State Superintendent Brian Whiston, who was on medical leave battling pancreatic cancer, died Monday evening, according to the Michigan Department of Education.
He was 56.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Brian,” State Board of Education Co-Presidents Casandra Ulbrich and Richard Zeile said in a statement. “Brian was a wonderful person who devoted his life to serving others. He was always focused on doing what is best for the children of Michigan. The vision he set forth to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years will endure.”
Whiston, who announced his cancer diagnosis in January, was appointed state superintendent in 2015. He previously served as superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools, a position he held since 2008. He also spent 11 years as director of government and community services for the Oakland County Intermediate School District.
Friends and colleagues praised Whiston on social media as a strong advocate for public education who cared deeply about Michigan’s children and students of all ages.
“What a wonderful person and a relentless supporter of public education,” Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, wrote on Twitter. “He will be sorely missed personally and professionally.”
After coming on board as state superintendent, Whiston — along with the State Board and others — developed a set of strategies designed to make Michigan a top 10 education state in 10-years.
He also revised the state’s testing system and lead an effort last year to keep the state from closing 38 low-performing schools.
That effort resulted in partnership agreements, under which districts retain local control of their schools and work with MDE to craft an agreement detailing academic improvements that must be achieved within an 18- and 36-month time-frame.
Whiston announced Friday that he was taking long-term disability leave, and that Chief Deputy Superintendent Sheila Alles would oversee daily operations at MDE in his absence.
Gov. Rick Snyder praised Whiston as an “outstanding partner” who understood the need to “challenge ourselves to do better for students.”
“The partnerships to help struggling districts, his work to help implement the Marshall Plan for Talent, his Top 10 in 10 program, and many other initiatives he undertook during his career will be part of Brian’s longstanding efforts to make Michigan a national leader in education,” Snyder said in a statement. “I will miss working with him greatly.”