By Megan Kelley
As Lake Orion Community Schools prepares for the start of another school year, things look far different than years before. Aside from the guidelines set forth by both the district and state that have drastically changed how schooling will occur, LOCS is also welcoming a new superintendent, Ben Kirby.
The LOCS Board of Education officially hired Kirby in June after the departure of the district’s previous superintendent, Marion Ginopolis, that same month.
Kirby’s official start date with the district was on July 20 and after a little less than a month under his belt, he’s been acclimating well, despite all the new changes.
“Really what I’ve been doing is meeting people and learning about the district…It’s been great, everybody’s been wonderful and it’s like meeting new friends every day. That’s how it feels… and it’ll be like that for me for at least the first three months,” Kirby said.
“I’d be able to focus on that a lot more if we didn’t have the impending things that are happening in the fall, that’s changing so much. That certainly has made my transition even more intense because there’s not only the learning that a new superintendent has to do about a community, but there’s also trying to open up a school in a situation that nobody has ever experienced before, so that has certainly been different. So, fortunately, the cabinet I work with is super and we’re all pulling together while I’m meeting people and trying to make connections, they’re doing a lot of the really valuable work that needs to be done. It’s been intense.”
Throughout the superintendent search process, Kirby often told the LOCS Board of Education that he was going to “hit the ground learning” and that’s something he has been doing and expects to do during his first few months with the district.
“Part of my leadership style is to learn and I’m really going to work hard over the first three months, especially, to learn a lot about the district.
“For me, it’s important to learn why we do the things we do and how we do the things we do before I can say we need to change the things that we do,” said Kirby.
“So I don’t come in with three or four things that I’ve done in multiple districts that I think are the best answers for all students because there is no silver bullet or one answer. Every community is different, and as I learn over the first three months, I’ll understand best why we do the things we do and that will develop how we move forward, and the different types of things we might need to do to make a better experience for our students.”
After nine years under Ginopolis, LOCS has managed to pass both a bond and a sinking fund while also remaining a leader in student education across the state. LOCS consistently ranks high in standardized testing and graduates hundreds of hardworking and respected students each year. Ginopolis’ legacy in Lake Orion is not one that is lost on Kirby.
“I think you look at the strengths that are in place and I think that there is a really strong team, a really strong community and a really strong past. And so to me, how I feel about it is it’s a great opportunity to take us from where we are, which is a terrific spot, a build on that to become even better,” Kirby said. “I think Marion was certainly outstanding in her field, she had the dedication with the number of years that she provided leadership in education and she has been open to supporting my success and being open to communicating with me so how I feel about that is I feel honored and privileged to pick up where she left off and advance forward.”
Ginopolis also leaves behind a highly respected team of administrators, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Heidi Mercer, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rick Arnett and Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald, all of whom Kirby is grateful to be working with.
“You could capitalize every letter in the word blessed, that’s how I feel,” Kirby said.
While normally Kirby would spend the first few months getting to know community members, he has also had to work diligently with the rest of LOCS administration to put together a cohesive back-to-school plan. Knowing the complaints the district received about their at-home learning program in the spring, Kirby reassures parents and guardians that what happened in the spring will not be what they see come fall.
“Two things that come to mind for me is, as far as biggest challenges, is to help people understand that what they experienced in the spring for education will be significantly different than what they’re going to experience in the fall. Even though we may be in a remote setting, the opportunity and the experiences and the academics and the rigor that people expect, they are going to get in the fall,” Kirby said. “What happened in the spring was an emergency and we did the things that we did necessary to continue to stay engaged with kids. We led and we taught with compassion and we will continue to do that, but what we did in the spring was try and get through the year based on the emergency we had. And I’ve heard a lot of people talk about, ‘What we did in the spring, we’d like to see something better, more rigorous,’ and that will be something that they will experience. We’ve had over the summer to plan and we’re working really hard so that’s probably the first one.”
Kirby also discussed the probable challenges with finances districts across the state are likely to face.
“I think the other piece is finances, with everything, even with the COVID-19, there’s just an obligation for us to continue to do more and more and more with the same dollar and that gets really difficult and with the funding challenges, with how schools are funded, with the economy having the shortfalls it has had and what the state is experiencing, funding, which has been an issue for a number of years, just became even worse so that’s a real challenge that is clear.”
As a graduate of Michigan State University, Kirby’s been bleeding green for years and is eager to immerse himself in the Dragon community.
“This district not only has Dragons at the high school but they have Dragons all across the district, so again, the uniformity and the passion to be a Dragon, that’s something that I’ve felt and jumped into and I’ll continue to communicate my appreciation for being a Dragon and ultimately my passion to be a Dragon and have as many Dragons around here to be leaders in our community and world,” Kirby said.
As Kirby continues to settle into his new position, he encourages community members to reach out.
“The schools are an integral part of this community and this community is important to the school district and if there are things that our students, our school district, can do to help the community thrive even further, I’d love to have people reach out,” Kirby said. “I have an open-door policy. I look forward to meeting people. I’ve appreciated all the people that have reached out via email, phone call, cards, that kind of thing, welcoming me to the community and I look forward to continuing to meet people in whatever mode or media that we choose. But not to hesitate to reach our or introduce themselves and I’ll be doing the same.”