Last week, the Lansing Board of Education appointed interim superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul to the position full-time, rather than complete a nationwide search to replace T.C. Wallace.
In recent weeks, the school board has approved Caamal Canul’s ambitious plan to restructure the district.
Making the plan work isn’t the only item on her agenda now. WKAR’s Scott Pohl reports on what lies ahead for Lansing’s new school superintendent.
Technically, Yvonne Caamal Canul won’t become Lansing’s full-time superintendent until the end of June. That’s when her appointment as interim superintendent had been set to expire. School board President Myra Ford says the district will negotiate a one-year contract with Caamal Canul.
Ford concedes that most superintendents get longer contracts, and that would likely have been a must to attract an outside applicant to move to Lansing. But Caamal Canul lives in the area and has expressed willingness to accept a one-year pact.
Ford is glad Caamal Canul is going along with the shorter contract desired by some in the community.
“They would like to see us bring someone in for a year,” Ford explains. “I think a lot of people say why get yourself stuck with someone for three years until you know that they’re going to be able to be successful in your district.”
Contract talks with unions loom
Beyond her personal contract, Caamal Canul has other negotiations looming. All of the bargaining units in the district are at the table, too. Caamal Canul won’t be the lead negotiator, but she will help the board establish bargaining guidelines.
Talks with teachers began in March and will ratchet up in intensity soon.
“Her team is ready, and we’re ready,” says Patti Seidl. She's president of the Lansing Schools Educational Association, the union representing city school teachers. "We’re going to start more serious bargaining when we have more information, the first of May. Absolutely, I think she values the teachers. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get everything we want, and vice versa, but I think there’s going to be a fairness and an openness of information that hasn’t been there in the past.”
Seidl thinks reaching a deal for Lansing teachers before their current contract expires at the end of June is crucial to making the district’s restructuring plan work starting in the fall.
“This is going to impact a major group of our teaching staff,” Seidl continues. “They’re making some life-changing decisions for themselves right now, so they need all the time and support we can give them. This will be a distraction. Obviously, it is what we do, it’s a primary role, the bargaining, but we absolutely want to be able to support our staff in this restructuring as well…and the superintendent.”
Lots of teachers will be on the move because of school closings and the placement of 7th and 8th graders in high schools starting in the fall.
School board president Myra Ford agrees that carrying out the restructuring plan is a major task.
“Being able to make sure that comes off as smoothly as possible,” Ford states, “making sure that our parents and students feel secure with their new location, being in high school for 7th and 8th graders. They are going to be kept separated from the other students. It’s kind of a scary prospect for a 7th and 8th grader, probably.”
Working towards a more cohesive school board
Parents and others have complained of discord on the school board in recent years. The board also had problems working with the previous superintendent, T.C. Wallace. Ford says so far, the board’s support of Yvonne Caamal Canul has been strong, and that’s a good sign.
“What she’s done so far, in our minds, has been pretty amazing,” Ford says, “not only from the aspect of how much she’s managed to accomplish, but from the aspect of the reaction to her by the staff, by the community. It’s just been phenomenal.”
For her part, teachers union President Patti Seidl seems to see better days ahead.
“This is a new day coming for the Lansing School District,” Seidl confides. “We were, at one time, really a wonderful system to work for, and highly regarded, and I see this administration getting us back to that point again.”
The Lansing Board of Education is planning a retreat in the next few months, at which President Ford hopes to look beyond Camaal Canul’s first year.