Niles Community Schools narrows superintendent search

Published 3:58 pm Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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NILES — After two evenings of interviews, Niles Community Schools narrowed its superintendent search to two individuals.

Following interviews Monday and Tuesday, NCS Assistant Superintendent Dr. Adam Burtsfield and former  Gull Lake Superintendent Raphael Rittenhouse were chosen to move forward to a second round of interviews. 

The Board of Education extended invitations to five candidates to interview for the position, which is available due to the retirement of Superintendent Dr. Dan Applegate following the conclusion of the school year. Prior to the start of interviews on Monday, Benton Harbor Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Butts and Cathy Bildhauser, Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Michigan City, withdrew their names before the meeting began. Dr. Steven Hope, Director at FlexTech in Brighton, withdrew just minutes before the second day of interviews was to start on Tuesday, immediately after being offered another position at another district.

The results left the School Board and an audience of community members, school staff and administrators with a single candidate each night, with Burtsfield interviewing Monday and Rittenhouse interviewing Tuesday. Based on what the board described as the strength of the two candidates, as well as the reduced pool, both have been asked back for a second interview next week.


Dr. Burtsfield expressed a lifelong interest in education, arising first in high school through participation in a cadet teaching program. He received his undergraduate degree in Elementary Education at Purdue University. He worked in a variety of capacities in education, including substitute teaching, before acquiring his first full time teaching job. After years of working at a variety of at-risk schools, he got what he described as “the itch for administration”. He returned to college, achieving an Education Leadership degree at Indiana University South Bend.

Dr. Burtsfield served as an assistant principal in Frankfort, Indiana for two years before choosing to move closer to home. He held administrative roles at Ballard Elementary, Oak Manor Sixth Grade Center, and Ring Lardner Middle School, including during the merger of the latter two. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he worked in the central office for the Special Education department at Niles, before eventually becoming the Assistant Superintendent for the district.

During the question and answer portion of the interview, Dr. Burtsfield returned often to the importance of open and honest communication in all aspects of the position. He also highlighted his experience with struggling schools and noted the need to create a compassionate environment and welcoming culture.


Rittenhouse, who was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula, recounted his desire to teach after growing up watching his father do the same. Though he initially attended college for engineering, he gave up a scholarship in order to switch to education. He earned his undergraduate degree in Music Education from the University of Michigan and began teaching music. He worked in school improvement during his first year, which sparked an interest in leadership. He taught music and volunteered for school improvement in Charlevoix, Michigan before choosing to return to school to pursue leadership. He received his Masters degree in Administration from Grand Valley University.

After ten years teaching, he transitioned to an assistant principal position in Traverse City for six years, then to Suttons Bay for another seven. He described his work in “turning around programs”, helping Suttons Bay Public Schools through a budget deficit. He worked on similar problems during his first superintendency at Iron Mountain Schools before serving for five years as the superintendent at Gull Lake Community Schools. Rittenhouse resigned from Gull Lake in March.

Rittenhouse highlighted his experience and a long career in education during the question and answer portion of the interview. He cited work with “non-traditional” populations and emphasized an informed, data-heavy approach to tackling school problems. He expressed the importance of emphasizing the positive news in schools and maintaining a sense of community pride. After spending time in Niles, he noted a strong community identity and “a sense that pride is returning”.

Both candidates will interview with the School Board on Wednesday, May 22, with Rittenhouse appearing at 5 p.m. and Dr. Burtsfield appearing at 7:30 p.m.. The interviews will feature additional questions from the board, some based on audience feedback, as well as the presentation of a 90-day plan by each candidate. Interviews will take place at 2120 20th Place,Niles.

It is anticipated that the board will select its new superintendent following the conclusion of the interviews.