New school superintendent prepares to take reins

Frederick Clarke begins his tenure as Rochesterschool superintendent July 1. But he’s been spending the early part of his summer vacation getting ready for the job.
Clarke was hired away from Albion Public Schools by unanimous vote of the Rochester Board of Education to replace Dave Pruneau, who is retiring. Clarke and his family have found a place to rent while they put their current house on the market.  Older son Freddy, 15, will be attending Stony Creek High School this fall. Younger son Andy, 9, will be a fifth-grader.
Clarke rose quickly to the top of the board of education’s list this spring after six candidates were interviewed. The board was impressed with his ability to boost achievement in Albion at a time when enrollment was shrinking dramatically.
“It strikes me that he has a very singular focus, and that is the achievement of students,” Trustee Beth Talbert said.  “I want that in my superintendent.”
Clarke is enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Western Michigan University. He earned a Bachelor of Sciencedegree in biology at the University of Michigan and a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston. He became Albion’s superintendent in 2007 after several positions in Illinois and Texas.
“I think you guys will like Fred,” said Dan Skean, President of the Albion Board of Education. “I think he’s very good with technology and its use is assessing success. I think he is very good at publicizing the district in a very positive way. And I’ve enjoyed working with him. … He’s left us with good results at the curriculum end.”
During Clarke’s time at Albion, third-grade MEAP math scores went from one of the lowest in the county to every studentpassing in just three years.
“Several districts I’ve worked with were very high needs,” Clarke said. “The pattern that I’ve followed is a rising tide raises all boats.”
Rochester, on the other hand,“has always been at or near the top in achievement,” he said. Butthere are gaps.
“When you look at a 91-percent performance rate…you still have to be cognizant of that 9 percent,” he said. “My philosophy has always been you don’t stop until you get 100 percent.” Because of what was accomplished in Albion, “I know it’s possible. It’s something that takes a tremendous amount of work, a tremendous amount of collaboration.”
Clarke said he believes in educating the whole child, and that includes culture and athletics. Sports “is a motivating factor for students, something that instillsthat pride,” he said. “If you didn’t have that, you’d have a lot more disenfranchised children.”
He supports Rochester’s plan to go to full-day, five-day kindergarten a year from now. Albion has already done so.
“It had a tremendous impact on student achievement,” Clarke said. “We had to rewrite our entire first-grade curriculum.”
In Rochester, the conversion may cost up to $1 million, and there are capacity issues at some buildings. “There are several options that are on the table,” Clarke said.“You really can’t argue against it in a practical sense. You’re going to double the instructional time.”
In the coming school year, Rochester plans to dig deep into its fund balance. Every decision will be weighed against its impact on the budget, but Clarke said the impact on the classroom will also be a top priority.
“Sometimes it takes very difficult conversations,” he said.“One thing we as educators have been very good at is adding programs. We seldom step back from programs.”
Clarke’s four-year contractcalls for a starting salary of $172,000 and an annual performance review.
“We wanted to insure that we had a compensation package that was regionally competitive” while taking into account the district’s finances, said Trustee Lisa Nowak, a member of the superintendent search committee. “So we looked at a variety of districts with comparable quality and size. And I can tell you this package …is in the bottom quartile. …
“We like to say that we get value for our dollar, and I think this contract represents that we’re getting value for our dollar. I’m very excited Mr. Clarke is coming to our district.”
Clarke is a member of the Rotary Club, serves on several boards and is active in his church. He said he’ll be visible and approachable.�
Despite all the difficulties facing public education in Michigan these days, he said he loves the work.
“I cannot think of any type of job better than superintendent, the way you can work with so many people to have an impact. I feel very blessed. I’m really looking forward to being part of the Rochester family.”

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