GRPS superintendent settles into new role amid uncertainties

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If 2020 has taught us anything so far, it’s to expect the unexpected. The beginning of this year was a less than ideal time to make a major life change, start a new career, move to a new city all weeks before a global pandemic changed everything. 

This was the reality for Leadriane Roby, Grand Rapids Public Schools’ relatively new superintendent who was handed the baton from Teresa Weatherall Neal amid some of the most difficult circumstances and uncertainties. Dealing with the changes of a new district, pandemic, shutdown, inner-city violence, riots all while implementing virtual learning.

Despite all these hurdles, she says she’s prepared to run her leg of the relay. 

“I like the analogy of the relay race,” Roby said. “I’m going to switch it a little bit and say that it’s more of a marathon. Why I say it that way is because I think of the long game and thinking about what the future is for our young people and planning for what their experiences are, not just this year, but then also into the future.”

Her task, no matter how herculean it may seem, is to guide her district into an uncertain future using new tools and a strong foundation to get there.

“We won’t ever look at teaching and education the same,” Roby said. “The opportunity and challenge is how do we recreate education so it’s still engaging for young people, it’s meaningful and that we’re also supporting, we’re equipping our staff so that they feel confident and competent in the work that they’re doing. Teresa Weatherall Neal has set a wonderful foundation for this community and has strong roots and strong ties as she has built a very strong organization. I think it is important as I am new to the community to continue to learn and build upon the work that has been done before me. And continue to grow from that.”

She’s seen her teachers adapt and grow as well, creating lesson plans and labs that engage their students on a different level, through a virtual medium.

“Our task is great. We still must provide material that is engaging for young people, it’s meaningful and that we’re also supporting, we’re equipping our staff so that they feel confident and competent in the work that they’re doing,” Roby said. “I mean the creativity that I’ve seen with teachers working to build that community with their young people I think is really phenomenal.”

Roby is a mother of three, recently a first-time grandmother and a self-proclaimed dog mom. She takes the love from her home and puts it back into GRPS. 

“I have a little cute dog. She is cute as a button and she runs the household. So, as I’m running a district, I am at the command of my little Yorkie and I just absolutely love her,” Roby said. “I am also a first-time grandmother. My husband and I — we are certainly at the command, and the will, of a 5-pound Yorkie and a very rambunctious and just wonderful 2-year-old.”

Roby comes from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. She has a love-hate relationship with the treadmill and is excited to come back to West Michigan. 

“I lived in Kalamazoo for roughly 10 years,” Roby said. “I thought, this is a community that I can continue to grow in and I’m not looking for like, my next place, it’s like I was coming to Grand Rapids because I really do want to be here.”

And while she may have big shoes to fill, Roby believes she’s ready to continue the race ahead into the future with some help from her new home. 

“We know that it’s not perfect, nor is anyone and we need your feedback,” Roby said. “We need you to stay in partnership with us to say this is how it’s working for my child or this is how it’s not working for my child. Oftentimes as adults, we will ask questions, but we don’t necessarily want the answer. I think we also have to prepare our adults for if you’re asking young people how are they feeling? What do they need? You have to be, have that ear for, you might hear some things that are hard to hear.”