Lansing — Michigan schools Superintendent Brian Whiston has cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment following a recent diagnosis, officials said Tuesday.
State Board of Education co-presidents Casandra Ulbrich and Richard Zeile disclosed the diagnosis at the start of a board meeting which Whiston was unable to attend, his second missed meeting in as many months.
Whiston is “in daily contact with his team here at the Department of Education and comes into the office periodically,” Ulbrich they said in a joint statement provided to The Detroit News.
“We all are optimistic that his treatments will be successful and he will keep moving us forward to be a Top 10 education state.”
Whiston took over as state superintendent in July 2015 after selection by the state board.
His predecessor, former state Superintendent Mike Flanagan “also had cancer and has beaten it,” Ulbrich and Zeile noted. “We are optimistic about Brian, too.”
As superintendent, Whiston leads the state education department, acts as a non-voting member of the State Board of Education and sits on Gov. Rick Snyder’s cabinet even though he was independently appointed by the board.
Whiston is “one of the strongest allies for my goal to make education better in Michigan,” Snyder said later Tuesday in a statement on social media.
“Now, we all need to be strong for him. Please join me in wishing Brian the best and respecting his privacy as he deals with some personal health matters.”
Officials are not disclosing what type of cancer Whiston has, but Department of Education Spokesman Martin Ackley said the superintendent is not on medical leave.
Whiston is still working, staying in daily contact with his staff and comes into the office periodically, Ackley said.
The superintendent also advises legislators on education policy and funding needs and is responsible for implementing laws they pass. He is the state’s primary liaison to the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies.
Whiston served as Superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools prior to his appointment to the state post.
He recently developed a new partnership model to help academically failing schools improve performance and delay forced closure by the state.