has set building relationships and trust as a priority in his new job as superintendent of Elmhurst Unit District 205.
“I’m not coming in as the answer man,” he told a contingent of reporters during a conference call this morning. “I’m coming in to help people achieve their vision, either individually, as a group or as a district.”
Pruneau, 60, is retiring from his position as in Rochester, Mich. That district is facing for next year, he said, “because the coffers are empty at the state level.”
He wasn’t hesitant to answer questions about collecting a retirement pension from Michigan while on salary in Elmhurst.
“I wasn’t ready to retire,” he said. “Michigan had a forced retirement for people who had been in the business as long as I had. It really kind of ended up not being a choice.
“I can’t continue in Michigan, and I still have a passion to be a superintendent. I came because I want to be a part of a school system, still be in education and with kids. If I didn’t feel that way, I would have said, ‘no, that’s it, I’m done.’ But that’s not where I am in my life right now.”
He said he plans to spend the first three to six months meeting members of the community, learning what their needs are and gaining their trust.
“Trustworthiness has to come from me, at the top,” he said. (People have to know) that I’m someone they can go to and I’m going to tell them the truth.”
He said he plans to be innovative, and with that, some mistakes will be made.
“We’re going to push the envelop a little bit, and mistakes will happen,” he said. “If we’re not doing something as well as we should, we need to own it, recognize it, but then we need to improve it.”
He said he believes Elmhurst wants the kind of school district that works hard for the kids and works with the community.
“I really do believe that people that come together really do have the answers to a lot of difficult questions if we just give the time to hear them, talk to them,” he said. “My vision is the Elmhurst vision.”
Professional Learning Communities
Rochester Community Schools has had in place the concept of Professional Learning Communities since Pruneau joined the district six years ago. It’s something District 205 administrators and school board members have been working to capitalize on here.
PLCs encourage teachers throughout a district to take responsibility for the achievement of every child, whether they are in their classroom or not, Pruneau said. He plans to foster a collaborative culture that allows individuals to share best practices across grade levels and across the district.
“My grade-level teachers meet regularly and look at data,” he said. “We project how much a child should be progressing. If we see a problem, if a child isn’t progressing, all those teachers get together and brainstorm, ‘What can we do for this particular child?’ It’s taking ownership for the whole building, for the achievement of every child.”
His dialog with teachers often is, “What is the district doing that is preventing you from doing a great job? What are the little problems that are preventing you from being the great teacher I know almost all teachers want to be,” he said.
A Backround as a Teacher
Pruneau currently leads a district that has three high schools, 1,900 employees, 15,000 students and a $155 million budget, and academically, it ranks in the top 2 percent of school districts in Michigan.
But he also served as an elementary school principal, and has taught at the middle school and elementary school level.
“Schools need to be about student achivement,” he said. “That’s something every district is looking at.”
But that’s only half the battle, he said. Districts also have to look at how satisfied students, teachers, staff and the community are. He plans to hold monthly community coffees like he does now in Rochester, where constituents are invited to come and talk to him about anything.
“Those are invaluable,” he said. “I always pick up a tidbit of something that I didn’t know we were doing that we could do better.”
He also plans to survey the community and hold focus groups. In Rochester, for example, he said parents were not happy with the bus system. They changed the bus driver training and the way they handled discipline, and installed cameras on the buses.
“When we resurveyed, parents were much more positive about the bus experience,” he said.
Putting Down Roots
Pruneau and his wife, Susan, have two grown sons. They have been to Elmhurst three times and are pleased with the Elmhurst community.
“What really struck me was all the kids downtown,” he said. “It’s a great feeling that there’s still that sense that kids can hang out downtown. It’s a friendly place to be.”
They plan to rent a home for awhile as they get to know the community.
“Elmhurst is a great school district,” he said. “I just feel very comfortable coming to Elmhurst.”