With one month left until the start of the school year, the Grosse Pointe Public School System board of education filled several teacher positions, some controversial, during a special meeting Friday morning.
Perhaps the two thorniest, most-talked about openings, choir director and band director at South and , passed quietly with no discussion from the board and without comment from the 15-20 people in attendance.
A new principal of was also named as was a new assistant principal at South, all of the positions finalized after interviews with numerous candidates and meetings and evaluations involving staff, parents and students.
Friday's 5-0 vote (two members were absent) approved the replacement of , South's longtime choir director, with Christopher Pratt, a Ball State University grad who will leave his job as director of choirs at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, IN.
Christopher Takis, a Michigan State University music education graduate and director of bands, choir and guitar class at Van Dyke Public Schools in Warren, will replace as the band teacher at South and Pierce.
Dr. Jon Dean, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the school board and audience during the 10-minute meeting Friday that Pratt and Takis received great reviews and have impressive backgrounds.
One aspect that stood out, he said, was their intention to put "academics first and focus on giving kids a relationship and something to be part of in high school," Dean said.
"All candidates worked with a group of students in an almost a festival sort of environment and the feedback was" for Takis and Pratt, Dean said.
(See their bios and others provided by the district at end of story).
Bowen's and Cross's dismissals have been a source of discontent and concern as the school year approached with no directors for band and choir. Parents and students have lined up for or against Bowen and Cross.
Bowen was placed on paid administrative leave near the end of the school year after a student complained that she had become angry and hit him with a cell phone. Bowen is appealing her dismissal to the tenure commission, a process that could take months. .
In 2008, Bowen fought and won reversal of the suspension of her teaching certificate for her role in a traffic-related altercation with a South student in 2006.
Cross was asked to leave on graduation day, June 15, and terminated by the board the next morning for being an ineffective teacher and unprofessional. The dismissal was connected to a letter he had written informing parents of budget cuts to extracurricular activities and describing how they might affect him and students. He has not formally filed an appeal of his termination.
In other action Friday the board also approved Melanie O'Neil as principal at Kerby Elementary School and Debra Higgins as a new assistant principal at South.
O'Neil steps in for Kerby's former principal, Maureen Bur, who is now director of pre-K and elementary school instruction for the district. Higgins comes from Brighton where she taught high school and middle school AP classes and was an elementary principal.
The new teachers were not present at the meeting.
In addition, Dean said, four of 13 teachers laid off at the close of the school year for budget reasons, remain laid off.
He said the hope is to call back the remaining four. "We are headed in the right direction."
The district-written bios of each of the new GPPSS staffers follow:
Choir Teacher for South High School
Christopher Pratt obtained a BS in Music Education from Ball State University and a MS in Educational Leadership from Indiana University. During college he spent three years performing with Millikin University’s Singing Blue, and he spent a year performing with The Ball State University Singers. Mr. Pratt was most recently Director of Choirs at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, IN. At Center Grove he directed five choirs, including the award-winning show choir CG Sound System and chamber choir, CG Singers. CG Sound System has been named Grand Champion Show Choir at SHOWSTOPPERS Show Choir Invitational and FAME Show Choir Invitationals in New York City, Branson, Chicago and Orlando. Collectively, his choirs have won over 75 Grand Champions awards. With a foundation in choral music and choreography, Chris has also worked extensively with choirs in Danville (IL), Hamilton Southeastern, Watseka, Triton Central, and several other schools around the Midwest as a choreographer/clinician.
Pierce Middle School/South High School Band Teacher
Christopher Takis obtained his bachelor of Music Education and K-12 Music certification from Michigan State University where he earned a scholarship from MSU School of Music. He earned his Master of Arts in Instructional Technology from Saginaw Valley State University. Mr. Takis comes to us from Van Dyke Public Schools where he was Director of Bands, Choirs and Guitar Class. He also has extensive experience leading marching band and jazz ensembles, and has written and arranged full ensemble and percussion music for multiple high school marching bands and drumlines. He has also worked as a drumline instructor for Rochester Public Schools and as Pit Orchestra Instructor for Williamston/East Lansing. Under his direction participation in MSBOA increased from zero to 30 students/year, with numerous students participating in MSBOA Honors Band annually. Since he joined the Van Dyke schools, student participation in the band has doubled.
Kerby Elementary School Principal
Melanie O’Neil comes to us from the Lake Orion school district where she has held numerous roles including Orion Oaks Elementary principal, Director of Early Childhood Programs, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom teacher, and a classroom teacher for 4th and 5th grades.
She earned her Bachelor of Science in Education K-8 from Central Michigan University, her Masters of K-12 Educational Administration from Michigan State University, and her Endorsement in Autism Spectrum Disorders K-12 from Oakland University.
A team of over 20 parents, support staff, teachers, and building and central office administrators assisted in the screening and interview process. In addition, 109 individuals responded to the online principal profile survey and several attended the informational forum held in Kerby’s library on July 2. Melanie was chosen from 107 applicants.
Grosse Pointe South High School Assistant Principal
Debra Higgins comes to us from Brighton where she has been a high school and middle school AP and an elementary principal. She earned her associates degree from Schoolcraft College, her BA from Madonna University, her Master of Arts in Teaching from Marygrove College, and her Ed. Specialist in Supervision and Administration from Wayne State University.