Buchanan Superintendent Patricia Robinson on getting students back into the classroom, serving community

This February, to celebrate Black History Month, Leader Publications will be running profiles on African American leaders and community members making history in southwest Michigan. This week, Leader Publications spoke to Patricia Robinson, who is making a difference in the education of Buchanan students. 

BUCHANAN — Just over six months into her position as superintendent of Buchanan Community Schools, Patricia Robinson continues to move forward in a role where she has been working with a new-to-her team to navigate students and educators through the COVID-19 pandemic since beginning Aug. 1, 2020.

When Robinson stepped into the role, she made history as the first African American person to hold the office of superintendent with BCS. In her role, she has shouldered the decisions that come from the unique challenges of returning to the classroom and maintaining education when virtual instruction was necessary. She has also joined multiple boards throughout the Buchanan community to both serve and get to know it better.

In any other year, she would have planned to make more personal interactions with staff, students and the community, but instead, the monumental task lay ahead to finalize a plan for both virtual and return-to-classroom plans.

“There have been less ‘meet and greets,’ and more ‘meat and potatoes,’” Robinson said. “There’s not a lot of conversation before a meeting, and not a lot after. When we get in there we get to the problem-solving steps.”

The efficiency is one of the few positives to having to conduct business virtually, Robinson said.

Robinson has been working on Buchanan Community Schools’ five-year strategic plan that was approved mid-August.

“Year to year, you are going to do an improvement plan,” Robinson said. “We are starting at step two of a strategic plan.”

The plan was largely put together by former superintendent Tim Donahue, though Robinson has been meeting with staff, educators, board members and community members to facilitate the process and the plans.

There is also an upcoming push for marketing the school, as enrollment has fallen over the past year. Robinson said the data does not exist yet on whether it is directly related to the pandemic, but getting students into the schools is an important goal for the district.

“We have an uncertified number, but we are down students,” she said. “We don’t have any trend data to base anything off of.”

There is aid expected from the state government for school funding due to the pandemic, but Robinson is thinking beyond the immediate needs into the future. School funding is based off of spring and fall student enrollment counts.

“If our enrollment does not increase, [we] will start having to make some decisions that will impact a lot of areas and departments within our district,” she said. “This is why the marketing for us is going to be a huge piece for our district.”

Still, building relationships and checking in with members of the school district and community is paramount for Robinson.

Since the beginning of the school year, Robinson has requested feedback from parents, guardians and school staff, on what can be improved as she steers the schools through this uncertain time. She said she is hoping to gain feedback from some of the older students in the near future on how their experience
has been.

When she is not in the district’s buildings working with the schools directly, she also holds seats on area boards.

“I have been part of a standing meeting with one of the [Buchanan City] commissioners,” Robinson said. “I do try to attend the commissioners meetings and listen in. I think knowing what the city is doing is important for our district. I’m making those moves as well.”

She serves as vice president of the One Buchanan committee, which recently was recognized as an official city board by the Buchanan City Commission.

“I have enjoyed being a part of that. There’s lots of good dialogue and discussion as the city addresses diversity, inequity and inclusion on all levels,” Robinson said.

She also is a member of the Buchanan Chamber of Commerce, and serves on a subcommittee planning the annual dinner, a member of the Michigan Gateway Community Foundation board and Buchanan Promise board.

“It’s just intentionally getting involved,” Robinson said. “It keeps me busy, and it is creating more opportunities to be engaged and build relationships within the community.”

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