By Sheila R. McAfee

Rodney Wakeham, assistant principal of Trenton High School, has been chosen as the next superintendent of Trenton Public Schools. Pending contract negotiations, the hiring will be official at the June 11 board of education meeting.

A 17-year veteran of the district, Wakeham was selected from a field of three candidates who were part of a unique internship program designed to immerse them in the role of superintendent.

Since early 2011, Wakeham, Stephanie O’Connor, principal at Arthurs Middle School, and Vince Porreca, principal at Hedke Elementary School, have been shadowing Larry Leapley, the interim superintendent.

Both Leapley and Mike Hawkins, president of the school board, said all three were strong possibilities for the position. They have a different range of experiences, but each would have been ready to walk into the office on their first day with knowledge and confidence to get the job done, Leapley said.

“The board members thought Mr. Wakeham’s analytical way of thinking and problem solving would be best for the budget issues that face the district,” said Hawkins.

The three candidates met separately with the board for more than an hour each May 21 during a special public school board meeting. It was a blind draw to determine who would interview first, and Vince Porreca was the first to be called. Stephanie O’Connor and Wakeham followed in that order.

The board had compiled a list of questions, which they had given to each candidate. It was decided that whatever was asked of Porreca, the same would be presented to O’Connor and Wakeham, Hawkins said.

The decision to hire Wakeham was unanimous.

“The goal was to be able to make an announcement that night, so I was pleased that we were able to get it done,” Hawkins said. “As we discussed the interviews it became clear what direction we wanted to head.”

With residents still in the audience, Hawkins asked for their cooperation not to text anyone with the news before he called all three candidates.

“We had sent the candidates home after their interviews,” Hawkins said. “I didn’t want them hearing about our decision from anyone else.”

Wakeham hails from the Upper Peninsula, where he received a dual undergraduate degree in medical technology and secondary education from Michigan Technological University.  He taught in the U.P. for 10 years, and moved downstate to teach chemistry at Trenton High School. He also took a coaching job.

“Part of my search was for a district with a strong hockey program,” said Wakeham. “But while that is one of the reasons I came to Trenton, the community is what has kept my family here.”

Wakeham was hired by Trenton Public Schools in 1995.  He served as chairman of the science department for 12 years and was named assistant principal two years ago.

With an eye on furthering his administrative career, he earned his master’s degree in educational leaderhip at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.

He and his wife, Alexis, have two daughters, Isabella and Olivia, who are students within the district.

The internship program was put together by Leapley after the board decided it would like to hire from within district.

Of the process, Wakeham said it solidified the administrative team thoughout the district. Whoever got the job would start out with two peers to turn to for advise, he said.

With the hiring of Wakeham, Leapley is scheduled to end his yearlong contract with the district June 29.

“It has been a rewarding year for me,” said Leapley. “I was able to work with three great candidates, we have brought unity to the district, and there are a lot of positive things going on. I think Rod can walk into a job that is on solid ground.”

Before he goes, Leapley and Wakeham will begin to look at next year’s budget. Wakeham also will helping THS Principal Mike Doyle  hire a new assistant principal.

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