By Courtney Conover – Cory Gildersleeve has amassed more than 26 years of experience in the realm of public education, so it’s fair to say that he’s learned a thing or two.
The value of teamwork and cooperation is among them.
“I’m a team guy,” says Gildersleeve, 49. “And I’m loyal as far as mission and vision—whether it’s central office leadership or building-level leadership. I believe in collective efficacy and getting folks to come together.”
It’s a formula that has served Gildersleeve quite well. And this school year, he will continue to apply all the valuable lessons he has learned in school offices, classrooms, and athletic fields.
Gildersleeve is bursting with Zebra Pride, too. “I would put our facilities up against anybody’s.”
As he embarks on his second year in Wayne-Westland Community Schools, Gildersleeve took a moment to share a bit of his background and upcoming goals with The Wayne Dispatch.
Courtney Conover: Do you have a back-to-school ritual? Have you created a list to check off during those immediate weeks leading up to the first day back?
Cory Gildersleeve: First, as we come out of year one and go into year two, I spend most of the summer reflecting on where we’re at and where we need to go. We spend a great majority of our time establishing and going over operating procedures—from A to Z. Then, we hit the ground running. The biggest transition from year one to year two is that you’re no longer building the plane as you’re flying it because you don’t have a whole bunch of brand-new administrators—or a brand-new principal—in the building. For staff, for students, for our community, we want to be able to build and maintain relationships as well as have consistency in how we do business around here daily under this leadership.
CC: Share a bit of your journey in education. Where has your career taken you?
CG: I was a teacher and a coach for a long time, and then I started doing some admin-type work in Ann Arbor—and then I worked underneath two building principals that both have gone on to be superintendents. When one of my mentors went to Ypsilanti, I ended up going as well and [was there for] seven years as an administrator prior to coming here.
CC: You adhere to something called “The 3 A’s.” Tell us about that.
CG: It’s attendance, academics, and attitude. And, really, it’s all hands on deck. I truly believe that it takes a village. Especially in the educational world we’re in today, coming in and out of COVID and all the things our scholars and families have had to deal with. We’re stronger together.
CC: What prompted you to become a teacher—or work in education—in the first place?
CG: I played college football at Central Michigan University, and I had a pretty good career while I was there. I was looking at a possible route into the NFL, and my degree was actually a communications major with a marketing minor. One of the teachers in the building around the football offices was a physical education teacher—he used to coach football at Central before he went to the teaching side of things. He pulled me aside and said, “Gildersleeve, what are you going to do when you’re done playing football?” And I told him, “I’m going into the NFL, and then when I get out of the NFL, then [I’ll go into] communications and marketing.” And he goes, “But what are you going to do?” Then he told me I needed to be around kids because there’s no better profession than being in public education, where you can change and save lives every day. And pay it forward. I looked at him, and said, “Okay.”
CC: So, what happened next?
CG: He said, “I want you to take this class.” And I enrolled in a special education physical education class that worked directly hand in hand with the [Washtenaw] County ISD [Intermediate School District] and most of those kids were very high needs. And I was hooked. I changed from communications-marketing to a teaching degree, and I’ve been in public education for 26 and a half years now.
CC: You previously mentioned your involvement in school athletics…
CG: Yes, I’ve coached football and basketball, helped with track and field, assisted in the weight room, and led powerlifting teams at state competitions.
CC: What was it about Wayne-Westland that encouraged you to accept the WMHS principal position?
CG: So, as you go through this process, you’re looking at, first, Where is this school as far as state testing and graduation? What’s happening day-to-day? because that’s a very telling story. And I saw a building that I am very used to working with. I’ve known people that have worked here—Valerie Orr, Kevin Weber. The education world is a very small world, and the more time you’re in it, the smaller it gets. My questions, really, were about policy, systems, climate and culture—and then, how open are people to ideas that can possibly help to bring people together to raise some of those things. Everything I’d heard about Wayne-Westland—and Wayne Memorial, specifically—is that we have a building full of people who care about kids. And they’re going to put kids first. And, to me, that’s what matters the most because that’s what I’m all about.
CC: What was the absolute best thing about your first year at Wayne Memorial? What are you most proud of?
CG: The number one thing we did this year? I would say to establish policy systems. In my heart, though, the thing that I’m most proud of was our PBIS [Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports] work. Every Friday afternoon, we did “Fri-yay” announcements where we recognized, rewarded, and reinforced the positive things our staff and our scholars have done here at school. From a staff standpoint, we called it “You rock,” and staff members recognized staff members. From a student standpoint, we had golden tickets, and staff members would recognize students that were doing incredible things across the building. That could be goodwill, attendance, attitude, academics…anything. And all these good deeds are submitted to the office Monday through Friday. On “Fri-yay,” we would randomly draw three to four staff members and three to four students, play some music toward the end of the day—pump it up a little bit—and then read the “You rock” staff-to-staff and then read the golden tickets from staff-to-students. That was the highlight of year one.
CC: Speaking of something you’re proud of, tell me about your family…
CG: My wife—she’s also a public educator—and I have been together for a number of years and are blessed to have a blended family. She has two children, and I have two, and our kids are very, very close. And, right now, our babies are starting to have babies! We have one grandbaby that’s 15 months old, we have a grandson that’s three months old, and we have another grandbaby on the way this fall. Things are happening fast.
CC: As we embark on this new school year, if you could share two distinct messages of encouragement—one to parents, the other to students—what would they be?
CG: To our parents and guardians, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for entrusting us with your scholar’s education. And we’ve got you. We’ve got this. And we’ve only scratched the surface in year one. This partnership we’re embarking on together is authentic and we will continue to build on that. To our students, they need to know and understand that we’re going to have those same high expectations and accountability daily, and we need them here in school. Every single day. Then, together, we’ll be able to guide them through the work so that they can make great accomplishments. It’s going to be a great year.