By Judy Reed
It’s now been five months since Dr. Laura VanDuyne, a Detroit, Michigan native, and her family moved from California to take over as Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. For them, she says, it’s like coming home.
“We love the cold weather, the snow. We longed for that—the seasons, the culture, the friendliness,” she explained. “We’ve been here five months and never looked back. It almost feels like you never left.”
VanDuyne was born in the suburbs of Detroit and graduated from Memphis High School, which is about 60 miles north of Detroit. So the west side of the state is new to her, but not to her husband, who grew up in Jenison, and remembers participating in the Red Flannel Marching Competition and marching in the parade in high school. In fact, she said he had grandparents who owned 40 acres on Myers Lake Road near 14 Mile—Roy and Elizabeth Reynolds.
VanDuyne said she met her husband eight years ago, after getting her doctorate. They had always planned to come back to Michigan; but after they had their two children—Izzy and Vance—she said they started making a concerted effort to get back here—where the grandparents are. “I had checked out the district, and it looked like a location we’d like to be. So when the opening came up, I threw my name in the hat and never expected to get the call, but I did, and here we are! It’s an amazing place,” she said.
After graduating from Memphis High School, VanDuyne went to the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she also taught. She then came back to the Midwest and received her masters in education administration from Minnesota State University, and a post-MA in educational leadership from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. She was also a teacher and principal there. From there she moved to the San Francisco bay area, where she earned her doctorate degree from the University of San Francisco. She was a full-time principal there, and for the last four years, was executive director of the State SELPA, Contra Costa Special Education Joint Powers Authority. “That’s similar to an Intermediate School District superintendent,” explained VanDuyne. “I was responsible for overseeing 16 school districts—10,000 students—in regard to special education, such as funding and other things.”
So how does that compare to being Superintendent of a 3,800-student district? “That’s the fun part of being here,” responded VanDuyne. “I always wanted to be a superintendent and I knew I wanted to be back at the local level,” she explained. And she hasn’t been disappointed.
“The board, the staff, the community, the parents are all working towards a better future for our kids. It’s such a close-knit community, and they are so proud. We have great innovative teaching, and the support staff is totally invested. It’s all about the children, and that is energizing for me,” she explained.
She noted that she is also impressed by the level of heartfelt interest by the Board of Education. “It’s all about the kids. I have not seen agendas, and that has left an impression with me. They have had to make some tough decisions.”
While some on the Board of Education thought it might be a large learning curve for her, coming from another state, VanDuyne said that hasn’t been the case. “This is the third state I’ve been an administrator in; making those changes are not difficult. They all have similar tenets, with some nuances in local legislation,” she noted.
VanDuyne said the biggest thing she has focused on is getting to know the teaching and support staff—faces, names, what they teach, etc. She said she likes to meet with every individual and get to know them. “That’s been wonderful; I’ve learned so much,” she remarked. “That’s where I’ve gleaned pride in the community.”
VanDuyne said she is big on input and grassroots information gathering. An example of that was the recent selection of a website vendor. She said they wanted something that would highlight the district, yet be easy to use for parents and staff. They had 30 employees and citizens from all areas of the school system—all people who would use the website—and had them watch four presentations from web vendors. They then selected the vendor, without input from either VanDuyne or Asst. Superintendent David Cairy.
“When you can bring bright minds together that’s powerful. They will do more, they will buy into it,” she explained.
VanDuyne also wants residents to know that her door is always open for them. “I answer my own emails, and take my own calls. I want a personal connection,” she explained. “I value face to face discussion—a handshake. I want to hear your concerns.”
VanDuyne said their family is enjoying being here with friends and family, something they have long looked forward to. And she noted that the community doesn’t need to worry about her going anywhere anytime soon. “I plan to be here a long time, to become an integral part of Cedar Springs and Red Hawk pride.”