The next superintendent of the Grosse Pointe Public School System will be either Dr. Gary Niehaus or Dr. Steve Matthews.
This was the conclusion after last night’s Board of Education meeting at which the third finalist, Mr. Matthew Wandrie, was eliminated from consideration.
In an hour long meeting marked by civil exchanges the consensus pointed to Niehaus having the edge given that he appeared to have been a top choice of all seven trustees. In fact two trustees, Judy Gafa and Dan Roeske, at first named just Niehaus as their finalist and not even a second, but both later supported a motion by Ahmed Ismail to move Matthews and Niehaus forward as the two finalists.
That motion passed 5-2 with the dissenting votes coming from Lois Valente and Brian Summerfield. Interestingly both Valente and Summerfield advocated for Wandrie as their lead finalist and thus their dissenting vote. Neither had Matthews as a finalist.
This is noteworthy as we try to determine a front runner. To the extent this Board does have a center, Valente and Summerfield are it. With their support and that of the other five trustees, Niehaus has a wider and more firm base of support. This is also relevant given the strong likelihood that the Board will want a unanimous vote to appoint the next superintendent given the strain induced by the last selection – an infamous 4-3 vote for former superintendent Dr. Tom Harwood.
The support for Wandrie, current superintendent of Lapeer Schools, seemed to rest on his charisma and frequent reference to innovation. The Board’s comments betrayed a tension between hesitance for broad-based change and the drive to innovate. This was in odd juxtaposition to frequent reference by many board members to “good being the enemy of great.”
That catch phrase is the product of the Jim Collins book, Good to Great, which cautions “good” organizations to avoid complacency. A common strategy to address this is indeed innovation.
Putting that altogether, this tension would seem to further support Niehaus’ candidacy, as clearly Matthews is the more traditional, and thus “safe”candidate. He’s better known to the Board and was once himself a trustee on the GPPSS Board of Education – ironically losing his seat to Ismail (during his first successful run for the Board) and Angela Kennedy.
As a side commentary, it is odd that there would have even been an effort to narrow the field. The upside of reducing options is not evident – particularly when the one eliminated was the top choice of two trustees. But perhaps this points to the desire to have a unanimous choice for the finalist – in which case Dr. Gary Niehaus has to be considered the prohibitive favorite.
More details on the search process and timeline can be found at www.gpschools.org.