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New Northville Schools Chief Faces Tough Challenges

Keeping the district moving forward is the goal for new Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher.

has removed the phrase "incoming" from her new job as Northville's superintendent of schools.

But she hasn't had time to stretch out behind her new desk, after only about a month on the job.

"It's been busy," Gallagher said, with contract talks with teachers and other unions under way, privatization of district bus services under consideration and a $5.5 million shortfall looming when the next school year begins in little more than a month.

"The idea of a slow July is no more."

Education is "in my blood"

It's a far cry, she says, from the languid summer days when she would visit her dad—who was also a superintendent of schools—at his office.

"I used to spend the days stamping books for the district where he worked," Gallagher recalled. "I guess education was in my blood even then."

Her father, the late Tom Scullen, remains her biggest inspiration.

"He was a superintendent in both Naperville, IL, and Appleton, WI, and was named superintendent of the year in both states," she said.

Even though he passed away in 2007, Gallagher can still hear his voice—never more so than now.

"He just commanded so much respect," she said of the man who has  both a middle school and a school office building named in his honor.

Gallagher makes it clear, however, that she has her own management style.

"He was something of a steamroller," she said.

Her style, she added, is based on building collaboration and cooperation.

"It's about moving forward even though we have some tough things to do."

Nor will her style exactly duplicate that of , the longtime district supervisor she July 1.

But the 26-year Northville schools veteran is committed to building on the success the district enjoyed under her predecessor's tenure.

"We're really fortunate in Northville to have the kind of commitment to excellence that we have—from the students, the teachers and the community."

Though she has served as the district's assistant superintendent for instruction, principal of and the early childhood center, and was hired for her new post in December, Gallagher might not yet be as familiar to district parents as the now-retired Rezmierski.

But with two teen daughters, she's familiar with the issues of modern parenthood.

"I guess you could say I'm a softball mom," Gallagher said in describing her outside interests.

Family game night is also a big priority at her household, though the table is a bit smaller with eldest daughter Katie, 18, off to attend the University of Michigan.

"I'm thrilled she's going there," said Gallagher, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Michigan State. "But when they tried to teach us 'Hail to the Victors' (at family orientation)...well, that's going to take a while."

She and her husband live in the Farmington area and are also parents to Sarah, 16, a high school student in that district.

A tough road ahead

Gallagher's ability to bring people together to build consensus on even the toughest issues was key to her hiring, school board Vice President Dottie Garrity said.

"She has a wealth of experience in the district, not only in the central office but as a principal and as leader of many district committees."

Her work with the recent health education committee was particularly impressive, Garrity said.

"That's an issue people have strong, diverse opinions about. But she was able to build a consensus, and that's something desperately needed."

Gallagher's role in gaining districtwide accreditation from the North Central Association, an independent agency that evaluates school operations, also speaks to her abilities, Garrity said.

"Her work on that was really impressive," she said.

Her new challenges will be even tougher, Garrity acknowledged.

At present, some 65 teachers are on layoff as the district braces for reductions in both student funding and enrollment. Programs like athletics and music are also expected to take big hits.

Next year's estimated $8,019-per-student grant from from the state represents a $520 decrease from as recently as three years ago.  Student enrollment, currently at 7,300 students, is also expected to drop by 75 next year after a period of modest, if trend-bucking, growth.

Gallagher was selected for the post in perhaps the classic contrast between local experience and a fresh perspective. Several parents, educators and other community members attended the public interviews—some voicing support, others not.

While board members were split 4-3 on the hiring, Garrity said they all now stand fully in support.

"We're behind her 7-0," Garrity said. "After the vote, we even passed a resolution to make it unanimous."

Dee Shaw August 13, 2011 at 12:25 AM
Getting the teachers back in the class rooms. The right teachers with the right course. Not the art teacher, teaching german. Or the german teacher teaching spanish. Or the jr high school english teacher going to the high scholl to teach spanish. Do the parents know how bad they have mess up the class rooms that are kids are going to have to get a great GPA out of for college. And do you really think open parking is a good thing at the high school. When you are looking for a kids car will you have the time to go up and down every row? What happens if we have a lock down like last year. When we needed to check for the car the office had it on file. The traffic going in and out of the high school is really bad. Can you guess what is going to be like when all the kids are trying to get the best spots every morning. They said they did not have the money to paint on new lines. What about the money the kids pay to park there. And what about the maintencince staff they could have done that job over the summer. In my mom's condo complex the people who lived there painted on the lines to save money. But we have money to help pay for the fake grass to for the football field. Maybe someday but now is not the time for that. Wake up before it's to late.

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