Berkley Schools Superintendent Michael Simeck said his decision to leave for a new position was tough, but he feels he’s leaving the district in good shape.
Simeck announced Tuesday that he will be leaving the district for a similar position in Lake Forest, IL, effective July 1.
“It’s a very big decision,” Simeck said in an email sent to parents earlier in the day. “There’s no question that it has been a fantastic five years for my family and for our district.”
Personally, the husband and father of three sees the decision as bittersweet, but welcomes the new challenges and opportunity.
“It’s very hard to leave the friends my children, my wife and I have made here, and the wonderful community Berkley is,” Simeck told Berkley Patch. “The teachers my children have had here at all three buildings have been beyond compare. It’s tough to leave, but I’m looking forward to the challenges and the opportunity in Lake Forest.”
Professionally, Simeck said he is excited about Berkley schools and the future of the district.
“We’re really in a great place right now instructionally,” he said. “We’re doing all sorts of cool initiatives that we’re really proud of and working on now. There’s even more things, too. I don’t see the work stopping.”
Simeck, who will stay with the district until July 1, says there’s much work to do between now and the time he leaves his post in Berkley and assumes the duties of superintendent for Lake Forest High School District 115 and Lake Forest Elementary School District 67.
“We’ve got a district to run here,” Simeck said. “We’ve got initiatives to put in place, critical people to hire. We’ve got planning for next year and beyond. The things that we have been working on, our district goals, have remained the same for years. That’s because we’re not done yet. Likewise, these initiatives are long-term sustained efforts that are going to bear fruit for a long time.”
When Simeck does leave, however, an enthusiastic group in Lake Forest is waiting.
Lake Forest District Board of Education President Julia Wold is looking forward to adding Simeck to the fold and welcomes the prospect of working with him.
“Everyone who met Mike (Simeck) felt that he was child-centered, personable and innovative,” Wold said. “We’re very excited for him to serve as our new superintendent. I am sorry that we have stolen such a gem from the people of Berkley.”
Ups and Downs
The district has known its share of success under Simeck, and Berkley Board of Education President Paul Ellison is quick to acknowledge this in his response to the news of Simeck’s resignation.
“Largely as a result of his vision, leadership and advocacy, the Berkley School District enjoys a national reputation, including recognition of Berkley High School for the last four years as one of the nation’s ‘Public Elite’ high schools by Newsweek magazine, among his numerous other accomplishments,” Ellison said. “Naturally, we will miss his experience, scholarship, leadership and vision and wish him and his family well in his new position.”
Mitchell Moses, who has served on the Board of Education since July, said Simeck will be missed.
"During my limited time on the Berkley School Board I've had the opportunity to observe Mike's excellent leadership skills and vision that have helped keep the Berkley School district one of the strongest in the area. Mike will certainly be missed," he said.
Simeck admits there has been the occasional “bump in the road,” as he stated in his email to parents, over the course of his tenure as Berkley Schools’ top administrator.
“It’s no secret that Michigan public schools are not without challenges. There have been some bumps in the road. The very large bond proposal we pursued and the result of it was one,” Simeck admitted. “The struggles the district has had with its budget has been pretty obvious to everyone, too. Then there are other things that aren’t our doing such as the general disparagement between public educators and public education.”
Like any community leader, Simeck leaves a stamp on the district as he departs, one rooted in quality people and community, he says.
“The most lasting things are the people that you hired,” Simeck said. “We have placed a tremendous premium on seeking, finding and retaining the very best and brightest people.”
Another issue Simeck put a premium on is community engagement. “We have community coffees. We reach out to people. This is a very high-functioning school board and district. We have good people and practices across our district,” he said. “It’s a legacy that preceded me and I hope it continues. I always feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here.”
It's clear Simeck's absence will be felt by many Berkley Schools parents who are sad to see him go, but wish him the best in Lake Forest.
"I think he did a great job here," Berkley parent Sarah Marsh said. "I'm very happy with the quality of education my kids are getting here."
"I wish him nothing but the best," Douglas Meek said while watching Tuesday night's varsity basketball game at Berkley High. "It's a tough job and I'd say he performed well in a less than ideal economy. I hate to see that kind of ability leave this area."
Simeck kept the board apprised of Lake Forest’s interest in him for its superintendent position, and, as a result the board has several options for a succession plan.
“The board is planning to meet in the very-near future to discuss a succession plan,” Ellison said. “But it has not yet formally settled upon the process for selecting a replacement for Mr. Simeck.”
Among the board’s options include appointing a new superintendent from within or conducting a search for a replacement.
Whatever the decision, Simeck believes he will have some input in the process.
“It’s always a collaborative undertaking,” Simeck said. “The first thing is whether or not they will do a search or will appoint someone internally. There is a legacy of internal appointment in the district, but that’s something they’re going to figure out in the coming weeks.”