Supt. ready for final week in district

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — When Southgate Community Schools Supt. William Grusecki accepted the top position with the district two years ago, he knew it would be a short tenure in arguably the most challenging situation of his three decades-long career in education.

“They just wanted some leadership to get them pointed in the right direction,” Grusecki said. “I did the best I could under the circumstances.”

As announced in November, Grusecki is retiring and will mark his final day in office Friday. Much of this final week will be given to transition talks with successor Leslie Hainrihar, a familiar face in the dsitrict from her days as principal at Anderson High School. Hainrihar’s contract was approved in February, and since then she’s met frequently with Grusecki, administrators and teachers to prepare for the 2014-15 academic year.

Grusecki said the appointment of Hainrihar puts the district in more than capable hands moving forward.

“I’m very confident that Leslie will do an outstanding job,” Grusecki said. “Everyone had a lot of respect for her when she worked here, and she won’t be afraid to make a tough decision.”

That may be a requirement, as Grusecki himself discovered two years ago. The district that Hainrihar inherits will continue a downsizing trend, and a looming budget deficit — estimated at more than $4 million — that must be addressed.

“There’s not much left to downsize,” Grusecki said. “If the economy stabilizes and the governor’s budget comes out with a little more money for the foundation allowance, that should help.”

Grusecki faced similar challenges two years ago when he accepted the position — he’d replaced interim Supt. Nancy Nagle at a time when the district had eliminated bus service and privatized janitorial services.

Among Grusecki’s earliest issues to handle was the decision to close three of the district’s schools. It made for a difficult introduction to Southgate.

“‘Uncomfortable’ is an understatement,” Grusecki said. A host of public and administrative meetings produced a reconfigured district plan that closed Gerisch Middle School and Chormann and North Pointe elementary schools. On paper the choices made sense, but Grusecki learned that the loss was personal to many in the community.

“Closing the two elementary schools was the toughest part,” Grusecki said. “Elementary parents are so involved, passionate about the schools. I found out that a lot of them had been students in that
building.”

Education, however, has changed since then, Grusecki said, with technology creating different classrooms than what existed even in recent memory.

“It’s so different than what it was even five years ago,” Grusecki said. “Everything that kids have the ability to access, with so many resources at their disposal, it’s caused a lot more problems with social media. The technology was developed for some very good reasons, but the offshoots have caused problems, too.”

In Southgate Grusecki said he found the same sense of community and teamwork that he’d anticipated, more in line with his background in rural districts than what might be assumed in metro Detroit.

“What’s been nice for me — and similar — is how Southgate is like the community I grew up in, just on a larger scale,” Grusecki said. “The great things that the teachers and kids do shows the closeness of the community and passion for the district.”

That passion, Grusecki said, kept the district spirit alive during decidedly down times. The worst, he said, should be over by now.

“There aren’t many more hits that Southgate can take,” Grusecki said.

The state recently granted the district a year’s extension on a five-year plan to eliminate a budget deficit that had been marked at $4.9 million but should be reduced to $4.4 million as the school year ends. A final budget plan is due by the end of June.

“We’ll be going into next year a little leaner than this year,” he said. “They’ll give us a little more time to get it done.”

Grusecki’s immediate plans are few — by design he hopes to “not make any decisions” this summer.

“I plan to take a few months, kick back and relax,” Grusecki said.

He and his wife — who has a few years remaining on her teacher’s contract — may return to Tawas, but for now Grusecki will be open to a new daily schedule.

“I’ll play some golf, go fishing and decide what I may want to do,” Grusecki said. “I know I’ll be busy.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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