenzie.

“When Mr. Mackenzie made the announcement, I thought he was telling us that he was leaving, and my head was racing as I tried to process that he was actually talking about me and the MASSP award,” Gruben said in an email. “To say I was completely shocked, overwhelmed and speechless is an understatement. It has taken some time for it to fully register, but I now feel honored and humbled to be recognized for impacting the lives of our students, parents and staff.”

Gruben was hired by WWPS in November of 1997 as a resource room teacher and teacher consultant at the high school. She also served as the class adviser for the Class of 2003. In August of 2005, Gruben was appointed to the position of WWTHS assistant principal. Prior to coming to WWPS, Gruben taught in Canada.

As the 2020 Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year, Gruben will represent Michigan as the state’s nominee for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, or NASSP, Assistant Principal of the Year competition scheduled to be awarded at the National Principals Conference in July in National Harbor, Maryland.    

To qualify, nominees must have served in an assistant principal role for at least three years in grades 6-12. Nominees also must demonstrate a sense of collaborative leadership; involvement in curriculum, instruction and assessment; as well as a personal positive involvement with district staff, students and families.

“Whether it’s buying a needy student clothes or meals or pushing all students to be more than they ever thought they could be, there is simply nobody who cares more about the whole child than Colleen Gruben,” Mackenzie said in a prepared statement.

“‘Thank you’ is so inadequate to express my deep gratitude. I am truly honored to be recognized by the administrative team, staff and students, but I have gained so much more from my interactions with all of them,” Gruben said.

“I am most humbled by the students’ letters of support. I am proud to serve as their assistant principal and value the trust they have placed in me. Each unique experience I am entrusted with continues to be a source of inspiration and fulfillment in my job. Thank you,” Gruben said. “Having worked with Michael Mackenzie for my entire 22-year career at WWT, I often find myself in awe of his leadership ability. Mike continuously motivates me to be a better leader, and I couldn’t imagine WWT without him.”

Gruben also appreciates the support she receives from Denewith-Fici, WWTHS Assistant Principal Ian Fredlund and other staff members. Gruben enjoys “just about everything” about being a high school administrator.

“I am proud to be part of a team committed to doing what is best for kids, but I find the connections I am able to make with students the most rewarding,” she said. “Working in an environment that is dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of our students is a big part of what makes WWTHS special and my job so meaningful. I would not trade the many positive and long-lasting relationships I have formed over the years with students, parents and staff for anything.”

Finding balance is the biggest challenge of her work.

“Whether it is between home and work or the amount of time I am dedicating to a task, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy balance without it being at the expense of something else,” Gruben said.

Gruben decided to pursue education after her first year of college.

“I come from a long line of educators, so I guess it may have been inevitable. I had taken a job as a summer school ‘teacher’ for elementary-aged, hearing-impaired children and quickly became passionate about making a difference in the lives of children,” she said. “That first teaching opportunity truly inspired me to learn how to instruct in a manner that met the needs of all students.”

Last month, Gruben spearheaded a drive to raise money so district families in need could have a merrier Christmas.

“Through the generosity of past and present WWTHS staff and their extended families, student and parent clubs, and our athletic teams, a total of $13,665 was raised to assist over 200 WWT families during the holidays,” she said. “The money was used purchase presents and Meijer gift cards, as their flexibility allows families to better meet their individual needs.”

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