A "collaborative coach" -- that's the way Waverly Community Schools' new superintendent Terry Urquhart describes his leadership style. He was hired in May, after the district's second search for a superintendent in just two years.
"I'm a person who likes to lead with a team," Urquhart explained. "Decisions are made and everyone is involved. I think that strengthens a decision."
Those are probably welcome words for staff at Waverly. In their evaluations, district employees called former superintendent Dr. Debra Jones a bully, and said she hurt morale. Jones resigned in November of 2011 after after reaching a $161,000 settlement with the district, and a string of interim superintendents followed.
But Urquhart has no previous connection to the district, and is looking to move forward from past controversy. He worked as the principal at Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids for the past six years, and says he's also served as a principal in the Saginaw and Detroit areas. He hopes to bring his extensive experience with urban schools to the more suburban environment of Waverly.
"As in any position, you assess where the district's at - some of the shortcomings and areas you want to focus on," said Urquhart. "We're in a position right now to look at what Waverly Schools does well, and what it doesn't do well."
Part of that means putting the focus on Waverly High School, recently designated by the state as a "Focus School," which indicates a big gap between the school's top 30 percent and bottom 30 percent of students.
"We want to bring lower performing students up so they're doing a better job, closer to the high performing students," said Urquhart. "It's a challenge that's not new, it's just being called a different name. It's something we've got to work on."
While improving academic performance is important,, Urquhart says it's not possible without a safe environment. He believes Waverly's anti-bullying policy is strong.
"But it also has to be implemented," he said. "A policy and it being implemented is two different things. We'll work hard on that to make sure the environment is safe for our kids."
In addition to adopting a strong anti-bullying policy, new state guidelines for this fall also include offering full-day kindergarten. Urquhart says the district had to hire a few more people and make room for all the students, but he thinks it's will be better for kids in the long run. His three main goals for his time as superintendent are to foster pride, tradition, and excellence.
"We are Waverly, we are proud of who we are, and we want to make sure we communicate that in the right way," he said.