Farmington’s new superintendent sees strengths, challenges

Dr. Robert Herrera
Dr. Robert Herrera (Farmington Public Schools)

New superintendent Dr. Bob Herrera saw great potential when he accepted a position with Farmington Public Schools.

The former CEO of Benton Harbor Area Schools mentioned a breadth of programming, innovative staff, fiscal responsibility in the face of declining enrollment, and high quality programs and services for students, as he discussed the move during a recent interview.

”This was an opportunity to work in a culture that has a focus on meeting the needs of students,” said Herrera, who started work In July.

After meeting with teachers, administrators, and support staff over the past two months, Herrera said he’s found “a very open and sincere group in terms of their commitment to the district.”

”They have a passion for what they do, for serving kids,” he said. “Their jobs are who they are… they’re passionate about the community. That’s much different than in my other experiences.”

Herrera said he’s gained a “good understanding” of the district’s recent initiatives and plans to look at “return on investment”, to learn what’s working and what needs adjustment. “Then we can set our priorities and move toward the future… It’s more about looking at how to get to the next level.”

’People are always looking for ways to improve’

Herrera said he has found building administrators open to new initiatives and willing to reflect on their own practices. “That’s a common theme here. People are always looking for ways to improve and seek growth.”

Community leaders have also been very supportive of the schools, Herrera said, and he was impressed by how much city officials know about the district. He plans to continue former Superintendent George Heitsch’s practice of community coffees and Friday video updates, and may add a column in the district’s quarterly newsletter.

Acknowledging tensions in the community, Herrera said he believes in establishing channels of communication so that issues are settled before people feel the need to bring them to public comment at a board meeting.

“Ultimately, if we haven’t been able to resolve an issue to their satisfaction, it’s time to go to the school board,” he said.

Trustee relationships

Herrera has met with trustees individually and said “they all take their role as a board member very seriously. They want the best outcomes for students.” Collectively, he added, “the manner in which information flows and decisions are made could be improved to allow them to get information, seek clarification, and make decisions.”

Herrera sees new opportunities through board committees to build relationships with top level administrators, so that trustees are not getting all their information through him. He also hopes that officials finalize their operating procedures manual, “so when topics come up about board business, those standards are already established.”

Residents will see more opportunities in the future to share their thoughts and opinions, as Herrera wants to take a look at the community’s perception of the district and “where they’d like to see us head in the next five years.”

“I’m still doing a lot of active listening,” he said, “and being very intentional on getting out in the community.”