Bishop builds community

Mason principal named deputy superintendent

The Board of Education’s approval of Dr. Roy Bishop, Jr.’s appointment as Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services for the Grosse Pointe Public School System Monday evening was met with cheers and applause. In the audience in Brownell’s multipurpose room was a large group of Mason Elementary School staff members, who arrived for the meeting with signs to show support for their former principal.

Dr. Jon Dean, who formerly served in this position and became Superintendent effective July 1, recommended Bishop after a lengthy hiring process including a review of paper applications, screener interviews, and interviews before a full committee of parents, teachers, administrators and a student, during which each candidate delivered a 10-minute presentation.

Roy Bishop with his wife, Latoya, and children, from left, Leighton, London and Roy III. London will be a sixth grader at Parcells Middle School and Leighton and Roy are going into fourth and second grades, respectively, at Mason.

The committee narrowed the pool to two finalists and Dean, in consultation with Director of Secondary Education Maureen Bur and Director of Student Services Stefanie Hayes, chose Bishop from what he called “a very strong field of candidates.” Bishop earned a reputation at Mason as a community builder dedicated to setting high expectations for all learners and providing a nurturing and family-oriented learning environment.

During his time at Mason, Bishop has “emphasized through all of his leadership a commitment to service, a commitment to relationships, a commitment to listening, a commitment to clarity and, most importantly, a commitment to kids,” Dean told board members. “I’m confident he is going to do a great job in this position.”

Before joining GPPSS in the fall of 2016, Bishop worked nine years in the Birmingham Public Schools, serving as an elementary classroom teacher, a district-wide 21st century curriculum facilitator, and an assistant principal at both the elementary and middle school levels. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Eastern Michigan University, a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Marygrove College, and an Educational Specialist degree in Leadership and Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership from Oakland University.

“I am honored to be able to serve our district in this position of magnitude and I am very appreciative of your support,” Bishop told the board. “I am beyond excited to get to work supporting all our learners throughout the district. Our students, teachers, administrators and community are amazing and I can’t wait to partner with them to ensure excellence for everyone is achieved.”

Bishop informed the Mason community about the recommended appointment earlier in a letter, expressing both excitement about the opportunity and sadness his time at Mason was coming to an end.

“It has been an absolute pleasure serving the Mason community over the last five years,” he wrote. “Watching our Mason learners grow into productive citizens has been one of the highlights of my career. I couldn’t ask for a better community to serve. 

“I hold so many fond memories of my years at Mason in my heart,” he continued. “The field days, Tin Can Auctions, concerts, classroom parties are just a few of the wonderful events I will forever remember. More importantly, I will always remember how you made me feel as a member of our community. I will miss seeing all your smiling faces in the Mason parking lot daily and those priceless interactions with your children. I can’t thank you enough for all the love you have shown me over the years and for your understanding as I embark on this new journey. I will do my best to make sure there is a smooth transition for you and your child.”

Bishop delivered his appreciation in person Monday night, thanking the community, Dr. Dean, the Board of Education and his family — his wife, Latoya, and three children, London, Leighton and Roy III.

Current and former Mason Elementary School staff members attended the Board of Education meeting Monday evening to show support for Dr. Roy Bishop in his appointment as Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services. Photo courtesy of Darcy Demas.

“I also want to thank the entire Mason community and the Mason staff who showed up today,” he said. “I appreciate their love and support over the last five years. I appreciate all of your patience. The Mason community will always have a special place in my heart. Once a Mason moose, always a Mason moose.

“Last but not least, I would like everyone to know that I am committed to supporting our district during the healing process while helping our community reach our shared goals,” he continued. “Our family moved to Grosse Pointe a little over two years ago and we have been treated with the utmost respect and care. I vow to pay it forward and will do whatever I can to create a better tomorrow for our learners.”

A farewell to Dr. Niehaus

After six years leading the Grosse Pointe Public School System, Superintendent Gary C. Niehaus stepped down at the end of June. He and his wife, Paige, are headed to Tampa, Florida, where Paige begins a new position at Hillsborough Community College as the Dale Mabry Campus president. Grateful for Paige’s dedication to his career over the years, Niehaus is ready to support her in this professional pursuit.

This school year completes Dr. Niehaus’s 24th as a superintendent. Previously he served 18 years as a building principal — after teaching for only two.

Niehaus was only 25 when he was assigned his first principalship. He was fortunate, he said, to have a strong mentor to show him the ropes.

He first became a superintendent in 1996, and his last post before he arrived in Grosse Pointe in the spring of 2015 was at McLean County Unit 5 in Illinois, where he served from 2007 to 2014.

Strategic plan

Within his first six months as GPPSS Superintendent, Niehaus marshalled a strategic plan through a 50-member committee to unanimous approval from the Board of Education. This plan aligned the arrows for the district’s key tenets to promote innovation, maximize potential and embrace community.

“Once we were done, we had our mission and vision and our values and principles in place to be able to move the district forward,” Niehaus said. “This was the first time in my career we followed a strategic plan as closely as we did.”

One key theme to come out of the strategic plan was the concept of embracing OneGP.

“The whole idea around OneGP was about protocols and procedures and curriculum and aligning ourselves internally throughout the district,” Niehaus said, “but it also brought about the whole idea of how do we welcome everybody into our schools.”

The bond and technology

The strategic plan set the course for the successes to come. This includes the passage of the “Warm, Safe, Dry and Connected” $111 million facilities bond — a particular challenge after the failure of the $50.2 million technology bond in 2014 and the first bond to be passed since 2002.

Voters also approved two sinking funds and the hold harmless millage and Wayne County enhancement millages during Niehaus’s tenure.

The bond referendum included $18 million to support the district’s increased technology needs with upgrades to the infrastructure, including new cable inside the buildings, fire alarms and access doors, bell systems, SMART Boards and other improvements. On top of this were instructional components, including the bring-your-own device initiative, online resources and textbook software, and Schoology, the district’s learning management system.

These enhancements will bring the district from lagging behind in technology to becoming a top 10 district, in Niehaus’s view.

Fiber network and security

One key component to achieving this goal was the installation of a fiber network, another initiative Niehaus led during his time with GPPSS. The need for increased bandwidth had grown over the years, particularly exacerbated as a result of remote learning during the pandemic. Previously, the district consistently used two-thirds of its network connection and did not have the capability to scale to meet its strategic objectives.

Digging for the new fiber network began last March and the project was completed in early September, with the fiber lit in January of this year. The timing was fortuitous, as the high schools were starting to exceed the bandwidth around the same time.

Another top priority when Niehaus arrived was to increase security in the school buildings. This began with evacuation drills and building strong relationships with the local public safety departments. Secure vestibules are part of the bond projects and other programs are underway such as the grant-funded Safe Routes to School program. All these initiatives began due to Niehaus’s heightened awareness about the importance of securing the buildings for the safety of students.

Looking ahead

Niehaus’s successor, Dr. Jon Dean, worked closely with Niehaus in his former role as Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services.

“I’m happy for him,” Dean said. “He came to the district six years ago with some goals in mind. He was focused on our district having a plan moving forward and creating a strategic path forward. He was successful directly from that strategic plan, including passing a bond issue. He’s led us through what I would argue are two of the very best things we’ve done in the past six years.”

He also led the district through some hard times, Dean added. The administration and Board of Education were forced to make difficult choices to address declining enrollment while maintaining a healthy fund balance, retaining programs and maintaining competitive compensation for staff.

“He’s done a great job of leading us through the reconfiguration as well as during the pandemic,” Dean said. “He has been a consistent advocate for kids during his six years here and we will miss him.”

Summer Connection kicks off

Summer Connection, an enrichment program introduced this year, kicked off Tuesday, June 22, with two-week classes custom designed by teachers. These included nature camp and tumbling for incoming kindergarten to third graders, introduction to volleyball for incoming fourth through sixth graders, football skills and agility for third to eighth graders, and pedaling through the Pointes for incoming high school students.

These academic programs, offered free to GPPSS students, were made possible by a portion of the discretionary elementary and secondary school emergency relief (ESSER) fund provided by the State of Michigan as part of COVID-19 remediation services. GPPSS refined the program to meet the eligibility criteria.

Co-directors Katie Parent and Kevin Shubnell agree the two-week kickoff achieved its intended purpose — to create fun opportunities for learning, mainly in an outdoor setting, with an emphasis on inquiry and kinetic learning.

Parent said she was particularly impressed with the staff.

“They’ve done a fantastic job of creating curriculum that is engaging and fun,” she said. “I think the kids especially are really happy to have that in-person camp feel that they missed out on last summer.”

Shubnell, too, was pleased with the success of the offerings, and attributes much of this to his co-director’s organizational skills.

Another factor, in his view, was the fact the activities were structured enough to provide learning, but not so structured to take away from the spontaneity of the offerings.

“It was all designed to get the kids back in front of a teacher face-to-face and have some normalcy in terms of learning,” he said.

During the two weeks of Nature Camp, campers were lucky to have four monarchs and one black swallowtail emerge from their chrysalis and be released. Photos courtesy of Sarah Neely and Rachel Reed.

The Nature Camp, created by Maire second-grade teacher Sarah Neely, included a different theme for each of the six days: birds are beautiful, trees are terrific, herps are happy, mammals are magnificent, wonderful water, and creepy crawlies.

Each morning began with a read-aloud. During the 90-minute session, campers walked the grounds, observed nature, and documented what they saw in their nature journals. They also played games, sang songs, and made mammal prints, tree cookie necklaces and leaf-print T-shirts.

Neely’s original vision to spend time with eight campers and enjoy nature blossomed into much more when 200 campers signed up, requiring the assistance of nine additional staff members.

“The other teachers were awesome, flexible, and willing to get a little dirty!” Neely said.

Instructors in the tumbling camp noted progress in movement variations from one week to the next. Photo courtesy of Sabrina Prevost.

The tumbling class focused on different directions every day of the week, according to Pierce Middle School French teacher Sabrina Prevost, who created the curriculum.

Tuesday’s focus was forward and backward. Wednesday was side-to-side movements, and Thursday was up and down.

Prevost said she is grateful for the support she received from fellow staff members Suzanne Babcock, Nicholas Symonette and Victoria Rahbine to make the program such a success.

Participants in Pedaling through the Pointes gathered at Kerby Elementary School before setting off for that day’s destination. Courtesy photo

Pedaling through the Pointes allowed Grosse Pointe South social studies teacher PJ Palen, who designed the curriculum, to combine his love of biking and history. In this class focused on the history of the Pointes, Palen included a culinary aspect to each of the bike tours, including stops at Farms Market, Fairfax Market, Jerry’s and Mr. C’s, where the incoming sixth and seventh graders each received a free breadstick.

“You can’t say you’ve experienced Grosse Pointe until you’ve experienced a Mr. C’s breadstick,” Palen said.

Sites visited included the one-room schoolhouse, now located at Ghesquiere Park in Grosse Pointe Woods, and St. Paul’s cemetery on Moross Road, where students saw tombstones with names they recognized from local roads, such as Kerby, Chalfonte, Vernier, Allard and Cadieux.

At Grosse Pointe South, they stopped by Cleminson Hall to view the three murals by Detroit artist Edgar Yaeger, painted under a division of Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, the Federal Arts Project.

They also reviewed the history of Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Grosse Pointe South and read the speech he delivered, “The Other America,” commemorated in a plaque on the school’s front lawn.

Wherever they went, they were welcomed and treated well, Palen said. At The War Memorial, they walked around the gardens, learned the history of the Alger family, and discussed how Grosse Pointe began as a primitive forest, turned into a cottage community, and ultimately evolved into the post-industrial suburb it is today.

At the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House — their final destination — they were shuttled around the property and toured the new activities center.

Each morning before they set off from Kerby, Palen set his Apple Watch to track their miles. He also created TikToks and made a map of the places they visited. The farthest treks — four miles each — were the site of the Fox Indian Massacre in Windmill Pointe and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.

“I was so impressed with these 12 and 13-year-old kids and their ability to keep up,” Palen said.

During the final week of the kickoff, Director of Secondary of Education Maureen Bur had the opportunity to witness the programs in action.

“Seeing kids just being joyful and having fun and engaging put a pep in my step,” she said. “It was what OneGP is all about. It was teachers, administrators, kids and families all working together. Even on a rainy morning where lots of people had lost power and were dealing with horrific flooding in their basements, kids and adults were smiling and coming together for the good of our district and our students. It was really uplifting.”

Summer Connection will continue for the next six weeks in two-week enrichment sessions focused on recharging and engaging students while reinforcing essential skills for a successful return to school in the fall.

Show time!

There’s still time to catch a performance of “Into the Woods Jr.,” presented by the Summer Theatre Camp. The final performance is 7 p.m. Friday, July 2, in the auditorium at Pierce Middle School, 15430 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe Park. The Stephen Sondheim musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. Tickets are available at the door.

School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email info@gpschools.org.