MONROE - When he first took over as superintendent almost nine years ago, Don Spencer thought he knew his new job backward and forward.
After all, he'd been at the Monroe County Intermediate School District either as a teacher or administrator for more than two decades.
But what he didn't know back then - and he said it was a lot - he apparently has picked up in on-the-job training, because the Michigan Association of School Administrators has named Mr. Spencer one of 10 regional Superintendents of the Year.
"The biggest thing I've learned is that this job is totally dependent upon the quality and dedication of the people around you," Mr. Spencer said.
"I've got a great board, I work with excellent superintendents around the county, and assistant superintendents are outstanding."
The regional award puts Mr. Spencer, 55, on the short list for the association's statewide hon-ors, to be chosen over the next few months.
Along with Monroe, the association of school administrators region includes every public school district and intermediate school district in Washtenaw, Lenawee, Hillsdale, and Jackson counties.
Mr. Spencer was nominated for the award by intermediate school district board President Charlene Jenkins in part for his stewardship of the county's unique, 1-mill technology levy.
First passed in 1997 and renewed twice since, the county-wide technology tax is unique in Michigan.
It has allowed all local schools to stock their classrooms with up-to-date computers and other equipment.
"We're right at the top of the state in terms of the amount of technology in our classrooms, but I think we rival any county anywhere in the way we use technology," Mr. Spencer said.
Mr. Spencer has been superintendent since 1999. Before that, he was a teacher, consultant, supervisor, and assistant superintendent for special education services.
Ida Superintendent Marv Dick said Mr. Spencer does a "wonderful job."
"I think the school districts in Monroe County tend to work more closely with one another than perhaps they do elsewhere in the state, and I think Don is a big reason for that. He keeps us all on track," Mr. Dick said.
In addition to his job, Mr. Spencer is chairman of the Monroe County Great Start Collaborative and Monroe County D.A.R.E. Board, a past chairman of the board of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the boards of United Way of Monroe County and the Monroe County Human Services Collaborative Network.
In the last few years, Mr. Spencer has been writing his doctoral thesis on the history of public education in Monroe County.
In doing so, he's been poring over minutes of meetings - some more than 100 years old - that tell of local people working to educate the county's children.
What he's found is a consistency through the years of caring people who were committed not only to public education, but to helping out their neighbors and neighboring school districts as well.
"When you look at it, these educational leaders in the 1940s and 1950s and even back into the late 1800s were dealing with many of the same issues that we struggle with today: a lack of resources, and how do we provide the best education for our children," Mr. Spencer said.
"What I've seen and what I've tried to build from this is that you have to have a vision of what education can become, and then work toward that goal."
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: