By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — Ottawa Area Intermediate School District Superintendent Karen McPhee could “redefine” the role of the governor’s senior education policy adviser when she takes the job in April, coworkers say.
McPhee will retire as superintendent, a position she has held for 11 years, at the end of the month to begin working for Gov. Rick Snyder.
“Karen is an innovator that likes to challenge the status quo,” said Kyle Mayer, an assistant superintendent for instructional services at the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District in Holland. “She is an extremely intelligent, out-of-the-box thinker, and at the same time, she is passionate about public education for students and she always leads with a student-first mentality.”
In her new job, McPhee will advise the governor on all aspects of K-12 and college education throughout Michigan, according to Dave Murray, Snyder’s deputy press secretary.
“She is the policy adviser for all things education,” Murray said. “She will work closely with the department of education, state board of education, all the education associations throughout the state, the legislature, and will ultimately recommend policies that are aimed at improving education for all students in Michigan.”
Julie Gillespie, the assistant superintendent of operations for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, who has worked with McPhee for 24 years, said the state is gaining a great employee with valuable skill.
“She is going to bring her own special way of collaborating into it,” Gillespie said. “I think that because she has been in the field, in education, she will bring her own special perspective and I think that will help her redefine it.”
Mayer, who was hired by McPhee about seven years ago, said she is an inspiring leader who works hard to make sure students always come first when it comes to public education.
McPhee was selected from a list of finalists who were approached or expressed interest in their job, Murray said. The governor’s office was interested in McPhee based on her reputation throughout the state as a good leader and educator.
Murray said McPhee has created a number of programs in the Ottawa county area.
“These programs have pulled together the higher education community along with K-12 districts, charters and even parochial schools and some of the business leaders in the area to come up with career tech programs,” Murray said, “serving not only K-12 students, but community college students and even adults going back for more training.”
Gillespie said she was not surprised to hear McPhee was in contention for the position.
“When you talk about great leaders in education, her name is inevitably going to pop up,” Gillespie said. “I think it is because she has been involved in some really significant initiatives like the Reading Now Network, which focuses on third grade reading. I think she is really well known as an articulate and thoughtful education leader.”
Third-grade reading is one of many items that McPhee will work with the legislature on for the governor, who has stressed the importance of third-grade reading recently, including in his state of the state address, Murray said.
McPhee, through a secretary, declined to comment.
By JOSH THALL