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New school superintendent starts in Hastings

Dan Remenap, the new superintendent for Hastings schools, had his first official day on the job Monday.                                                                                              Rebecca Pierce

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“Good luck on your first day!”

That text message on Monday to Hastings’ new Superintendent Dan Remenap was from his favorite teacher: His dad.

Remenap, 47, of Grandville, comes from a family of teachers and school administrators – his father, his sister, his brother, his uncle.

“It’s just in our blood,” he said during an interview in his office.

Education is hard work – and he works hard at it.

When he was principal at Allendale Public High School, he knew the name of every student.  There were 700. There was no special trick to make it easy, he said. He had to study class composites until he could correctly connect the names with faces.

He intends to devote that same level of attention to personal connections with people in Hastings.

“The first step is building relationships – and being very intentional about it,” Remenap said. “Having an open door. And I’m going to be listening like crazy.”

“That stack of papers over there,” he said, gesturing to his desk where documents were stacked in two neat piles, “those are notes from listening to people.”

The first challenge will be to learn what the community values and to build trust, he said.

“That’s a word I hear over and over,” he said. “There’s a little bit of a splintered community.”

Remenap has met with people from different sides of that “splinter,” he said, “and when you sit and listen, there’s much more in common than not.

“The question is: How can we help kids? How can we get on the same page? … As a district, we have to be very clear, very transparent, how we prioritize what we spend our money on.”

The district has what he calls “facilities challenges” – dilapidated lockers, worn carpeting, leaking roofs. “Our teachers’ teaching conditions are our kids' learning conditions,” he said. “There’s work to be done.”

As far as some residents' criticisms of school officials for those conditions, that view makes sense to him.

“When you do your own budget, you take care of your ‘have to's’ first,” he pointed out. “There are people who believe we should have taken care of those needs first. Our kids deserve it.”

No matter the differences between people, Remenap focuses on their shared values and he expresses a strong belief in the power of education to change lives.  He has seen its impact.

When he was attending Grandville High School, his father was the principal there.  That made for some situations – some good (he always had a car he could use) and some not so good (staff members who didn’t care for his father treated him differently).

As an undergraduate at Central Michigan University, Remenap majored in English, and sought a minor in math to be more marketable. He liked teaching both English and math, but he said he was probably best at teaching Algebra I.

“One of the reasons I was a good Algebra I teacher, humbly, was because I took it twice,” he admitted. ”I got a C in it and my dad made me take it again. And I remember so well taking it the second time and going,”  he snaps his fingers here, “ ‘Ah, a variable! I get it, I get it!’”

The experience helped him, as a teacher, understand the mistakes that some students made. “When a kid asked a question, I thought: ‘I know exactly what you’re thinking  because I screwed it up, too.’ ”

Remenap earned a masters degree in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University in Allendale in 2003 and a specialist degree from GVSU in 2013. He’s working toward a doctorate in educational leadership at Western Michigan University.

Remenap taught at Grandville High School from 1996 to 2006, was assistant high school principal at Spring Lake Public Schools from 2006 to 2009, then was named high school principal at Allendale Public Schools from 2009 until now.

His father retired from teaching but still lives in Grandville.

Remenap and his wife, Lesa, have two daughters. The youngest, Marlee, will be a junior at Grandville High School this fall. The oldest, Madelynn, graduated from Grandville and will be attending CMU this fall – and, it should be noted, she wants to be a teacher.

Remenap mentioned seeing a comment on Twitter recently noting, sadly, that schools only prepare students to take more school: From elementary school, to middle school, to high school, to college.

“We need to put as much time and resources into kids who are not college-bound as we do for kids who are college-bound,” he said. “It’s very important that kids leave here on a path.”

If money was no object, Remenap said he’d like to make the following educational innovations, in this priority:

• Place full-time mental health counselors for kids at every school;

• Have every high school student choose an adult mentor in either a career or job placement, higher education or military service so that, upon leaving high school, every student would have a path to follow;

• And, lastly, implement year-round schooling to fight the so-called “summer melt”  setback.

These ideas are strictly pie-in-the-sky, he emphasized.

One strategy, however, is doable, Remenap said, “I absolutely think you can wrap your arms around a school district and create a family. That’s my goal anyway. I’m certain that that is possible.”

 

 

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