By Haley Jones
MASA Marketing & Digital Media Specialist
For more than 100 days, Chris Ming and his family of five lived in their camper at a campground just down the street from Au Gres–Sims School District.
The new district superintendent was in the midst of a 40-day camping trip when he was offered the job in mid-July, so he ended the call, packed up his family, and made the drive from a campground in Ohio to get to work. It was only day 22 of the trip.
Luckily, a school board member owns the campground and was able to provide the family with a site in town.
A Michigan State University grad from Milford, Ming worked as a teacher and coach in Georgia and served as a principal and athletic director at East China Schools before recently taking over the role in Au Gres.
“Opportunities come along and you have to grab them when they are available,” Ming said in an interview in early October.
That optimism has helped Ming not only through his temporary living situation but also through his few months as a first-time superintendent who happens to be taking the role during a global pandemic and a district-wide construction project that has left him without even a stable office space on campus.
Au Gres-Sims’ single campus is undergoing a complete facelift – new heating and cooling in every classroom, new boilers, high efficiencies installed, an additional bus loop to help with congestion, a re-paved parking lot, new flooring, asbestos removal, new entrances to buildings and the athletic area, renovated bathrooms, and more. Ming called it “the jewel schools of the destination district.”
The project was supposed to be completed at the end of August, but COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans. Very few blessings come along in a construction project, Ming said, but having students and staff start the school year remote certainly helped keep the construction project moving.
This October, students returned to the building on a hybrid schedule, with elementary on-site four days a week, and secondary split between two groups, attending two days in-person and three days virtually. Wednesdays are designated for deep cleaning. He said the hope is to return fully in-person at some point, but the hybrid model is allowing more time for the construction project to move forward. Hopefully, it won’t last until 2022, Ming said.
As for stepping in to lead the district during one of the most, if not the most unpredictable times in education, Ming said he actually feels a bit lucky to be a new superintendent in 2020.
“No one knows what they are doing in this, I feel better stepping into this knowing that,” he said. “We get a chance to share some problems and see what people are coming up with. I feel supported in the role, even if people can’t answer, they are trying to work with one another.”
Ming also said he has a “rockstar” team to rely on as he juggles the many hats a superintendent in a small district must wear. In his professional life, he has had meet and greets with every district employee and board member to find out what is important to them and share ideas. In his personal life, he is making time to read for an hour each day, work toward his doctorate degree, and walk every day no matter the weather.
2020 presented many unique challenges to educators across the state, but Ming is continuing to look at it from a different perspective – as a time to be agile and make small changes that can make a big impact, as well as an opportunity to learn from staff who are lifelong community members about what is important to the community he serves, especially in the midst of COVID-19.
“This is a hard time, but I am glad to be here,” he said. “Despite living in a camper, I feel at home here.”
Note: Ming and his wife closed on a house in mid-October.