Farmington Schools trustees split on superintendent contract offer

Dr. Robert Herrera
Dr. Robert Herrera

Farmington Public Schools trustees late Tuesday night voted 4-3 to offer the job of superintendent to Dr. Robert Herrera, the appointed CEO of Benton Harbor Area Schools.

Before the Michigan Department of Education’s School Reform Office recruited him to lead the troubled district, Herrera served as superintendent in South Haven Public Schools and Onsted Community Schools, and as assistant superintendent at Lenawee Intermediate School District and Adrian Public Schools. The veteran educator has also worked as a principal, teacher, coach, and classroom advisor.

Trustees also interviewed Dr. Sarena Shivers, who is superintendent of Redford Union Schools. The two were selected from an original pool of 29, narrowed to seven for the first round of interviews earlier this month. In addition to the interviews, board members contacted references, heard from stakeholders in the candidates’ districts, and received scores of local feedback forms.

Both candidates also toured the district on Tuesday and met with administrators, teachers, students, and a small group of stakeholders.

’I’ve really struggled.’

Deliberations began at around 10:40 p.m., and it became clear that several board members felt conflicted over their choices.

“I’ve labored. I’ve really struggled. I’ve taken this to heart for more than one reason,” board president Pam Green said. “I was hoping that I would feel really strong tonight that there was a perfect fit… the right match to move Farmington forward… I don’t know what the right answer is for that.”

Trustee Terri Weems found strengths and concerns with both candidates. She liked the way Shivers connected with the community and her measured approach, but said she might be “kind of complacent” over FPS’ student achievement data. While Herrera is a “very dynamic educator,” she had concerns over some of his statements around student achievement.

“I struggled…because I don’t want to feel like I have to give up something, and I feel like I am now, because we didn’t get candidates that were from neighboring districts…we didn’t have candidates that were from larger districts, candidates that have demonstrated experience in the direction we’re trying to move in.”

Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) consultant Donna Oser urged trustees to be “very cautious about framing this as you got left with the bottom of the barrel.”

”That just didn’t happen here. I saw two very smart people who know how to impact teaching and learning speak very intelligently about that. It’s not about the fact that they’re not capable,” she said.

We have to take a realistic look’ 

Board Vice President Terry Johnson, who offered the motion to hire Herrera, said officials want the district to go from good to great – and that needle has been moving over the past several years in the wrong direction.

“The question we have to ask is, can we stop that movement and start to move it forward? Who can do that? We have to take a realistic look at ourselves and what we have here,” he said. “I think we owe this community one of the two of them. I wouldn’t be disappointed with either one.”

Johnson and trustees  Jessica Cummings, Terri Weems, and Zachary Rich supported the motion; Green and trustees Angie Smith and Richard Mukamal opposed.

Oser urged officials to make some sort of statement they could pass with a 7-0 vote, “because (Herrera is) not going to be successful if he doesn’t feel supported.”

Green said under the board’s policies and procedures, trustees support every decision no matter the actual vote. “We will all embrace Dr. Herrera and welcome him to our system… We’ll have that commitment together as a team.”

Rich also pointed out that the final vote on the contract, should Herrera accept, gives trustees an opportunity for a 7-0 vote.

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