Incoming Superintendent Calls Lansing "Perfect Size" For Innovation
The Lansing School District will start its next school year with a new superintendent. WKAR’s Kevin Lavery spoke with Ben Shuldiner about his impressions of Lansing and the district he’ll soon lead.
This is just an absolutely wonderful place. I’ve been so honored and privileged to be welcomed with open arms by the principals, the teachers, the staff…even the community members. I had an incredible meeting with the head of the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing; speaking with retirees, people who were principals in the district, and of course, the teachers. I was lucky enough to help distribute teacher appreciation bags in the rain, in the cold, with the union…really just getting to say hello and to thank people. My impression is just one of overwhelming care and wanting to help the community and the students that we’re supposed to serve.
You’re coming from New York City. What attracted you to Lansing?
There are so many reasons that I wanted to come to Lansing. A 10,000-student, 25-school district is the perfect size to do some really innovative, exciting work, but it’s also small enough that I can know the community, and I can feel that I’m a part of the community. That really attracted me.
You’ve really embraced innovation in your career. You founded and were principal of the High School For Public Service in Brooklyn. The school is partitioned into three different academies: legal, medical and urban farming. It’s a very community service-based approach. Is that something you’re planning on carrying on in Lansing?
Well, the wonderful thing about the work that’s already been done in Lansing is the fact that they have this incredible pathways program. So you already have this wonderful, substantive choice for the families. Everything from a Montessori elementary school to an IB (International Baccalaureate) high school. So, those things are terrific and that allows for families to be able to make choices but still stay within the community.
One of the things that I care deeply about is giving back to the community. So, regardless of a medical or legal (program)…again, this district has so many wonderful things; a Mandarin immersion program, you name it. I’ve always believed that whoever you are, you should care about your community and want to give back. And that’s an ethos I think we all should carry. I’m not sure how that’s going to work (in Lansing) in terms of community service…but the way I believe school districts and communities should work is by caring about others.
Lansing, like all school districts across the country, saw a lot of challenges this past school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lansing had its share of stops and starts over the school year in terms of trying to get back to in-person instruction; hybrids between remote learning and in-person. What are the plans for the fall?
That’s certainly the million-dollar question, and I very much appreciate it. But, I will have to say there’s going to be decisions made by the board and the current superintendent. I don’t come in until July 1. I’m going to be spending a lot of time certainly talking to the board and the superintendent…and they have a wonderful COVID response team with nurses and other important folks. So, I’m going to care very deeply about how we can open up safely, how we can open up thoughtfully and how we can open up so that both our students and adults are taken care of.
One of the things that I know the district is working on that I’m very proud of, is an aggressive and expanded summer learning program. All districts around the country are saying to themselves, ‘what can we do this summer to make up for some of the learning gaps and the issues of COVID?’ I’m very proud to know Lansing has thought very deeply about how to move forward with its summer learning program. When I start July 1, I’ll be able to really ascertain how that’s working and how to strengthen it even more.