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Rochester School Board Found 'Right Person' to Transition District

Board members will negotiate contract with Tresa Zumsteg to be interim superintendent when superintendent Fred Clarke leaves.

Tresa Zumsteg, a 33-year Oakland County school administrator whose two sons graduated from , will start work immediately transitioning Rochester Community Schools from one superintendent to the next.

After interviewing her for an hour Monday night, Board of Education members agreed Monday night to enter into contract talks with Zumsteg for the interim superintendent position. Her work at the board office will start immediately; she will be paid on a per diem basis until Superintendent Fred Clarke vacates the superintendent office and a contract is negotiated.

"I know that Rochester is a community that strongly values its children," Zumsteg said at the end of the interview. "I also know this community believes that the school district is an integral part as to why Rochester is a desirable community.

"I will give back to this district that has given so much to me professionally and personally, and I really want to be here to help this district move forward."

Clarke  in an email message to Rochester parents in July, citing his desire to work with under-achieving students. 

On Monday night, he offered his first public remarks on the decision.

"As many of you know I've been seeking employment to find a better fit to seek out my passion, and I really want to say thank-you to the board for the support that they've given me and thank-you to administrators and the staff and everyone who really understands me pursuing my passion," Clarke said.

"I'm looking forward to working with the interim when we move forward to make sure there's a smooth, seamless transition throughout this process." 

Clarke left the meeting after his remarks. He was not present for Zumsteg's interview.

'I owe a lot to Rochester'

Zumsteg retired as deputy superintendent of the Oakland Intermediate School District in 2010. She was there for three years, and before that was superintendent, deputy superintendent and interim superintendent for the Berkley School District from 1993-2007.

From 1978 to 1993 she worked in Rochester schools, as a special education teacher, as assistant principal of Reuther Middle School, as principal of West Middle School and as the principal who opened Hart Middle School.

Two years ago, she said Oakland Schools offered an early retirement incentive she could not refuse.

"My husband is 10 years older than me, and at the time I thought I had fulfilled all of my career goals," she said. 

Zumsteg said she has spent the past two years having "absolute fun" every day. But she was sitting on a beach recently when she received a call from the to find an interim superintendent.

"I can tell you the truth — except for Berkley, if it was any other district, I would have said no, absolutely," she said. 

"But I feel like I owe a lot to Rochester."

'Right person, right time'

On Monday night, board members took turns questioning Zumsteg about her strengths, weaknesses and how she would do the interim job. Here are the summaries of some of her answers:

  • Career highlight: When Zumsteg became assistant principal at Reuther in 1985, she was the first female secondary administrator in Rochester. This led to her roles as leaders of West and, eventually, Hart, which she opened in 1989. "Being able to open up a new school with new staff is one of the highlights of my career," she said.
  • Innovation: In Berkley, Zumsteg experimented with looping (where students continue with the same teacher and class from one grade to the next) and multi-age classrooms. But one of her greatest accomplishments was taking a Title 1 school and turning it into a K-8 international baccalaureate program — the only one in the country. 
  • Budget: At Berkley, Zumsteg managed a $40 million budget. At Oakland Schools, the budget was $300 million. "A lot of it is the communication that you have and helping people understand the budget," she said.
  • Priorities as interim: Zumsteg called herself a "change agent." Although she would only be temporary, Zumsteg said she would be able to help develop or implement new programs where needed. "It would not be a lost year, especially in terms of instruction," she said. "I will help you implement your vision and goals."

Zumsteg lived in Rochester for 30 years. Her children attended University Hills and Meadow Brook elementary schools, West Middle School and Rochester High School.

"Any time I ever met an educator from Rochester Schools I always said thank you," she said.

Board members agreed that Zumsteg was a perfect fit for the district. 

"She is just the right person at just the right time," board member Beth Talbert said. 

Lynn McLean September 11, 2012 at 12:08 PM
I have known and was privileged to work with Tresa Zumsteg for many years. Rochester Community Schools is extremely fortunate to have her leadership during this transition. Excellent decision by the Rochester Board of Education!
Mike Reno September 11, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Tresa did a great job at Berkley, and showed a sincere interest in raising the standards for all children. Rochester traditionally ignores the high-achieving kids, other than with the occasional superficial gestures, so Tresa's involvement here could indeed have very positive consequences. I welcome it. It is amusing, however, to hear praise for the board's decision-making skills. After their last hiring folly, they attempt to bandage it by interviewing ONE person, and decided after an hour, presumably unanimously (as usual), and will now pay double CEO salaries for some indeterminate period of time. Lucky would be a better descriptor, as the "right person at the right time" implies.
Tricia Pfannes September 11, 2012 at 11:45 PM
How can the district afford this?
Daryl Patrishkoff September 12, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Tricia, Great question. Last check the RCS is spending the reserves to maintain existing cost structure and will run out of money next year. Where is the plan?
Mike Luttenbrerger September 12, 2012 at 02:36 PM
CONGRATULATIONS Tresa and welcome home.
Joshua Raymond September 14, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Fred Clarke has submitted his letter of resignation effective September 17, when there will be a special meeting of the Board of Education. See http://media.rochester.k12.mi.us/download/148794?token=OCaRojCyVwc%3d for his letter. Presumably this places his actual last day as November 16.

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