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Cheboygan's new superintendent discusses plans after first few days

Cheboygan Water Tower.
Michael Livingston
The Cheboygan Water Tower. (Photo: Michael Livingston/IPR News)

After about a week on the job, the new superintendent at the Cheboygan Area Schools district is already thinking about the upcoming year.

Spencer Byrd was hired to fill the top spot in March after working in education for more than 30 years.

Spencer Byrd
Spencer Byrd

His first day was July 1. Byrd replaced Paul Clark who became superintendent during the 2019-20 school year and steered the district through the pandemic.

“Paul Clark has dedicated his life, essentially, to being an educator,” Byrd said. “He opened up that door for me, so I really appreciate it.”

Growing up in Jackson, Byrd said he was familiar with northern Michigan through family vacations to Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula.

He graduated from Olivet College in 1991 and got his first teaching job at Jackson Northwest — his own high school.
Byrd spent the next 15 years teaching and coaching sports in the suburbs of Chicago. From there, he held administrative jobs, including athletic director, assistant principal, principal and superintendent.

Byrd said one of his biggest initiatives in Cheboygan will be to create a new district strategic plan. He said he’s been paying attention to the national teacher shortage that’s particularly intense in rural communities.

“We're trying to build better relationships with surrounding universities that have teacher prep programs,” Byrd said. “We’re trying to get more of a partnership with those universities and trying to get those universities to send us more student teachers.”

A 2022 study from Michigan State University highlighted districts in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula as facing severe shortages in special education teachers.

Byrd said most full-time openings for teachers have been filled but there are still openings for special education aides and substitutes, according to the district’s website.

Byrd said he’s also aiming to ensure students stay safe while in the classroom.

Two threats were reported into Cheboygan Area Schools within a month of each other earlier this year.

Byrd said he plans to enlist an administrator to take on the role of “District Safety Coordinator” through a stipend that would pay an additional $3,000 per year.

He said that person will meet regularly with community police, fire department and support services.

“There are a lot of little things that we talked about as an administrative team that we can do,” Byrd said. “I think some of the big ones for me are making sure that all the buildings are secure, that all the cameras are functional, that we have people in key locations… ideally to check ID and to make sure they understand why someone is entering the building.”

The Cheboygan Area school district includes East Elementary, Cheboygan Intermediate School, Cheboygan Middle School, Cheboygan High School and Inverness Academy.