On Saturday, the Birmingham Board of Education chose Robert Shaner and Daniel Nerad as finalists for the position of superintendent with .
The school board is working to replace outgoing superintendent David Larson, .
Shaner and Nerad were chosen as finalists from a group of five semifinalists, all of whom interviewed before the school board last week. The pair returns this week for a second interview with the board; finalists will also give a 15-minute presentation, tour the district and meet with a committee of parents, teachers and community members.
The school board is expected to make its final recommendation for superintendent at a special meeting June 11 in the hopes of having a new superintendent in place by July 1.
In this two-part series, Birmingham Patch is taking a closer look at the superintendent finalists ahead of their final interviews. All interviews are public; stay with Patch for updates and/or watch live on Birmingham's Channel 17. First-round interviews are currently running from 1-11 p.m. on Channel 17.
- Current position: Shaner is the executive director of instruction and technology with the Warren Consolidated School District. Shaner has been in this position for one year.
- Career: Before moving into administration in Warren, Shaner was the principal of Sterling Heights High School for six years. In 2006, Shaner was named Michigan High School Principal of the Year. Before serving as a principal, he was an assistant principal and teacher.
- Before that, , and served for a time as detective in the Troy Police Department. Upon moving into education, Shaner received a Gerstacker Fellowship at Saginaw Valley State University, a yearlong program dedicated to developing leadership skills.
- School board reactions:
- "I was impressed with his global perspective," Trustee Lori Soifer said, "as well as his deliberate and thoughtful decision to go into education. He feels he has a moral obligation to have a profound impact on the lives of children."
- Trustee Geri Rinschler noted Shaner's tenacity, persistence and passion while Trustee Chris Conti said Shaner is clearly tenacious, project-oriented and methodical. "He's someone I'd want to be in the trenches with," Conti said.
- Coming up: The school board will hold a meet-and-greet for Shaner from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district's administrative offices. Shaner's presentation begins at 5:45 p.m., with his second interview to immediately follow.
Shaner first interviewed with the Birmingham Board of Education on May 30.
What do you see as your strengths?
"I believe my strengths are the teamwork that I bring and my ability to build strong relationships," Shaner said. "Relationships are the basis of building a strong culture in school systems."
What is an example of a time you've failed and what did you learn?
Though Shaner joked that he "doesn't fail very often," he said his attempts to lift Sterling Heights High School out of academic probation may have been a little rushed at the beginning.
"I thought they could turn things around very quickly in the first year," Shaner said. "They didn't get to the mark where they needed to be ... so I took some time to reflect."
"It was difficult for me to fail," Shaner admitted. "But I'm also very tenacious. I learned to recommit ourselves to our purpose and move forward."
Shaner would eventually help Sterling Heights High School emerge from academic probation. The school has been made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the past two years.
What does 21st century teaching and learning look like to you?
"It's important that 21st century education really comes from a global perspective," said Shaner, who has spent time studying educational systems in China.
"Twenty-first century learning also can't be electronic chalk," he added. "I really believe that it needs to be a paradigm shift, not just an add-on."
How does a school district know when it has an effective program?
Shaner said a district must first begin with data from various programs and then use the school district's overall vision as a standard for measuring success or failure.
How do you move a personal vision into something shared with the community?
"We need to build consensus," Shaner said. "We need to communicate what the vision is. We also have to ask stakeholders — so many times we don't talk to stakeholders."
"Then," he added, "it's about living and protecting (that vision). It's very difficult in public education nowadays to remain true to your vision."
What are some best practices you have use to reduce the achievement gap for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)?
Shaner said he's worked hard to reduce programs that pull students with special needs out of the classroom, noting that mainstreaming curriculum is very important.
"Then, we have to go through the IEP process with fidelity," he said. "We need to make sure we're meeting the needs of kids, and we have to drill down to make sure our programs are working."
How do you envision working with your executive team?
"I'm a strong believer in teamwork and high expectations," Shaner said. "As an executive team, it's really important that we approach (issues) as an entire team while also bringing in stakeholders."
"Communication of the executive team is really important," Shaner added. "It's not just passing along information, it's a dialogue. (That may involve) challenging their thinking on a realistic and philosophical level."
Discuss the role of strategic planning and what it might look like for Birmingham?
Shaner said Warren is currently in the process of forming its own strategic plan and says Birmingham should be used a model. "You're in a great place in terms of strategic planing."
"The built-in accountability (of a strategic plan) is important," Shaner said. "(You have to imagine) what it looks like in a classroom and in a school district."
What is the role of principals, the school board and superintendent in terms of innovation and curriculum development?
Curriculum building is really a team process, Shaner said, with the school board defining the vision, the principals serving as experts and the superintendent guiding the process.
What is your budgeting process and how would you go about cutting money from Birmingham's budget?
"We absolutely have to build a consensus between the superintendent and the school board team so that the focus is on students and the profit/loss statement," Shaner said. "The way I sleep at night is knowing resources are being focused on the kids."
How would you engage the rest of the Birmingham community, including the local business community?
"There's only one way to do that, and that's to get out and engage the community," Shaner said, noting he's already sketched out an entry plan should he receive the position that involves holding roundtables with local business and religious leaders.
Shaner pointed to Warren's strong relationship with the General Motors Technical Center as a way of "making those relationships count and making them strong."
How did you build consensus on an important issue?
Shaner spoke to a period during his time at Sterling Heights when he brought parents, coaches and students together to talk about the role of sports at the high school.
"We came to a consensus about what was going to be offered in athletics next year," he said. "Athletics are important in this district as they are in ours, but athletics should support academics."
"Ultimately, it's really important to get out and communicate in order to build that consensus."
How do you judge whether a school board is doing a good job?
The school board and superintendent must set goals for themselves, Shaner said, while also having candid discussions whenever possible.
Shaner acknowledged that he has only one year at the administrative level but he still thinks he's prepared for the Birmingham superintendent job.
"People ask, 'What makes you think you can be a superintendent?' I say I am really good at leading a team and making sure that folks on that team have a vested interest and we're all rolling in the same direction."
Check out Birmingham Schools Superintendent Search 2012 for more on Birmingham Public Schools' search for a new superintendent this spring and summer.