MAPS Board of Education interviews first two candidates

Redford Union Schools superintendent Ron Stoneman makes a point during his interview for the Manistee Area Public Schools position. Stoneman was the first of five candidates the board will be interviewing for the position.

Redford Union Schools superintendent Ron Stoneman makes a point during his interview for the Manistee Area Public Schools position. Stoneman was the first of five candidates the board will be interviewing for the position.

MANISTEE — A very small group of residents turned out Monday evening for the first of three nights of interviews in the search process for a new Manistee Area Public Schools superintendent.

Five candidates were selected by the board of education out of 47 applicants to receive interviews for the postion. The finalists faced a series of questions Monday from both the board of education and the public to see what their views are on a variety of issues.

The first two to face those questions were Ronald Stoneman, who is superintendent of schools at Redford Union Schools in Redford, and Laurie Welles, who is the superintendent of Acadia Local Schools in Arcadia Ohio.

Stoneman gave the board some of his background and experience in his opening statement.

“I am initially from Grand Rapids and graduated from Creston High School in Grand Rapids,” he said. “I went on to the workforce in the 1980s in construction.”

During that time he volunteered in the recreation department in the Grand Rapids area. He said people he encountered there encouraged him to go back to school to further his education and become an educator.

“I enrolled in Grand Valley State University and put myself through school,” he said. “I went on to Aquinas College to get my teaching certification and then went on to become an elementary teacher at Hart Schools for four years.”

Stoneman then applied to become an athletic director and a gym teacher at Walkerville Schools. Three years later he was elementary principal in that district and then went on to get his master’s degree from Grand Valley in administration. The next step was become the Walkerville superintendent of schools.

The next stop was in Dansville Schools where Stoneman served as superintendent. Five years ago he applied and got his present job as superintendent of the Redford Union Schools.

Stoneman told the board early in the interview that he is very familiar with this part of Michigan and has owned a home in Pentwater for the past 18 years.

“My wife is a teacher in Montague and the home in Pentwater is a retirement home that was my parents,” he said. “We have been living there with our three children (ages 13, 11 and 10 years of age). My wife is a Title I teacher in Montague Schools. We love this region and we know it through my working at Walkerville and Hart schools. It was just a 37-mile ride from home today. I am just very excited about the opportunity to serve this district as a long-term superintendent.”

Stoneman said that his 12 years of superintendent experience along with other prior experience as middle school and high school principal has prepared him for the position.

“Administratively, I am very rehearsed in being a superintendent and feel I can serve this district very well,” he said. “I have been in a district that is much smaller at Walkerville, but there were 1,000 students at Dansville and currently, I am just under 3,000 students at Redford.”

When asked how he would handle labor and negotiations with the bargaining units, Stoneman said he has experience in those areas. He stated that when coming to Redford there was a great deal of labor unrest from the prior administration but has been able to ease tensions over the past five years.

“I have been the chief negotiator in all three districts,” he said. “My leadership policy is honesty. We did ratify contracts in both Dansville and Redford.”

Stoneman was asked how he works as a leader, but delegates responsibility to his administrative team.

“I see myself as a facilitator and I like to offer a lot of autonomy to those in leadership, but of course we work in the parameters of the school leadership plan,” he said. “I have worked with a lot of talented administrators who I have been able to coach, facilitate, motivate and give them pathways to be successful.”

Stoneman said he is familiar with technology in schools, but is just in the early stages of one-to-one technology at Redford.

“We are planning for a bond issue right now for one-on-one, so I am still learning about it,” he said. “But I also know it is very important to prepare students with the tools to be successful. It isn’t just putting the device in front of them, as the other side of the coin is the training. We also have a cyber middle and high school program and charter cyber school in Redford.”

Board members also heard from Welles during Monday’s special meeting. Although she presently works in Ohio, Welles said she has strong ties to Michigan and Manistee. She said her husband presently is works for Ferris State University and that they have purchased property in Big Rapids.

“I was born and raised in Mason, Michigan,” she said. “I did an undergraduate program at Toledo. My grandparents owned a cottage in Manistee the 1920s to 1986 as I was growing up, so I am very familiar with the area. It was a very special place.”

She taught physically handicapped students initially for five years with a Diocese program and later took on the administrative position.

At that time my husband accepted a position in Lima, Ohio, and we decided to move and I stayed home for a couple of years and volunteered,” she said.

She said an interim administrator position opened up at the Hancock County Schools in Ohio and was asked to fill it because of her administrative experience. That interim position turned into a two year stay.  From there it was on to Acradia Schools as an elementary principal and after a stint as interim superintendent she was named the superintendent in 2002.

Welles said that Ohio schools differ a great deal in funding sources than their Michigan counterparts.

“Only 37 percent of the funding comes from the state as the rest is raised in ballot proposals and I have been involved in 17 campaigns in 13 years at Arcadia and all but four of them have passed,” she said.

Welles explained she delegates authority to her staff by empowering the collaborative leaders.

“I am collaborative leader and we meet formally every Friday and then communicate with each other every Friday,” she said. “So it is collaborating, but also trusting them. You need to surround yourself with good people.”

When asked how she would improve communication with the community on what is going on in the community, Welles stressed by being more visible.

“Getting to be known and visible in the community and whatever you have in place would keep on doing,” she said. “I would walk the hallways and talk to people, communicate with parents and staff.”

When asked by the board what she sees in the role of technology in the curriculum, Welles said it has to be integrated into the system.

“The next generation is much more tech-savvy then I am,” she said. “It would be a different type of learning, but I think that personal relationship with teachers and staff still has to be there.”

She said it is important in becoming prepared for college to gain the technical skills, but that the personal ones learned from interacting with teachers can’t always be found in a computer screen.

“In my district there has been problems with technology with bullying between students,” she said. “You have to use it in a positive, productive manner, but you also need to learn the social skills to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye.”

The interview process will continue this evening at the Manistee Middle/High School Media Center with Sister Cities International and former superintendent of Patrick Henry Schools in Hameler, Ohio, interviewing at 6 p.m. That will be followed up by former Howell Schools Superintendent Ron Wilson at 7:30 p.m.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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