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Grand Rapids Public Schools has a new, temporary, superintendent

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids School Board President Senita Lenear (right) stands with Interim Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal (left) to answer questions from the media after Monday night's board meeting.

Former superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor had planned to resign by the end of the school year. But Tuesday night the school board of Michigan’s third largest public school district voted unanimously to grant Taylor an immediate leave of absence.

In June 2011, Taylor agreed to resign from Grand Rapids schools by June 2012. That agreement came after he was a finalist for other jobs beginning last spring. It’s unclear why Taylor asked to leave now. The request came in an official letter dated December 27th. He’ll use all of his vacation and sick days left. The district would have had to pay him for those anyway.

 GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt says Taylor is deferring all comments to the school board president.

“I don’t know if relief is the is the word,” Grand Rapids school board president Senita Lenear responded to reporters after the meeting, “but we definitely are looking at this as an opportunity.”

Lenear says Taylor’s immediate departure gives the district more time to conduct a thorough search. “(Its) an opportunity to comb through the system to find out what’s working well in the system internally; that’s an opportunity to prepare us for the person who’s coming so we can have a plan in place,” Lenear said. “We can look for the skill set of a certain type of individual based on the needs that we have in our district.”

The interim superintendent is Assistant Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.  “Actually I don’t feel any pressure; I probably should,” Neal said, smiling and hugging co-workers after the board meeting.

Neal is a graduate of Grand Rapids schools. She’s worked for the district since 1977 and says she’s built great relationships in the school system. However, she is not interested in the position permanently. “It’s a great city – a great district – and I think there will be many people that will be interested in coming,” Neal said.

Neal says she’ll launch a “listening tour” this week to start gathering input on what the community wants in a new superintendent. The school board will interview four superintendent search firms next week to decide which one to hire.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the school board meeting took place on Monday instead of Tuesday. It has been corrected.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s investigative reporter. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor and West Michigan Reporter.
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