New superintendent brings administrative changes


Getting Involved // Dr. Gary Niehaus was the invited speaker at the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club meeting on Monday, Aug. 24. Neihaus was a Rotarian at the Charleston Rotary Club in Illinois before moving to Grosse Pointe.

By Jennifer Maiorana ’16 | Print Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Gary Niehaus officially became superintendent of the Grosse Pointe Public School System (GPPSS) on June 1 and has been adjusting well to the Grosse Pointe community and lifestyle since, he said.

“It’s been a great transition,” Niehaus said. “I was able to be a part of both high school graduations, and I got to meet my whole administrative team before they left for summer.”

The GPPSS administration has already been able to learn from the new perspectives and ideas that Niehaus has, Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services Jon Dean said.

“Dr. Niehaus has been doing this work for a long time, and he really knows how to connect with people,” Dean said. “He knows how to come in, assess the situation and make good, sound decisions. I’ve only been working with him since June 1, so a little less than three months, but I’ve been really impressed.”

One decision the GPPSS administration has already made for the upcoming school year was to reassign Debbie Redlin to Parcells as an assistant principal and Steven Wolf to South as an assistant principal, essentially switching their positions, Dean said.

“We looked hard at it and felt that it was in the best interest of the school district to make that decision,” Dean said. “Grosse Pointe Public Schools are fortunate enough to have outstanding teachers and certainly outstanding administrators.”

Redlin had prior experience being a middle school administrator and Wolf had worked at a high school in North Carolina before Parcells, Dead said.

“I know both of them do a great job with relationships,” Dean said. “I think that Ms. Redlin will make great relationships at Parcells and really connect with those students and teachers and the same with Mr. Wolf.”

Redlin said she was assigned to Parcells as a district decision and did not know much about why she was moved. Despite this, she said she was going to make the best of the move.

Parcells is a wonderful school, and I am excited to be there,” Redlin said via e-mail.

Principal Moussa Hamka said he did not want to comment on whether or not he was part of the decision to switch Redlin and Wolf. However, he said he is looking forward to working with Wolf.

“Any time you lose somebody who has been in an institution for years and developed relationships, it’s always a loss,” Hamka said. “There’s always going to be an acclimation period where you’re transitioning, however, I’m very confident in Mr. Wolf’s skillset. I look forward to him taking what Ms. Redlin has done and extending it to newfound heights and successes.”

Wolf said he is excited to be at South and looks forward to working with high school students again. He said his strengths are best suited to benefit high school students.

“At the middle school level, I felt that I had to find my niche in terms of how I connected and built relationships with the kids, where at the high school, it felt more natural; it’s who I am, and it didn’t take much effort to do that,” Wolf said. “My biggest asset will be supporting students and their beliefs.”

Senior Class President Margaret Sohn ’16 said she values when administrators such as Wolf make an effort to listen and connect with students.

“One of the most helpful resources are the students when it comes to education,” Sohn said. “We are the ones going through it and we have a strong view on what needs to be changed and what doesn’t.”

In regards to Wolf entering South and Niehaus entering the GPPSS, Sohn said she remains optimistic and hopes these changes will improve faculty to student relationships.

And Niehaus said he hopes to reach out to students and build relationships by attending football games, walking through the halls and attending club events.

“I’m open to people coming and talking,” Niehaus said. “It’s of interest to me to know what can I do as a superintendent to support what your needs are as a student.”

Along with being a more active member of the community, Niehaus said he has four main focal points for this fall: enrollment, special education, the North/South dynamic and the failed technology bond.

Enrollment in kindergarten and first grade classes is down due to the lowered birth rates during the recent recession he said, but he said he has begun to work with the Chamber of Commerce in addition to the city managers and the mayor to discuss new advertising tactics.

“We are trying to figure out how to bring new families into Grosse Pointe to bring these-aged kids into the school system,” Niehaus said.

In regards to special education, Niehaus wants to increase co-teaching and get more students with special needs back into traditional classrooms with their peers, he said.

“We want to spend some time at the high school level with our 19-26-year old students,” Niehaus said. “We are working with Full Circle to begin to evolve and develop work programs so that kids can have full time jobs once they have finished the Full Circle program.”

Along with this, Niehaus said he strives to create a more cohesive community by promoting #oneGP on social media.

“There’s a perception that there’s an issue with North and South, but honestly the results show that they’re both producing good-quality high school education,” Niehaus said.

Lastly, the recent technology bond failing is also an important matter to consider, he said.

“We’ve got to come back, look at and analyze our needs and wants from the tech(nology) bond and determine whether we can go back with our needs versus our wants and whether we can get the community to buy into the now-called building infrastructure,” Niehaus said.

In addition to these four areas, Niehaus plans to improve security and crisis management at the schools.

“We are pretty insular in a lot of ways, but there are people that penetrate this from time to time,” Niehaus said. “What I want to do somewhere along the way is explain to our kids that we really do want to keep them safe and secure.”

At his previous district, Niehaus actually experienced an active shooter.

“We had been in school for 12 days, and the teacher (of the shooter’s class) had been hired four days before the start of school. Three out of four administrators at the high school were in their first year,” Niehaus said. “When the student shot four shots into the ceiling, it puts you in a position where you’re kind of like ‘oh.’”

There were no injuries, but this incident was an eye-opener for Niehaus and the school district, he said. Nobody expected anything like this to happen in a community similar to Grosse Pointe, so Niehaus plans to bring in a safety team to conduct a complete evacuation of the high schools in order to prepare students for unexpected situations.

“I don’t want to go through it again,” Niehaus said. “And if I do, I want to make it just as practiced as last time. We got kudos from law enforcement, the newspaper and others because we executed it fairly well. But, there were an awful amount of God moments in that day, too.”

Moving forward, Niehaus said he plans to increase communication among the students, staff and administration in order to make effective changes.

Administrators are looking forward to stronger collaboration and the new ideas Niehaus brings to the table, Hamka said.

“He has a way of looking at things with a different vantage point, a different view, and it helps us reanalyze what we are doing to make sure we are being effective in all of our practices,” Hamka said.