Supt. faces new challenges on familiar ground

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — Anticipating a new chapter for her long career in education, Southgate Community Schools Supt. Leslie Hainrihar said she mostly wants the next school year to be as much like the last one as possible.

“Last year, most everyone had something new to deal with,” Hainrihar said.

The 2013-14 school year marked significant changes for the district that included the absence of three buildings that had been closed and a host of administrative and staff changes. Few were the teachers or students who weren’t adjusting to a change in classroom or location after the shuttering of Gerisch Middle School and Chorrman and North Pointe elementary schools.

A redefined district included staff layoffs and transfers, the latest fallout of long-declining finances that in recent years had eliminated bus service and privatized building maintenance contracts as the district tried to limit a nearly $5 million deficit.

Hainrihar said economic challenges remain before that shortfall will be erased — but the year ahead should be the most stable the district has seen.

“We’re still facing a large debt,” Hainrihar said, but the year ahead will not include any further closings, and she anticipates a minimum amount of staff changes.

Hainrihar said she looks forward to being able to focus on priorities that involve teaching rather than administrative adjustments. She brings a fresh perspective after having retired in 2012, ending a three-decade career that included administrative and teaching time in Portage, Paw Paw and Three Rivers with three years as principal of Anderson High School.

For nearly two years she traveled — visiting her three grown children who are “scattered around the United States” — read a lot and continued volunteer work at Detroit Children’s Hospital. She did, however, realize that she hadn’t completely left the classroom.

“I missed being in school every day,” Hainrihar said.

Last fall she considered trying to rejoin her Anderson colleagues either on a special project or serving as an interim superintendent should the district need to fill a void. Instead, Supt. William Grusecki announced last fall his intention to retire, and Hainrihar accepted fate.

“It became clear I was ready for a several-year commitment,” she said.

Hainrihar accepted the position in February, and as a result has had “plenty of prep time” for the academic year ahead. She met often with Grusecki, staff and administrators this spring to better identify staff needs and issues to address.

In spite of the upheaval in the district, Hainrihar said the groundwork has been laid to usher in a new era for Southgate schools. Assessment tests indicate that teachers and students were able to keep pace during the recent transitions, and she will spend next month reviewing next year’s curriculum plans and strategies.

“We’re holding our own,” she said of student performance. “We didn’t lose any ground. Now we can get back to focusing on improvements.”

Hainrihar said a majority of students and teachers will be ready for the next semester in the same classrooms and schools as this year, without the uncertainties of the recent past.

“It’s time to get back to teaching, not moving,” Hainrihar said.

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

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