Kalamazoo’s longtime school leaders reflect on struggles and successes over 70 years of combined service

KALAMAZOO, MI – With over 70 years of combined service to the Kalamazoo community, two principals filled their desks and said their farewells last month.

Gary Start and Cindy Green, two longtime assistant superintendents of Kalamazoo Public Schools, retired at the end of June after each working more than three decades and serving under five superintendents.

Start, the former Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance who also served as Acting Superintendent, began working for the district at the age of 27.

“It has been a much more rewarding, much more interesting, and much longer career than I ever thought possible,” Start, now 65, said in an interview with MLive.

Green, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning services, held several positions during her 36-year career with KPS, she said.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to serve the children of this community,” said Green, 63. “I love the children in this community and I love to make sure every child has a chance to learn.”

Green began as an adult teacher before moving on to become a special education teacher and general teacher. She then moved on to administrative positions as Supervisor of Special Education, Director of Special Education, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and her most recent role as Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services.

In his recent role, Green has overseen curriculum, teaching, assessments, professional development, principals, and academic support for children and staff.

“The Energy Bunny has nothing on Cindy,” said board chair Patti Sholler-Barber. “His energy and enthusiasm are remarkable. She sets the bar so high.

Green’s heart for the job comes from her early days as a special education teacher, Sholler-Barber said.

“She has never lost sight of what’s important in the classroom and what’s important for children,” she said. “She has an incredible passion and belief in children and their abilities. Whatever the role, she really approached them all with so much dedication and hard work. “

The longtime school board chair said Start was “rightly known” for fairness, thoroughness and inclusive approach to its work. It should also be credited for the financial stability of the school district, she said.

Green knew it was time to retire to spend time with his parents and grown children. After working overtime week after week, she was ready to travel freely to see her children and attend her mother’s tap recitals, she said.

Green enjoys doing genealogical research and plans to take her own dance lessons, learn to play pickleball and maybe write a book or two, she said.

Start looks forward to spending more time with her four grandchildren. Her boat moored on Lake Michigan will be used more and her granddaughters will enjoy more riding lessons on Start’s horse.

He might even try to sleep later. It could be difficult, he said, as his 11-year-old dog has become accustomed to an assistant superintendent’s morning schedule.

The district is losing two big assets with the retirement of Green and Start, Sholler-Barber said.

“These voids are huge,” she said. “This institutional and experiential knowledge and knowledge is essential to a stable district.

“It’s so laudable that they have not only given away their successful careers, but they both operate out of love and heart for children and students,” said Sholler-Barber. “It was never something that was just a job; it was a career they were very proud of.

“They are friends of the neighborhood, not just employees or managers, but they are great friends. “

Start had planned to retire ten years ago, but “kept forgetting to retire,” as he put it. The administrator pushed back the time for him to tidy up his desk for several years in a row. It wasn’t until last year that he really felt ready to go into the sunset, so to speak.

He agreed to take on the position of Acting Superintendent in June 2019 after Michael Rice left the district to take on the position of Michigan State Superintendent. Initially wanting to stay on to help the next superintendent settle into her role, Start instead found herself guiding the district through the COVID-19 pandemic.

He remained the principal administrator of the district until the arrival of the new superintendent Rita Raichoudhuri in June 2020.

After resuming his role as deputy superintendent after Raichoudhuri joined the district, Start guided the district’s budget through a virtual school year, when schools across the state feared the worst for their checkbooks.

However, tight budgets were nothing new for Start. Until the introduction of the Kalamazoo Promise, the district had to face budget cuts year after year.

A public funding model based on enrollment and declining student populations at KPS and other urban districts was a bad combination for the local district budget, he said. Budget cuts that forced schools to close and programs to end only pushed families further away, and the cycle continued.

Carrying bad budget news year after year was “bad job,” Start said.

“I worked with good people, but too often I had to do things that were not good for the right people,” he said.

On November 10, 2005, everything changed.

“I always felt like I had two careers: before the promise and after the promise,” Start said.

The promise of a free college for local students through the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship has been transformative for the district. In the first year after the announcement of the first college scholarship program of its kind, the district grew by 1,000 students, Start said.

He and Green still remember the day over 15 years ago when then-superintendent Janice Brown announced that all graduates would receive free tuition assistance through a gift from anonymous donors. .

“We didn’t have a lot of students who believed they could access post-secondary education, so they didn’t make an effort,” said Green. “There is a huge difference in the culture when you enter our high schools now. “

After seeing more than a dozen years of growth in enrollment and rising graduation rates, seasoned school administrators have faced the most difficult challenge to date.

“I was a former temporary acting superintendent, when all of a sudden we had to shut down because of COVID,” Start said. “I had never been to a Zoom meeting before.”

Start and Green, both so close to retirement, were forced to switch to virtual school and, like many, to learn a new way of living and working.

But, Green sees a silver lining.

The district distributed laptops to all students and integrated new software and programs. Today, the virtual world is more accessible to all students, Green said.

In addition to pivoting on plans to teach their students, seemingly overnight, Start said the district is also responsible for feeding the students. Meal programs put in place during the pandemic provided free food to those in need.

“Within days of closing, we were feeding students at 23 sites,” Start said. “Probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the school district is handing out food.”

Green said the food distribution was also a chance to connect with the students so they knew there were staff members who cared.

When he took on the post of interim superintendent, Start never imagined a pandemic. He said his senior leadership team had guided and advised him.

Serving in the district leadership made him tougher in the face of criticism, Start said.

While overseeing the district transportation department, Start was tasked with driving the snowy roads of Kalamazoo at 3.30am to decide to close the buildings for a snowy day. Doing this winter after winter taught Start to make difficult decisions, knowing that these would upset some of the parents and students.

Today, he and Green know they are serving a diverse community and that no response to the COVID-19 pandemic would please everyone.

Green heard from families frustrated that the school was virtual, while others reached out to express fear of returning to teaching in person after losing family members to the virus.

“It’s the hard part of the job because you never really appeal to everyone, but we always stay focused on what’s best for the kids,” Green said.

Outgoing administrators acknowledged that the work was not done at KPS.

Green said she believed that increased support for students after school to continue the learning process would help make KPS a better school for all students.

“The teachers do a fabulous job during the day,” Green said. “I think if every child could have support after school – if there were specific needs like tutoring or specific programming that was needed – we could individualize that.

“Not all children need the same things, so we need to be able to adapt to the needs of children. “

Having created dozens of school budgets during his tenure, Start knows the ins and outs of funding public schools – and more importantly, the lack of funding the state provides to districts, he said.

“The only disappointment I have is that there are still too many lawmakers who don’t understand that different students have different needs,” said Start, referring to the additional resources needed for English learners. , students in special education and children living in poverty.

“Different needs require different levels of funding, and Michigan is horrible at that,” he said.

The two retired administrators say they know they left the district in the best possible position. Green sees momentum for the future for the district and greater success for students with a deeper integration of career exploration at Kalamazoo.

Start said the district is in the best financial position it has ever been in his three decades at the helm.

“What a great way to end,” said Green.

Also on MLive:

The superintendent of Kalamazoo deemed very efficient after a “difficult” first year at the helm

Holiday parade must be held for ‘survival of downtown Kalamazoo’, say business owners

Local non-profit partners with Paw Paw schools to educate students about employment opportunities in the area

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