Lansing School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul plans to celebrate the opening of a new school and the completion of district construction projects before completing her career.
Members of the Lansing School District Board of Education accepted Caamal Canul’s plan to retire on Jan. 1, six months before her contract is set to expire in June 2020.
She will see the opening of the new Eastern High School in September and usher in the new school year before transitioning out, putting a cap on a 45-year career in education and closing a tenure as school district superintendent that began in 2012.
Deputy superintendent of five years Mark Coscarella will serve as acting superintendent. He did not return calls for comment.
The promise of spending time at a home in Mexico with her husband, thousands of miles away from Michigan’s brutal winters, helped Caamal Canul, 67, make her decision.
“Having another school year of calling snow days just didn’t appeal to me,” she said.
This proves the third time Caamal Canul attempted to retire. Rachel Willis, president of the Lansing School District Board of Education called her retirement a mutual agreement between Caamal Canul and the board.
The timing will work nicely, she said.
“Yvonne has been a great leader of the school district for the past almost eight years,” Willis said. “I completely respect her decision to retire at this time in her life.”
Caamal Canul’s supporters will remember her accomplishments, including creating the Lansing
Pathway Promise — which offers three pathways for students to pick from, including health sciences or human services at Eastern High, arts and communication or information technology at Everett High, and engineering and advanced manufacturing or insurance and finance at Sexton High School.
The program’s success included voters passing a $120-million millage to support the program in 2016 and a 3-mill proposal voters approved in May to establish a sinking fund to pay for upgrades, like new roofs and heating and cooling systems.
Former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, whose wife Teri is a Lansing School District administrator, recalls that some doubted those tax levies would pass.
They did, and bonds ended up funding programs that have proven to be invaluable for Lansing students, Bernero said, providing different career tracks, from college-bound to skilled trades.
“I think she’s been one of the most consequential superintendents in modern history,” he said. “She is ingenious, creative, determined, intelligent and just dogged about creating real opportunities and pathways for Lansing children.”
Lansing City Council Member Peter Spadafore, a former school board member, voted with the rest of the board to make Caamal Canul the next superintendent in 2012.
She came in after a time of turmoil between former Superintendent T.C. Wallace Jr. and the board, Spadafore said. At the time, he thought an outside candidate would be the district’s best option, but nearly eight years later he realizes he was wrong.
“She had the ability to cut through the mess and make decisions that weren’t always popular,” Spadafore said. “She exceeded my expectations. It was a great decision to bring her on board.”
Caamal Canul said one accomplishment she's proud of is boosting graduation rates from about 50 percent district wide in 2012 to about 70 percent today.
She also pointed to a decrease in expulsions, going from 107 in the 2013-14 school year to none in the 2017-18 school year after district officials implemented programs focused on reducing suspensions and expulsions.
She also faced challenges during her tenure, like declining enrollment, a struggle school districts around the state continue to deal with, Caamal Canul said.
Coscarella will continue leading the district in a positive direction, she said. Board members likely will look to find a full-time superintendent in the coming months, Willis said.
“Right now we have a lot of momentum with our Pathway Promise and I would recommend (the next superintendent has) experience with large capital projects and working with an urban school district and a large student population,” Willis said.
Caamal Canul supports making Coscarella her full-time replacement.
“He’s been my deputy for the past five years, he’s right as rain, his compass is pointed due north, he’s experienced,” she said. “In our case, we are on a good path, we don’t need to lose a couple years of momentum by finding someone else.”
She will look to the board to make that decision, meanwhile, she’ll soon be ready to head south.
“It’s time for me to go and enjoy retirement,” she said.
About Caamal Canul
Education: Bachelor's degree in speech and theater from Olivet College, master's degree in elementary education and racial/ethnic studies, Michigan State University; did course work toward a doctorate in educational administration at MSU but did not complete a dissertation.
Previous experience: Worked with MSU's Outreach and Engagement office on its FirstSchool project; served as chief innovation officer for Atlanta-based AdvancED; directed the Michigan Department of Education's Office of School Improvement; held various roles in the Lansing School District, including teaching at Riddle Elementary and Otto Middle School; founded the school district's Center for Language, Culture and Communication Arts; served as director of programs for bilingual and migrant students; and as director of curriculum.
On the fun side: She used to raise and breed standard poodles, loves to dance to salsa music and used to be a bartender at Pistachios.