By Carolyn Marnon – Dr.Shelley Holt grew up in Moreno Valley, a small town in Southern California. She left her position as Executive Director of Student Services for the Fontana Unified School District in sunny California to brave the cold winters of Michigan as the new Superintendent of Wayne Westland Community Schools where she officially took over on September 19.
Before coming to Wayne-Westland, she had been a teacher and math coordinator at American Indian Charter School (Oakland CA), teacher and grade level chair at Bret Harte Elementary (Burbank CA), assistant principal at Fruit Ridge Elementary (Sacramento CA), John Still K-8 (Sacramento CA) and Grant High School (Sacramento CA) and principal at Bret Harte Middle School and Fairbanks Elementary (Sacramento CA).
She has always been interested in why people think the way they do and why they do what they do. “Psychology allowed me to study the way the brain influences our actions and how we can shift our thoughts and actions based on experiences,” she said. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of California-Berkeley. She then fell into teaching after college while she was taking a break before heading to graduate school. She loved seeing the children learn and realized she could change lives through increased learning.
Dr. Holt has a Master of Arts in Urban Education and Leadership from California State University-Sacramento and a Doctor of Education in Urban Education and Leadership from University of Southern California. “Continuing education is necessary to continue to refine and grow skill sets and build upon ideas for improving student learning using evidence and research- based strategies. I always want to learn more about how to serve our students and families more efficient and productively. My father always encouraged me to “go figure it out,” and I always understood that as-I needed to learn more and be the very best I could in whatever I did. To this day, I believe in giving everything 110% and striving to be the best!” Education was so important in her home growing up, that while she wanted to be a country and gospel singer as a kid, she also wanted to be a doctor.
When she is not working, Dr. Holt spends time with her husband and children. “They are hilarious, and we have a lot of fun together.” Her children range in age from 1 to 23: Jaxson, AJ, Courtney, Taylor, Jordan, Angelica and Jhannique. “They were very excited about moving to Michigan, but they were disappointed that there wasn’t any snow when they got here.” Her school-aged kids attend PD Graham Elementary and Wayne Memorial High School.
Mr. Holt is studying for his Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies. He plans to graduate June 2018. His wife can’t wait to see him cross the stage. He has worked in catering and politics, but with his current studies, he would like to go into education as a physical education or elementary teacher.
The Holt family arrived in Michigan in September. Is she prepared for the Michigan winter?
“We shall see…I have a couple of coats, but I think the kids are more prepared than I am.”
How did she learn of the superintendent position for Wayne Westland Community Schools?
I “received a call from a colleague while on the Footsteps to Freedom: Underground Railroad Tour and I told her that I thought Detroit was an area that I could make a difference. A few minutes later she forwarded me the posting and the rest is history in the making.” She was inspired by the student achievement data, the discipline data and the changing demographics. The one thing that stood out to her while applying for the job was the idea that this was a community she would be proud to bring her family and children.
“While I have formal educational training from some of the best universities and professors in the country for the work of overcoming barriers to improve student achievement, I have a relentless passion to do what is right not just for our students, but for those whom we task to teach and reach our students on a daily basis in a variety of valuable capacities. Everyone who touches the life of a child is a critical component to the infrastructure that makes public education in Wayne-Westland successful. My understanding of the causes and impact of the school to prison pipeline, how instructional practices can be shifted to include social emotional learning and improve school climate and culture, helping adults and students build working goal driven relationships for improved learning results, bringing together non-traditional groups of people to problem solve, and providing supports for leaders inside and outside of the building/classrooms to coach one another up for improved performance,” are what make Dr. Holt an outstanding candidate for this position.
What are her top 3 priorities for her first year as superintendent?
1) Building Collaborative Relationships for Authentic Communication: Learning, understanding, and building working relationships with our people, our schools, our community by asking questions and listening to the stories behind the work. Creating structures for collaboration, input, feedback, communication and sharing of information.
2) Data Driven Instructional and Organizational Decision Making: Ensuring clearly communicated structures and processes to use quantitative and qualitative data for making programmatic, financial and instructional decisions.
3) Support for Improving Student Achievement: Implementation of the strategic plan by providing support at all levels to improve student achievement through a focus on teaching and assessing our state standards and instructional/leadership frameworks collaboratively and incrementally. This includes supports for addressing climate, culture and social emotional learning at all levels of our organization.
Her long-term vision for the district is “to become the lighthouse district of not only Wayne County, but the state of Michigan and an example for the nation of how we embrace a shift in our community dynamics and still have high student growth and achievement. We have talented and hard-working people here in Wayne-Westland, and we are capable of greatness in student achievement, student and community relationships, athletics, and a myriad of other areas. I believe in Wayne-Westland.”
Dr. Holt is an expert in several areas of education, including urban results-focused educational leadership, culturally responsive instruction, data-driven instructional and organizational decision making, building authentic relationships for the benefit of student achievement and growth, district level support for climate, culture and social emotional learning, trained in restorative practices, focusing on equity for under-served populations, eliminating the school to prison pipeline, standards-based curriculum and instructional mapping and bench marking, and addressing challenges of generational poverty.
“While a focus on the quantitative and qualitative data are at the core of decision making, everyone in our community is important and there is a story behind the numbers. Through those stories are solutions, and when we as a community can engage in both comfortable and uncomfortable truths we will be able to create authentic solutions for students. Part of my leadership style involves helping us all face those situations and get comfortable being uncomfortable in a safe environment based in empathetic collaboration for whole child success.”