Sterling Heights

Leading a school through a pandemic: Q&A with superintendent Robert Monroe

When Robert Monroe decided to pursue a career in education, there was no way to predict he would be one day leading a school through a global pandemic. Yet that's exactly where the new Utica Community Schools (UCS) superintendent finds himself.

Metromode asked about what he's witnessed, how teachers are coping, and his predictions for what lies ahead for his students.

Metromode: COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges schools have faced in decades, how do you feel about stepping into a new role as superintendent just as this is unfolding?

Robert Monroe: I have seen this community rise to meet difficult challenges time and time again through resilience and a tireless commitment to students. I have every confidence that our amazing UCS team will again meet the academic and mental health needs of our students as we navigate the impact the global pandemic has had on schools.

What's been the biggest challenge for UCS pivoting for COVID-19 needs so far?

COVID-19 has challenged all of us in every part of our lives. For schools, the biggest challenge may be the uncertainty that impacts our planning. The good news is that we have laid the groundwork with multiple possibilities, so we are able to adapt.

You are beginning the transition back to in-person learning, how are students and parents feeling right now about the process?

I have been inspired by how our staff and students are connecting in the remote environment. Our innovative teachers are doing everything possible to make sure that learning is continuing for our students. [...] We will be returning to in-person services for smaller groups of students through a careful and deliberate process that is focused on health and safety. Our current stage is a hybrid model for K-1 students and select Special Education programs.

I know all of us are looking forward to the day when we have all of our students back at school on a full-time basis. We will get there by continuing to work together.

How do you think students will look back on these times in the future? What long-term lessons or shift in outlook will they take away, in your opinion?

UCS staff is working hard to build our students’ confidence that can quickly adapt and work together to overcome all challenges. The skills they are taking away from these experiences are ones we continue to focus on because they are so important to this region’s employers; the ability to solve problems, to be innovative, work remotely if necessary, and be effective team members to finish a project.

Teachers and educators are under a lot of pressure right now, is there concern for their mental health and what do you believe could help (or is helping) with that?

At all times, being an educator is a rewarding job, but it is a difficult one. Education is a calling and a passion for our staff and we are proud of the high standards we represent in UCS. We recognize the critical importance of what we do, and the trust that our community has given us for the future of their children. By nature, we give and support others, often at the expense of ourselves.

We started the year by sharing information that our counselors put together about signs that could raise a concern for a staff member or their colleague. We continue to provide those resources to staff so that they know it is okay to ask for help and that there are others around them who will always be there for them.

Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at