Farewell to a Leader

I will love you more than me
And more than yesterday
If you can but prove to me
You are the new day
Send the sun in time for dawn
Let the birds all hail the morning
Love of life will urge me say
You are the new day

That song was sung at my graduation from East Kentwood High School on May 27, 2005.

I sometimes forget, if only for a little while, that I am a student at Central Michigan University, that I served three semesters in SGA, that I am active with St. Mary’s and the College Dems, and reminisce to a time before I heard of Fancher Street, Bill Caul, Anspach Hall, the RFoC, the UC, the ICDP, and the idea that Cedar could be a first name... back to my days as a K-12 student in Kentwood Public Schools.

I recently attended a farewell reception for Kentwood Superintendent Dr. Mary Leiker, who is retiring after 16 years. She took the reins of KPS the year before I entered kindergarten. Here’s an idea of how long she’s been here: When she came to Kentwood, Bush was President, the Democrats controlled Congress, the economy was in the tank, and Iraq was the big story in the news!

Anyway, other than refusing to call many snow days ;-) , Dr. Leiker did a tremendous job with the district. She was a visionary, understanding how our changing world demands adaptation from our schools. I liken her to FDR, Bill Milliken, or Pope John Paul II: Each spent many years in a leadership role and used those years to the fullest, becoming great leaders whose memory will carry on long after their time in leadership has ended.

Under Leiker’s leadership, five of the district’s 16 schools have won prestigious Blue Ribbon Awards. In elementary schools, Spanish is now as common a subject as PE or art were when I was in elementary school! Thanks to a 2003 millage, many schools have seen extensive renovations, the high school has a new football stadium, and the district has new buses. And that’s just for starters.

What’s more, Dr. Leiker and my mom have been close friends for a number of years. Leiker would help out with the Knights of Columbus ‘Tootsie Roll Drive’ to benefit special education, while Mom helped with the nearly year-long preps for KPS’s Celebration of Freedom Week, which was held in March 2003 and culminated in a ceremony that included a speech from Debbie Stabenow. (Ironically, that was the week Bush invaded Iraq.)

At the end of the reception - which, like my commencement, included the above song - I gave Dr. Leiker a hug on behalf of myself and our entire family. I told her that Mom likes to visit her sister in Littleton, Colorado, so they might meet up again out there. Her son, meanwhile - a rabid Democrat - told me to email him if I ever come to the Colorado area (which I just might next year; more on that soon... :-) )

So as Dr. Leiker prepares ready to close out her career, I can't help but to wonder how she, her family, and KPS will adjust to the fact that she will no longer lead the 9,000+ student school system. Her successor (who actually hails from within the district) was named several months ago; she just attended her final commencement as superintendent; her final School Board meeting will be coming up soon; and she will officially step down in five weeks. Nor do I know for sure if I will be able to go out to Colorado and see their family.

I do know, however, that my family and I will miss her, but that her influence with KPS will be felt for many years. I wish Dr. Leiker and her family an enjoyable retirement in Colorado. What's more, I wish that everyone who reads this blog will come to know of leaders who, like Dr. Leiker, go above and beyond, who, whether their leadership lasts for 16 years or 16 weeks, strive for excellence in themselves and in others.

Better yet, may you become such a leader yourself.

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