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New APS chief wants to be ‘part of the solution’

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Alpena Public Schools interim Superintendent Susan Wooden, right, talks with Administrative Assistant and Board Secretary Lorie Kneeshaw on Thursday at the district’s central office.

ALPENA — Longtime education champion Susan Wooden is ready for what she describes as the “most challenging time of her career.”

A veteran superintendent who retired a little over a year ago from Beaverton Schools south of Gladwin, Wooden said she’s ready to work with members of Alpena’s school board, administration, and staff while developing an unprecedented back-to-school plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She begins work on Monday and will work alongside Superintendent John VanWagoner until he departs on July 15 for a new job as superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday required school districts to submit plans describing how they will protect students and staff if they return to school buildings in the fall. Schools are required to develop three plans for instruction, including a plan for in-person classes, a plan for online learning, and a plan that blends the two.

Wooden said developing those plans will be among the most immediate tasks she will address.

“I want to be part of the solution and work alongside educators who are struggling through this pandemic,” she said.

Wooden also will oversee the first renovation projects funded by $33.9 million in bond sales voters approved earlier this year. She will be involved in the design phase of projects at Besser, Ella White, Lincoln and Wilson elementary schools.

Safety and security projects are of particular interest to Wooden, who said she will involve local law enforcement in the district’s plans.

She also has relationships with Integrated Designs Inc. and the Wolgast Corp., the architectural and construction firms hired by APS. She worked with them after Beaverton Schools passed a similar bond measure.

Adam Zdrojewski, president of the Beaverton school board, said Wooden’s best quality is her personality. He said she is personable but professional.

“She definitely maintained professionalism and really did always exhibit a love for the community and the school — the kids, the staff – she was really genuine ,” he said, noting her husband, Russell, was equally genuine. “The Woodens were just great people to have in the community.”

Wooden has a combined 31 years as an administrator, with 14 years teaching English at the secondary and collegiate level and 17 years in administration. Her resume includes one year of teaching English at Alpena Community College.

Her career as an administrator began at Owosso Public Schools, where she worked as director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for nine years and then as interim superintendent. She served as the superintendent of East Jordan Public Schools for two years before moving on to Beaverton, where she served as superintendent for six years.

“I enjoy working with large groups of people, with teams of people for one cause, which, of course, is kids,” she said.

Although Wooden said it was “a conviction” to apply and serve as Alpena’s interim superintendent, she said she has no plans to apply for the permanent position and will continue her retirement when her three-month tenure in Alpena is complete.

The Alpena school board hopes to hire a permanent superintendent sometime in September.

Wooden and her husband specifically chose to retire in Alpena because of family connections. She said Russell Wooden was excited to move to Alpena because he loves the area.

Her parents, David and Marvis McNeil, were born and raised in Alpena and call the Sunrise Side home. While she was raised in Shiawassee County, Wooden was baptised and married in Alpena.

“With my parents here, it certainly is home, and that’s why we’re choosing to retire here,” she said. “I care very deeply about the Alpena schools and community, even though I wasn’t born and raised here.”

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