Profile

Committed to Individual Worth

by Jay P. Goldman

Len Rezmierski was working as a special education director in the mid-1980s when the highest court in Michigan ordered the immediate deinstitutionalization of the state’s 12 facilities that housed thousands of persons with developmental disabilities. Rezmierski quickly took on the integration of more than 1,000 students and young adults who had spent most of their lives in state-run institutions into the school system of Northville, Mich.

 

The experience had a profound and lasting effect on the native of Detroit, who a few years later moved into the suburban district’s superintendency, a position he never had really aspired to fill. Now 18 years later, he’s still Northville’s superintendent and ever so committed to the worth of the individual student.

In an upscale community where most students enjoy plenty of privilege in their lives, Rezmierski won’t allow anyone to forget that a complete education, as he puts it, “meticulously looks at the relevance of what we’re teaching wrapped around caring.” He takes immense pleasure in a 38-page document he helped to assemble last fall that chronicles the diverse array of community service commitments undertaken by Northville students, their families and staff to help the less fortunate locally and globally. Some of the support initiatives have continued for the past 12 years.

“He holds aspirations for Northville’s students that go way beyond their strong performance on achievement measures,” says Pat Reeves, associate executive director with Michigan Association of School Administrators. “He knows that his students can be best served in ways that go beyond becoming academically adept.”

To ensure individualized attention, Rezmierski introduced a concept known as the instructional support team, which identifies and addresses early learning needs in students in their regular classrooms before more serious problems develop. Over the past decade, this intervention, which involves collaborative teams of parents and teachers, has spread from each of the district’s six elementary schools to the three secondary schools. One notable outcome: The special education population in 7,500-student Northville has dropped from the state average of 14 percent of enrollment to just under 6 percent.

The instructional support team program has been replicated in a dozen other districts and a state legislator recently introduced a bill seeking statewide support.

The pro-active approach, school board president Joan Wadsworth says, is representative of the “deep and thoughtful ways” Rezmierski handles instructional leadership. She points to Northville educators “so genuinely sharing with each other what they do well and what they’re worried about so not every school is reinventing the wheel.”

Though at 66 he’s one of Michigan’s most senior school leaders, having held the presidencies of three statewide education groups, Rezmierski shows an unmatched personal thirst for professional growth. He was the first superintendent to sign up for Courageous Journey, an ambitious, state-recognized credentialing program that involves developing and documenting a personal growth plan over three years. His cohort ended last month with a culminating presentation on “the triangle of systemic change” in front of his peers.

“When we first rolled out the concept,” says Reeves, “Len’s eyes lit up. Not because of how it might add to his professional recognition, but for the opportunity, so far into his career, to continue learning, continue growing and to give whatever he could to others in the role of superintendent.”

Rezmierski, modeling what it means to be a lifelong learner, admits retirement is on his mind, but says he “feels an obligation to put together some realistic strategies over the 1 years ahead,” especially during a rough economic period.

No doubt, he’ll continue to lead from the front, providing the biggest motivator for others to follow in his footsteps.

Jay Goldman is editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org


BIO STATS: LEN REZMIERSKI

Currently:
superintendent, Northville Public Schools, Northville, Mich.

Previously: executive director of special education, Northville, Mich.

Age: 66

Greatest influence on career: William Cave, chair of my doctoral committee, and William Morse and William Cruickshank, renowned researchers in the education of students with disabilities. All three were remarkably profound.

Best professional day: The sheer delight I have when I can read to the students at the elementary level.

Books at bedside:Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman; An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson; and We Belong to the Land by Elias Chacour

Biggest blooper: I misgauged the community’s sentiment to support a millage campaign in my first couple of years as superintendent. This was a major mistake. But I recommitted to that task and the millage was supported a year later.

Key reason I’m an AASA member: AASA, like our Michigan association, has been a great source of strength and support. The information provided, via articles and research, is relevant, current and effective.

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