Creating student success: Paul Hungerford continues as Gratiot-Isabella RESD superintendent

In his second year as the Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District (Gratiot-Isabella RESD) superintendent, Paul Hungerford remains committed to his mission of providing services and programming – creating student success stories inside and outside of classrooms. 

Hungerford’s three-year contract began on Sept. 1, 2021, however prior to his current position, he worked 25 years in education. He began in his hometown at Fowler High School as the athletic director, and a computer science and social studies teacher. In 2010, he moved to Fulton Schools, operating as a middle school/high school principal. Throughout his career, he’s also coached sub-varsity and varsity sports, being actively involved and woven throughout different facets of the world of education since 1992. 

Managing a wide-ranging school district is not an easy task, and it’s a role that Hungerford knows requires a team effort. He describes his leadership style as accessible, supportive, and collaborative.

“My vision for Gratiot-Isabella RESD is to continue the collaborative work among our nine local public schools, and our two public school academies,” he says. “Our region is fortunate to have a very respectful, inclusive relationship with each other. There are many regular monthly meetings taking place throughout the RESD to ensure communication is centered around providing services and programming to benefit all students in Gratiot and Isabella counties.”

The Gratiot-Isabella RESD is currently in the process of creating a three-year strategic plan. “The creation of the plan is going to be developed with input from all of our constituents; local school districts, business partners, instructional staff, support staff, parents, etc. Once this plan is approved by our GIRESD Board of Education, our decisions moving forward will be aligned with the approved framework,” Hungerford says.

In his second year as the Gratiot-Isabella RESD superintendent, Paul Hungerford remains committed to his mission of creating student success stories inside and outside of classrooms via services and programming.Working closely with the dedicated educational leaders and staff is Hungerford’s favorite part about his job. “It truly amazes me of the talented educators we have in our midst. I appreciate the opportunity to learn from them,” he says. 

One of the hardest parts of his job is finding time to visit all of the programs and events within the school calendar. He wishes he had more time to attend after-school sports, club events, and more extracurricular events. “I sincerely enjoy attending and supporting our students,” he says. 

When it comes to parents’ feedback or requests, Hungerford listens closely, and knows how important family support is in and outside of the classroom. Even if there isn’t a familial unit in a student’s life, schools can often provide a nurturing network to lay the foundation for success later in life. Hearing those success stories is another rewarding aspect of Hungerford’s role.

“Our students are the future of our counties, and it’s a privilege to have a small part in assisting them with their education as they chase their dreams,” he says. “There isn’t anything more satisfying than having a former student share their success stories after their graduation.”

A district success story Hungerford is particularly proud of is the effort the region demonstrated to get the CTE Millage Renewal passed last May. “The renewal took an all-inclusive effort led by our associate superintendent of career technical education, Doug Bush,” Hungerford says. “The students will enjoy a state-of-the-art learning experience at our GI-TEC Centers in Mt. Pleasant and Alma for many years to come.”

The GI-TEC Center provides hands-on technical and professional training for high school students. It offers over 20 career preparation programs, including accounting, agriscience, automotive technology, business management, construction trades, cosmetology, criminal justice, culinary arts, digital media, educational careers, electronics, graphics/printing, health careers/CNA, interior design, machine trades, marketing, mechatronics, small engines, technical drafting/CAD, and welding. 

Noting the importance of utilizing advanced technology in learning environments, Hungerford reminds that standardized test scores aren’t the only thing to measure success. “A common misconception of public education is that success is often solely based on standardized test scores,” he says. “Without a doubt, we pay particular attention to all of those metrics, as they are important. However, there are success stories happening every day within the classrooms and hallways of our schools. We need to celebrate and recognize those achievements.”

Another achievement Hungerford hopes to accomplish, as a need identified by parents, is to provide support for the social and emotional well-being of students. “GIRESD has leveraged and maximized state funds to supply school social workers for the overwhelming majority of our school districts.”

When it comes to challenges the district faces, Hungerford says the issues are the same as many other professional organizations endure. Some of the challenges include attracting and retaining highly skilled, qualified staff to work with students in Gratiot and Isabella counties. “Additionally, we continue to meet the challenges of regaining lost in-person learning experienced during the peak of the pandemic.”

It truly takes a village, and Hungerford is grateful for the community contributions and involvement. “I believe our region is fortunate to have the tremendous support we have,” he says. “However, I would challenge everyone to demonstrate grace when faced with adversity or with a situation of concern. Our schools and communities are better when we have compassion for each other, and work together for the betterment of our students.”

Working together across a system-wide common goal of preparing students for a successful future is at the heart of Hungerford’s daily work. “I push myself to be available for the districts within our region,” he says. “I’m very blessed to have this opportunity to serve as the superintendent of Gratiot-Isabella RESD, and I want all of our districts to know I can be a reliable support system for them.”

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at spohn9@gmail.com.