Following Muskegon Public Schools Superintendent Justin Jennings’ announcement that he plans to leave his position July 31 for a job in Ohio, the Board of Education will hold a public meeting this Tuesday, April 30 at 5:30pm to discuss the search for the next superintendent.
The meeting will be held at the Hackley Administration Building, located at 349 W. Webster Ave. in downtown Muskegon.
“On Tuesday, we’ll talk about the whole process,” Board of Education President Cindy Larson said, referring to Jennings’ departure, an interim superintendent, and the search for the next superintendent.
“I’m sorry to see Justin go,” Larson continued. “What he did for our kids has been wonderful. I’m a firm believer that we’ll be able to move on; we’ll get someone equally wonderful for our kids and our school district.”
Jennings, who became superintendent in January 2017, accepted a position as CEO of the Youngstown City Schools District in Ohio.
“I think the job is the right fit; this is a job in which I’m doing some turnaround work I feel comfortable in,” Jennings said of the new position.
“We accomplished a lot of the things we wanted to do,” Jennings said of his two years as superintendent. “The curriculum is being aligned; Nelson [Elementary] is no longer on the lowest 5 percent list. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re trending in the right direction.”
Jennings’ announcement follows a tumultuous tenure during which members of a divided Board of Education have both backed the superintendent and called for his removal. Teachers and members of the public have criticized Jennings and the district for plans to close schools in 2018, as well as for administrative pay increases.
“I’m happy for Justin, and it gives our community a fresh start,” said Board of Education Trustee Zachary Allen Anderson. “There’s been a lot of animosity towards the administration, and it allows us to clean the slate. This is an important time with the bond coming up; having the community on board is absolutely essential.”
The superintendent’s departure comes before a public vote on an approximate $77 million schools bond in May 2020. After receiving input from two public meetings on the bond, school district officials are slated to present their final bond proposal during a 90-minute session on May 16 at 6pm inside the Muskegon High School auditorium.
As the board searches for a new superintendent, Larson said she hopes the team Jennings built remains intact.
“I want people to remember that he has put together a very, very strong central office,” Larson said. “Our curriculum department, our special ed department, our finance department, our tech department. I could go on and on. He put together a really incredible cabinet, and I don’t want any of that to change.”
“He’s had a great relationship with our principals,” Larson continued. “I think he’s definitely been an asset to our community.”
Anderson said it’s important for the board to “do a search far and wide” for the next superintendent.
“This last time, we didn’t really do that search, and we didn’t necessarily get the best quality because we didn’t do our due diligence in looking at all the candidates. It’s really important we do that; we have a lot of important decisions that need to be made.”
Larson said she believes the board can focus on solidarity in the future.
“We got lost in the mire,” Larson said. “People, including myself, were digging their heels in. We simply have to move forward as a group of seven people who want this district to move in a positive direction.”
“And there are amazing things going on in our district,” Larson continued. “The negative stuff is the sexy stuff, sadly. I would love nothing more than for that to turn around.”
Jennings is encouraging members of the public to get involved with the search for the next superintendent.
“This will be an opportunity for the community to have a voice,” Jennings said. “I hope they come in and voice their opinion on who the next superintendent will be, someone who will move the bond forward and would be supportive of our athletics and academics.”