Buchanan selects newest superintendent

BUCHANAN – Buchanan Board of Education members have chosen Patricia Robinson to be the new Buchanan school superintendent at a special meeting Tuesday. Robinson’s selection is history making as she will be the first African American to hold that post.

The board’s decision to offer the superintendent’s job to her came after a month and half process that began with collecting community opinion and posting the position and ended with two rounds of interviews with the top candidates.

Board members will now negotiate a contract with Robinson. The position was advertised with a salary range of $110,000 to $130,000. She has had a 23-year career with Benton Harbor until March when she resigned. She lives in Eau Claire, has twin 13-year-old children and is married to a Michigan State Police trooper.

Robinson will succeed Timothy Donahue who agreed to part ways with the district earlier this spring. Donahue’s three-year tenure has been marked by controversy and conflict as he at times has been at odds with staff members and parents.

Tuesday, it was clear Robinson was the top choice for a majority of school board members who cited her administrative experience and ability to hit the ground running. She was one of three finalists interviewed Monday. The other two were Buchanan Executive Director of Academic Services Mark Kurland and River Valley Business Manager Brian Brown.

Board members Harvey Burnett, Kelly Laesch and Ruth Writer were among those effusive in their praise of Robinson. While a couple of board members initially chose Brown as their top pick to be superintendent, everyone in the end agreed on Robinson and the vote to pick her was unanimous.

“She was my top pick,” Laesch said. “She hit it out of the park. She hit every point, she just has it. I love her personality, her tenacity, her organizational skills and her plan, she’s ready … We have a lot of healing and work to do, she can jump in and get us going in the right direction.”

Burnett agreed and cited her experience in education, administration and writing grants among other things. “We need someone who can build relationships and bring everyone on board and she epitomizes that,” he said. “She also took time to come and visit the district. She has experience working toward where we want to go.”

Writer said the first thing she did in making her superintendent choice was to look at who best fit the education, budget, leadership and other criteria the board had set. “She had the highest percentage at about 90 percent of the criteria we had set down,” she said.

“She has done everything, from being a teacher and preschool director to principal, curriculum director, assistant superintendent and interim superintendent,” Writer added. “She’s gone through all the steps necessary to be superintendent.”

“Two months ago, when we started this process, there were a lot of voices against starting the search now,” Board President Dennis Wentworth said. “But we were able to attract a lot of great candidates. I was impressed with all six candidates we interviewed and I had trouble taking it from six to three and now to one.”

He and other board members said they had questions initially about Robinson as she came from a chronically low performing school district. “That doesn’t look good on paper, but I was impressed with how she rose through the ranks in Benton Harbor,” he said. “She worked with them through many challenges but they didn’t grow as a district.”

In addition to praising Robinson, board members gave kudos to Michigan Association of School Boards consultant Mark Dobias who helped them conduct the search. Although COVID-19 restrictions limited in person gatherings and forced meetings to be virtual, members said they felt they were actually able to gather more public input than in previous searches.

“A lot of people might not have ever engaged in the process in person,” Writer said. In all, 247 people took the initial online survey, 234 gave responses to the first round of interviews and 71 people for the second round. Dozens and sometimes more than a hundred people tuned into the YouTube live feed for the interviews.

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