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Zooming to a new school district superintendent

John Dignan

By Carolyn Marnon – Like everything else that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Education’s search for a new Wayne Westland Community School District Superintendent took a new approach.
Board of Education members were going to interview the two remaining finalist candidates at the Board of Education offices in mid-March. The candidates had to wait until April 21 to be interviewed; the interview took place over the Zoom conference platform online that many are becoming familiar with during this pandemic.  The two candidates were John Dignan, Ed.S., Director of Post-Secondary Options and Community Partnerships for the Southfield Public Schools in Southfield, MI and Keith McDonald, Ed.S., Director of Human Resources for Livonia Public Schools in Livonia.
The Board of Education voted on May 4 unanimously 7-0 to offer John Dignan the position of new Superintendent of Wayne-Westland schools. The Board called John to inform him of their offer which he graciously accepted.
“That is awesome! I’m so ecstatic, eager and excited to get started,” John said. “I’ll be honest, I feel my heart fell in my shoe a little bit,” he chuckled.
Board President David Cox told John “Your energy is a great fit for us. We’re completely supportive of you.”
“I’m so appreciative of being selected,” John replied. “I can’t wait to get started!”
John Dignan is a resident of Shelby Township.  He has been the Director of Post-Secondary Options/Community Partnerships for Southfield Public Schools since 2018.  Past positions include Warren Consolidated Schools Principal, and Lincoln Consolidated Schools Principal, Assistant Principal and Teacher/Coach.
Mr. Dignan has Bachelors of Arts in the College of Social Science and the College of Communications from Michigan State University, Bachelor of Arts College of Education/Teacher Certificate from Wayne State University, Master Degree  from the College of History at Eastern Michigan University, Master Degree in Educational Leadership from Madonna University, Education Specialist/Educational Leadership from Oakland University and is currently in progress to earn an Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation at Madonna University.
John told the Board during his interview that he has a favorable impression of the district. He praised the people and the pride they have towards the district.
He has observed that Wayne Westland is surrounded by industry and higher-learning institutions. He feels it’s important to build strong relationships with businesses and the community. One of his ideas is partnering with Wayne State University’s STEM-enrichment program that involves cybersecurity, drones and 32 other learning channels. He wants to leverage relationships he already has and in his interview, mentioned Pro: Up, a program in Detroit that matches high school students to educational and career development experiences like classes, summer programs, internships and jobs.
There are two strategies Mr. Dignan would like to pursue to attract more students to the district. Branding would be one. The other is creating unique opportunities. He would like to find out why families are leaving the district, so the district can make changes. He would also like to highlight the points of pride of each school in the district and cultivate relationships with realtors so that they can share that pride information with potential home buyers. Other opportunities could include a K-12 virtual school with Section 23 funding and perhaps instituting a Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) at the soon-to-be-shuttered Marshall Middle School.
“Any great relationship starts with trust,” says Mr. Dignan. He believes teachers are a million-dollar investment and that when it comes to collective bargaining, “You have to bargain in good faith.”
When asked how he would attract skilled and trained employees to the district beyond compensation, Mr. Dignan stated that teachers make the magic happen.  He wants to build relationships with Eastern Michigan, Oakland and Wayne State so the district can have building substitute teachers. He also feels that homegrown talent is important and there could be a program with dual enrollment in teaching.
“Everything is rooted in communications,” said Mr. Dignan. He says mistakes are an opportunity to mentor people because mistakes will happen. Each school has its own problems, and it’s important to know what those problems are.
Cradle 2 Career is an experience Mr. Dignan feels is needed beyond the basics for students to succeed. This program highlights career exploration for middle school students and career preparation for high school students. He also supports field trips to college campuses as part of a grade level system with a field trip to a particular local college targeted at each grade level.
The first step Mr. Dignan would like to take as the new superintendent as part of a comprehensive five-year strategic plan for the district would start with his 90 Day Plan which incorporates a listening tour as he goes around and listens to various stakeholders in the district-the Board of Education, the surrounding communities and their leadership, central office, union leadership and the various school buildings. He wants to talk to all these stakeholders to design a framework for the future. Especially since COVID-19 has closed school buildings, he’d like to ramp up online learning and discover what that would actually look like for the district. Until he talks to everyone, he feels it’s premature for him to say the plan should be X, Y and Z.
Mr. Dignan plans to be visible in the community. That means attending sporting events, band concerts, city council meetings, visiting churches and industry partners. He said you can’t be an invisible man and then ask for help. He told the Board he is very much a people person. “A building does not make a school community. People make it.”

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