Meet Green Bay Area Public School’s next superintendent
By Kris Leonhardt
GREEN BAY – At the March 13 meeting of the Green Bay Area Public School District Board of Education, board members unanimously approved a motion to offer a contract to Dr. Claude J. Tiller, Jr. as the district’s new superintendent.
Tiller currently serves as assistant superintendent over high school transformation for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
He has also served as the school improvement grant facilitator and monitor for the State of Michigan Department of Education School Improvement Support Unit and has worked in the roles of director of finance and operations, consultant, district turnaround specialist, adjunct university instructor, community ombudsman, school principal and a classroom teacher in public school districts.
Tiller received his bachelors degree from the University of Michigan, a master of education from Bowling Green State University, an education specialist degree from Wayne State University in Detroit and a doctor of education from the American College of Education.
Press Times staff recently met with Dr. Tiller to learn more about the district’s next superintendent.
Detroit to Green Bay, that’s a big difference:
So, the weather is not too much different so that’s the key there. But, you know, I’ve been in Michigan small town areas. Benton Harbor was very, very small, way smaller than Green Bay. I went to school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. You know, Ann Arbor is a college town, very small, very cozy. So, it’s a fun move.
When I did my going into the community (in Green Bay) by me coming down a day ahead of time and just eating at the local restaurant there; the people are just wonderful. They embraced me and I felt a sense of home there already, so that was a very good feeling.
It’s a good fit for me and it’s a good fit for I believe, in hopes, the community.
When did you know you wanted to get into education?
I came out of the University of Michigan, and I finished up my masters. Then, I came back home, and I had my masters roughly around 22-23 years old. I had a masters, and I was looking for a job; because, I originally wanted to be in sports management. So, I started substitute teaching. Then, that was the love.
They gave me a very challenging homeroom. I used to come home, which was funny, and fall asleep in my clothes because I was just exhausted. They exhausted me. I didn’t know what to do to get to communicate with him and get the message across. Until I day the principal of the building, he said he was looking for a basketball coach. I volunteered and when the students saw me in a different light, they saw me as a human. The whole scenario changed.
They started calling me ‘Coach T,’ and they saw me in a whole different light. I knew then that I found a little niche. Students need to see you as a person. They need to be relatable to you. I didn’t understand that piece because I was a substitute. And, so I had a barrier; you know, I’m the teacher and you do what I asked you to do. Well, these modern-day kids, it just doesn’t work like that, and they showed me until I showed them that we were on the same team and I could communicate with them.
That was my love, my love and passion. I was at one of the toughest – it’s closed down now – one of the toughest middle schools in Detroit at the time was Post Middle School and a very challenging homeroom.
In fact, by me coming in as the sub, of course, I was the low person on the totem pole, so they gave me one of the most challenging homerooms in the whole building. I grew to love them, and they grew to love me; and, I found my niche and I grew to love education from being a substitute at Post Middle School in Detroit.
Did you ever think you’d be at the superintendent level?
Yes, to be honest with you, I’m a winner. I was captain of the University of Michigan track and field team. I was MVP of my high school team from Cooley High School. So, I always reached and went for the apex of wherever I was at. I just have a winning spirit. So, I knew if I was in education, my eyes were set very early on to be the superintendent of a district.
I took a long-about route because I didn’t know you needed so much academic credentials behind your name. But, I always had my eye on whatever I was in, I wanted to be number one.
Just like when I go to Green Bay, I want to close that achievement gap. I want to be number one in the state of Wisconsin. That’s my goal. That’s my aspirations, and what does that look like? Well when I get in there and actually see what it looks like, then we can go for it there.
I know we’re going to reach to close that academic gap. I know that we have some students that are leaving us, but birthrate that’s hard to come back but so we’ll look at that piece, but I want to be No. 1 in Wisconsin.
What skills do you possess that make you ideal for being a superintendent?
What I’m finding out through this whole process, people may say, the academics are there; I’m Dr. Tiller. So, that piece is a given. I worked with schools and I transform schools. Currently, we increased our graduation rate in Detroit Public Schools Community District. First time since 2017 that the graduation rate has increased from 64.9% to 71.1%. So, those things, those hard-core concrete things, everybody expects.
What I’m finding out is those soft skills, those affective pieces that people don’t even think about. People want a superintendent that’s approachable. People want a superintendent that is in the community. And this is my opinion, people want a superintendent that they can touch. Somebody’s not behind the title and the role.
I don’t acquiesce to titles and roles. Okay, I’m Dr. Tiller but so what, what can I do that can help you as my students? That’s my whole purpose. My whole goal is student-centered. What can I do to help my students? So, I’m not some person that’s behind that desk. I’m not some person that’s behind brick and mortar. I want to be out there in the community. I want to [reach] the children. I want to hear what’s going on in their minds. I want to hear what can I do as the vessel, as a servant leader, to help them make sure that they become productive citizens in society. I think that’s the missing piece about being a superintendent and that everybody has those affectives and those hands-on skills.
Some people naturally want to work behind the desk, and I think these days and times, I think everybody wants to see their superintendent and not somebody that’s up on a pedestal somewhere walking around talking, I’m ‘Doctor This’ and you know just the phoniness of it all. What you see is what you get from me; I’m very genuine, I’m very warm. I love people, and I love to be around people.
What can you tell us about your family?
So, my mother, who’s passed away, bless her soul, she went to Teachers College, and she kind of started me on that route. She didn’t finish, but she went to Teachers College. She was a Tar Heel in North Carolina. She started this path, and I used to hear her talk to my sisters. I’m the baby; I’m the last survivor. We had six of us; and naturally, I’m the last one.
And so, that kind of speared me on; and then… I was a single father, and I raised my daughter since she was one and a half, and now, she’s 28 years old. We have a bond that’s just unbreakable, and I always wanted to make her proud of her father. So, that was a motivation as well and the push for family and my beautiful wife, Holly.
I’ve been married now for three years, and I always say to her ‘I want to make you proud that you married your husband.’ So, she was like my fortress of solitude. Goodness, when I come home, I’m able to unwind and she helped me through my dissertation. So she’s been very, very supportive, helped me if you will, in this whole entire process.
So, my family has been very, very supportive. I talk to my daughter (Bria) still, two or three times a day, and she’s gone on. She’s in Harvard, Illinois, and she works with a supply chain management company there.
And so it’s a very much supportive family that I’ve come from, even though I’m the last one of six.
What else should the community know about you:
I want to talk about my leadership positions. I think I alluded to that by me being an MVP, it was a training ground (at a) very young age. Since high school, I was all-state at track and field and had good coaches. Coach Robert Lynch, who helped groom me when I was 11 years old. He was my surrogate father, and he used to come pick me up. I used to listen to him talk to me, and he knew, he saw the greatness in me and me being voted by my peers at the University of Michigan as a co-captain, that was an honor… so, I was always in a leadership role, in a collaborative role as I think back now.
So, ever since a young age, I was groomed – unbeknownst to me – to be superintendent and to run a district and to collaborate with the people of a district, such as Green Bay.