HANCOCK - Chassell Township Schools Superintendent George Stockero was chosen from among three finalists as the new superintendent of the Copper Country Intermediate School District at a special meeting Thursday night.
Stockero has been superintendent and principal at Chassell since 2010, and had been principal at the school for five years before that, as well as serving as athletic director for Hancock Public Schools. He has 25 years experience in education, including 16 years of teaching special education.
"I'm just very thankful for the opportunity to serve the Copper Country as a whole," he said in a phone interview after the meeting. "I love my job at Chassell, and had a great experience there, and I look forward to working with all the superintendents and helping all schools strive to do as well as they always have been. I want to help all schools stay in their communities and thrive."
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Chassell Township Schools Superintendent George Stockero listens during his interview for the Copper Country Intermediate School District superintendent position at the ISD Thursday. The board selected Stockero 4-3 on the fifth vote, and made it unanimous on the next.
After more than two hours of deliberation, the CCISD board chose Stockero in a 4-3 vote over Houghton-Portage Township Schools Superintendent Doreen Klingbeil after four straw polls. On the fifth and binding vote, Robert Tuomi, Karen Johnson, Gale Eilola and Robert Loukus voted for Stockero, while Nels Christopherson, Rob Roy and Lisa Tarvainen backed Klingbeil.
The board then voted unanimously in support of Stockero.
Tuomi, president of the CCISD board, said the board had chosen an excellent candidate.
"Chassell's going to have some big shoes to fill," he said. "We're eager to start working with George and keep moving forward."
He also thanked Klingbeil and Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw Superintendent Darryl Pierce, saying "The districts that retain their superintendents are very fortunate to have such good-quality administrators."
Thursday afternoon, the board heard from each candidate in 70-minute interviews. Donna Oser, director of superintendent search services for the Michigan Association of School Boards, led the meeting, asking each candidate the same set of 20 questions. Topics ranged from involvement with policy issues to how to handle differences of opinion among local superintendents.
Asked to name a time he made a controversial decision that was in the best interest of the students, Stockero cited the elimination of the study hall period at Chassell High School. Teachers were initially wary of having a sixth class added to their schedule, while some parents said their children needed the study hall. But Stockero approached the situation by asking teachers and students for ideas on electives.
"We have many more electives, it is better for our students, and I don't have parents knocking on my door saying 'Bring back study halls,' but it was a fight that year," he said. "But I can confidently say what we did is much better for our students today."
As an innovative act, he remembered talking to Michigan Technological University after some students wanted to take dual enrollment but balked at the $1,500 price. After Stockero wrote to Tech, he said, Tech is now giving every child in the CCISD and Ontonagon County a $500 scholarship this winter for dual enrollment.
During the interview, Stockero said he had established a vision for Chassell centered on community. The district has undertaken many service project classes, such as building planter boxes for the Veterans of Foreign Wars post and building benches in downtown Chassell.
"I can't say 'George Stockero did that,'" he said. "That is what we believe in, we fostered it together, and it's an awesome thing to do."
Stockero's support grew throughout the polls. During the first two straw polls, in which members could vote for two candidates, he appeared on three ballots.
There were concerns about how Stockero would cope with the jump from a 270-person district to a 7,000-person ISD. But board members also liked his passion for education, particularly in special education, and his rapport with the community and other superintendents in the ISD.
"He's a problem solver, and I think he can bring staff together and collaborate with whoever to find solutions," Tuomi said. "If you look at the organizations he's been in, he's always ended up on the top."
After a 3-2-2 vote for Klingbeil, Stockero and Pierce on the third ballot, Eilola threw his support from Stockero to Klingbeil to break the logjam. In turn, Johnson and Loukus said they would prefer Stockero. Eilola switched back to his first choice of Stockero for the fourth ballot, which was 4-3 in favor of Stockero, an alignment that stayed in place for the final ballot.
A similar 4-3 vote made Dennis Harbour superintendent of the CCISD, the post he's held for the past 10 years. But since that vote - like Stockero's, followed by a unanimous acclamation - he's had complete support from the board, he said.
After Thursday's meeting, he praised Stockero.
"I've known George Stockero a long time," Harbour said. "He's been a successful administrator. He's certainly someone that people know in this area and respect ... He's a conscientious, dedicated soul and he'll do a fine job," he said.
Stockero said his top priority would be collaborations and ways the ISD could help local schools, but that it was too early to say what his priorities would be beyond that.
"Dennis has done a great job for the last 10 years, and I want to build off of that," he said. "I'll sit down with the superintendents and find out what do they have as their goals and get them all to work together and serve our kids. The kids are our priority. Our kids in the Copper Country do great, and we've got to make sure that continues."