By Casey Hans
New principals take the helm this fall at four Ann Arbor elementary. As school begins today, students and parents will greet the following appointees in their new roles:
- David DeYoung at Wines Elementary – An Ann Arbor resident, he has most recently worked as an elementary school principal in the West Bloomfield district in Oakland County. He replaces Janette Jackson.
- Michael Johnson at Lakewood Elementary – Johnson, who lives in Pittsfield Township, has worked as a fifth-grade teacher at Ann Arbor’s Thurston Elementary School since 2005. His wife teaches in the district and he has two children attending school here. He replaces Rick O’Neill.
- Amy McCusker at Lawton Elementary – McCusker is a Plymouth resident and most recently served as an elementary principal for the Wayne-Westland Community Schools in western Wayne County. She replaces Ruth Williams.
- Pamela Sica at Abbot Elementary – A Brighton-area resident, Sica worked most recently as a principal at an elementary school in the downriver district of Flat Rock and also as a principal and teacher in Monroe. She replaces Pati Barnes.
Following are short profiles about the new elementary school leaders:
David DeYoung: Ann Arbor grad comes home to Wines
David DeYoung has come home again to Wines Elementary. Not only does he start the year as the school’s new principal, he has fond memories of attending Wines, Forsythe and Pioneer and growing up just down the street from Wines on Sunset Road.
He still lives in the neighborhood, but instead of commuting to West Bloomfield – where he served as a principal for the past five years – he will travel just a few blocks to Wines. DeYoung said the school still has the same, comfortable feeling he remembers.
“Wines is the epitome of a neighborhood school,” he said. “This is a community that’s really attached to this building. Parents love this building. This is a really important place for people. There’s a great amount of pride.”
He recalled as a youngster having to leave Wines to attend Newport Elementary School, now closed. “I remember coming back to Forsythe,” he added. “I had friends from both Wines and Newport – it was like a reunion. I knew everyone.”
Five of his closest friends today remain people he met while a student at Wines and Forsythe.
As principal, one of his first roles will be learning his students’ names and working on building a sense of trust in the Wines community. “It’s building the relationships with parents, kids and the larger community,” he said. “And that takes time. We need to know each other and trust each other.”
He pledges to know each student’s name by Halloween. If he misses a name, he carries trinkets and offers them to students as a prize.
DeYoung has a career history in Ann Arbor starting as a student teacher at Northside Elementary. After moving to Colorado to teach from 1996-2000, he returned here for his master’s and Ph.D. in educational administration at the University of Michigan and interned at Bach Elementary under Principal Shelley Bruder.
He then served as Acting Principal at Abbot before being hired as a principal by the West Bloomfield School District.
DeYoung is married to Trish Cortes, who works for Washtenaw County, and they have two twin preschool sons. His wife’s family is from Spain, so DeYoung has become multi-lingual and said they are teaching their sons to be bi-lingual in the home. “We’re committed to having language be a part of who they are,” he said.
His parents were both educators, his mother a principal in Ann Arbor. He said he chose education after spending summers working in camp with children and deciding elementary education was his passion.
DeYoung takes his job leading a school seriously, but he says there has to be a balance. “School is a serious place and we want students to be challenged,” he said. “But you need to have fun times and positive experiences. You can have a rigorous curriculum and you can have a good time doing it.”
He said one of his goals is to see students “smile coming and smile leaving” school each day.
Occupation: New principal at Wines Elementary School
Residence: Ann Arbor
Education: Ph.D. and MA in Educational Administration, Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, all from The University of Michigan.
Family: Married to Trish Cortes. They have 2½-year-old twin boys, Lucas and Nicolas. Cortes works for the Washtenaw County Community Health Organization.
Pets: Recently lost their 16-year old dog, Barnes, but hope to add another to the family soon.
Hobbies:.Scuba diving (“We try to get under water as much as possible”), spending time in the mountains, hiking and camping and traveling with his family.
Community service: Has done volunteer work both here and when the family lived in Colorado with adults with developmental disabilities.
Favorite meal: Trish’s Paella, a Spanish rice dish. “Anytime we have friends over, we usually serve Paella. It serves a big crowd.”
Last book read: “South of Broad” by Pat Conroy, his favorite author. Personally and professionally, he loves to read. “That’s one of the most important things we can teach kids – to see themselves as a reader.”
Michael Johnson: Comes to Lakewood as ‘chief learner’
Michael Johnson said he does not call himself a school principal, but a “chief learner.”
The label reflects his philosophy of always learning at least three new things each day – something his grandmother taught him when he was a boy. He has carried that to his own family and wants to impart that lesson at Lakewood, where he begins this fall as the new principal.
“You have to model the learning you want to see,” he said. “I want to see Lakewood reach its fullest potential.”
Johnson said he plans to continue the tradition of excellence put in place by former principal Rick O’Neill, whom he called a “pillar of excellence.” He said he is looking forward to working with the staff at Lakewood.
“I’ll always be a teacher,” he added. But I have a different perspective now. I get a chance to see a lot of teachers do a lot of great things.”
Johnson started his career in Ann Arbor in 2005 as a fifth-grade teacher at Thurston Elementary School, where his class each year had a “star” theme for students.
He said he will miss his classroom at Thurston, which he called “some of the most rewarding time ever,” but is looking forward to the new challenge at Lakewood. “I can’t wait to get started,” he said.
Johnson grew up in the Willow Run school district, graduating as his class valedictorian in 1998. He earned the first Ann Arbor Young Citizen of the Year honor given by the former Ann Arbor News. Johnson went on to study English and History at the University of Michigan, earned his elementary teaching certificate at Eastern Michigan University then earned a master’s degree in Education and Administration from the University of Phoenix.
He is married to Joanna who teaches at Stone High School and they have two sons, eighth-grader Lorenzo who attends Scarlett Middle School and the Kellen who is entering kindergarten at Carpenter Elementary. They live in Pittsfield Township. His family is close-knit, visiting the library weekly, playing Scrabble at night and, on Christmas Eve, doing an overnight with extended family of siblings and nieces and nephews and ringing in the holiday together.
Originally, this man with the huge smile wanted to become an orthodontist – until, in his sophomore year at U-M, a professor told him he was a born teacher and influenced him to pursue education. He’s glad he did.
Johnson said he has had about 120 students come through his classes at Thurston and said all have stayed in touch, many returning to visit him. “It makes you feel you have the power to influence children for the rest of their lives,” he said.
His approach and expectation of staff is simple: “You put kids first,” he said. “As long as everyone puts children first, I say ‘let’s run.’ When you put children first, you take individual agendas out of the equation.”
He said he had two dynamic teachers who influenced him as a young person: His third-grade teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Bonich who introduced him to books and the love of reading and his high school Communications teacher, Mrs. Roseanne Haselschwerdt who “showed me the importance of building relationships with people.” He said he called her to share the news when he was appointed to the principal’s post.
Occupation: New principal at Lakewood Elementary School. He was previously a fifth-grade teacher at Thurston Elementary School in Ann Arbor.
Residence: Pittsfield Township
Education: Master’s degree in Education and Administration from the University of Phoenix, bachelor’s degree in English and History from the University of Michigan with an elementary teaching certificate from Eastern Michigan University.
Family: Married to Joanna, who is an English teacher at Stone High School. They have two children: Lorenzo who is an eighth-grader at Scarlett and Kellen, who is a kindergartener at Carpenter Elementary.
Pets: A Lhasapoo named Cinnamon (a combination Lhasa Apso and poodle.)
Hobbies: Loves to golf, plays Scrabble every night with his family and is an avid reader. The family goes to the library together each week and he said he loves to spend time with his sons.
Community Service: In his second year as president and sixth year of membership in Theta Zeta Lamda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, a service fraternity that mentors young teen men. He also has been involved with Ronald McDonald House and Habitat for Humanity. Johnson was the 1998 Ann Arbor Young Citizen of the Year – an award given by the former Ann Arbor News; he was the awards’ first recipient.
Favorite meal: “I love steak. I’m a good steak eater.”
Last book read: Johnson said his students offer suggestions for some of his best reading. He is currently reading “Al Capone Does My Shirts” by Gennifer Choldenko – a young adult book recommended by one of his students.
Amy McCusker: Education was ‘the perfect fit’ for her
Choosing education as a career didn’t occur to Amy McCusker until she was enrolled and attending Western Michigan University as an undergraduate student.
Having grown up with a mom who was a teacher, she thought her study route might include psychology or sociology. But, she found herself volunteering in classrooms and “it ignited a passion,” said the new principal at Lawton Elementary. “Once I got into the program, it just felt like the perfect fit.”
McCusker said she has approached her classrooms and schools with this philosophy: “Every child can learn – you just have to discover the way they learn,” she explained. “You never stop – you just keep reaching for your goals.”
McCusker is eager to get into the new year. She hosted open hours for staff and parents and met with her PTO co-presidents about what is planned for the coming year. “It’s a really warm community,” she said. “I’ve felt very welcome.”
McCusker brings a special understanding to her role in education: She is dyslexic and so has worked extra hard – spending many hours in her youth with a tutor – to achieve her educational goals. McCusker said she was told in high school that she would probably never attend college, but persevered to earn multiple, advanced degrees. She has contacted her tutor with each degree she has received and is proudly continuing her education.
In addition to her teaching degree, She holds an EDS and master’s degrees in Educational Leadership and is working toward her doctorate, as well.
After earning her teaching certification, McCusker went on to become a reading recovery teacher, taking a special interest in helping students who needed extra help, and, five years ago, accepted a principal’s post in the Wayne-Westland district. She also taught in the Westwood and Livonia districts.
Being responsible for an entire school has its benefits, she said. “What’s nice about being a principal: you’re able to affect students throughout the building,” she said. “I’m able to see all of the students at all grade levels and that’s nice.”
She said she enjoys working with classroom teachers and “tries to get as interactive with the students as much as possible. It curtails potential problems with behavior and makes them feel good about their achievements.”
McCusker is married to Mike and is the mother of two daughters. She enjoys doing all sorts of outdoor activities. They live in Plymouth Township.
Occupation: New principal at Lawton Elementary School.
Residence: Plymouth Township
Education: Ed Specialist in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University; Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Wayne State University; Bachelor of Science degree in Education and reading recovery certification from Western Michigan University. She is purusing her doctorate in Educational Leadership at EMU.
Family: Husband, Mark; two daughters: Camille, 11, and Chloe, 8.
Pets: A Boston terrier named Lucky and a black Lab named Duncan.
Hobbies: She enjoys anything out-of-doors. The neighborhood gets together for kickball and she runs and jogs, plays tennis and bikes.
Favorite meal: Pizza. The McCuskers have Pizza Fridays at their house, a carryover from the same tradition when she was a kid.
Last book read: “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch
Pamela Sica: ‘School Success’ post prepares her for Abbot
Working as a School Success Teacher in the Monroe Public Schools was something Pamela Sica enjoyed and prepared her well for an administrative post.
She handled student interventions, some one-on-one and others in small groups, and coordinated duties of an assistant principal, interacting often with parents. Following her success as a teacher, she went on to work for two years as an elementary school principal first in Monroe and then in Flat Rock after her school was closed.
This fall, Sica joins the Ann Arbor district as the new principal at Abbot Elementary. “I can’t wait to meet the kids,” she said in the weeks leading up to the start of school.
Sica decided to study education when her daughters – now in college – were in elementary school and she was a mom who was involved. She especially enjoys the elementary level. “I like the independence they have and the curiosity they still show,” she said. “There’s something that draws me to the kids when they’re so open.”
She studied education and went on to get a master’s degree and Educational Leadership Specialist of Arts degree preparing her for a leadership role.
Sica said she is looking forward to working with an experienced team at Abbot and said her focus will be on the children who attend school there. Her philosophy always has that at the fore: “Any decision I make in education is made with the question: ‘Is this best for kids?’” she said.
To that end, she will integrate not only into the school community, but also with community groups that influence families and students, such as the nearby Peace Neighborhood Center. “I do a lot of observation, but I think you need to know what going on outside of school,” she said. “I like an open dialogue and want parents to feel free to come in and see me.”
Sica hopes to institute weekly lunches with Abbot students to get to know them better. “I’ve always done that,” she said. “I usually have a teacher pick a child and they can bring a friend. I want to see every child eventually. The kids really seem to like it.”
Teaching is still her first love but she finds ways to stay involved and engaged, and that’s not sitting behind her desk.
“I try to get into classrooms as much as I can. I read stories to every classroom a couple of times and covered for teachers when they were away, she said of her past principal posts. “If you really miss kids, get in the classroom and get involved.”
Sica is married to Paul and has three children. They live in Green Oak Township near Brighton.
Occupation: New principal at Abbot Elementary School.
Residence: Green Oak Township near Brighton.
Education: Educational Leadership Specialist of Arts degree from Siena Heights University, Master in the Art of Teaching degree from the Marygrove College, bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Wayne State University.
Family: Married to Paul. Three children: Alex and Rachel who both attend college and Kyle, who is in kindergarten this fall.
Pets: A cat named Callie.
Favorite meal: Lebanese and Greek food.
Last book read: “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay. She enjoys historical fiction, suspense and adventure books.