By Jenny Johnson – The first day of school was exciting not only for students and teachers in the Wayne-Westland Community School District but also for the new Superintendent Michele Harmala.
Harmala began her tenure her in Wayne-Westland on July 1. Since then she has been getting to know the people, programs and services offered in Wayne-Westland. She was previously in the Farmington Public School District.
“It is important for me, coming from outside of the community, to understand the values, beliefs, interests, successes and challenges from the perspectives of our Board of Education members and as many staff members and community members as possible,” she said.
She has spent the summer getting to know the staff and community. She has also been talking to parents from each of the schools “to ensure I have a parent’s perspective of the district and our schools,” she said.
Harmala said, “I have also been investigating the programs and services we offer and asking questions that assist me in understanding both why the programs/services exist and what we are achieving as a result of each. It is important to get to know people and programs prior to thinking about any changes–unneeded change can be problematic, yet necessary change can be helpful.”
Ideas for Wayne-Westland
Harmala said she is impressed with the comprehensive offerings in the district.
“Wayne Westland Community Schools should be proud of the array of programs and services they offer to their students and community. This district has created tremendous programs and services on the lowest funding offered by our state. This is certainly a point of pride for the community, District and all of the personnel,” she said.
She praised the programs available for preschool age children through senior citizens and the different opportunities for students who need additional assistance to classrooms for Talented and Gifted students.
We offer challenging courses such as Advanced Placement Courses, Direct College, and Dual Enrollment. Our William D. Ford Career-Technical Center offers 19 distinct programs. We provide special education services for students who live in surrounding communities through the Center Program model that operates in Wayne County,” she said. The staff in WWCS are dedicated and committed to the success of our students and the District.”
Her plan is to make sure even more people know about the successes in Wayne-Westland.
“To improve the District, we need to ensure everyone in our community and in the surrounding communities know what we do and how their children can benefit from being a part of the WWCS,” she said. “We need to continue to problem-solve and work together when challenges arise, such as financial challenges or legislative challenges.”
Instruction is also a top priority
“We must ensure all of our students are college and career ready when they leave WWCS–for our newest students, our preschool and kindergarten age students, that means preparing them for a world that we can’t even imagine,” she said. “This means making sure they have all of the basic skills they need and making sure they see themselves as lifelong learners and are resourceful enough to learn throughout their lives. While we have a lot of work to do, we have a lot in place.”
Wealth of Knowledge
Harmala has taught at the preschool, elementary, middle school, high school, and undergraduate and post graduate college courses. Her first degree was in teaching, special education and mathematics. She also earned a Master’s Degree in Secondary Special Education, an Education Specialist degree in Administration, and Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Education Leadership and Policy Studies.
She has worked at both the local school district and intermediate or county school district level throughout her career.
“My formal education and experiences are a big part of what prepared me to take on the role of Superintendent, but there were some informal things that shaped my career as well,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with people. I am one of the oldest children in a family of 14 siblings. We played school together all the time. I remember one Christmas we received 2 large chalkboards as “family” gifts. We set those chalkboards up in our basement and the teacher in me started emerging at an early age.”
She has also tutored children for as many years as she has been in education.
“This has helped me to “remember” my teaching roots as I have taken on administrative roles that move me further away from the day-to-day work with children,” she said.
Harmala is married with two grown sons. Her eldest son and his wife are expecting the first grandchild this month. Her youngest is a college student.
“My husband and I enjoy spending time with each other and our children. We enjoy relaxing at our cottage up north, being out of doors, and playing and watching ice hockey–we have played together throughout the years. This year, we are planning to play on the same team. I also play hockey on an all women’s team and I enjoy that camaraderie as well,” she said. “I swim and run for my health and because of my love of food! I love to read and have quite a collection in my “to read” pile. I am satisfied easily with some of life’s simplest pleasures.”
Harmala said she is happy to be a part of the Wayne-Westland Community School Distict.
“First, I love public education and in many ways, as long as I am supporting, serving and contributing to our public education system, I am satisfied. I have always worked in large districts. Large districts have unique strengths and unique challenges compared to smaller districts. I enjoy systems work and working with people to build on their strengths and to facilitate change and improvement where it is needed,” she said. “WWCS has many strengths, yet it has challenges. My experiences were aligned to the existing size, structures, and challenges and the Board of Education thought I was a good match for the District and its current needs. The match between the Superintendent and the Board is very important and it was an honor to be asked to serve here. It is my pleasure to do so.”
She is looking forward to visiting each of the schools and meeting as many parents and students as she can. “In a large district, I know it will be impossible to get to everything and I ask your patience as I make my way to the various and numerous events and activities,” she said.