Grosse Pointe school board president resigns, cites stress on family

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Public School System's board president resigned on Thursday, citing stress on his family from his service, according to social media posts.

Brian Summerfield, appointed to the board in 2013 and elected in 2014, was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. But his resignation comes following a tumultuous year for the school district in which the board voted to close schools and move fifth-graders into middle school buildings in controversial maneuvers.

Grosse Pointe Public School Board of Education President Brian Summerfield

Summerfield, a Birmingham-based attorney, is a resident of Grosse Pointe Park with wife Emily and their three children. His term expires Dec. 31, 2022.

In his Facebook post, Summerfield said: "As some of you have already heard, I have submitted my resignation from the board today. It was a very difficult decision, and I was reluctant to do so, but my family could no longer bear the burden of my continued service.

"Thank you for supporting and trusting me over the years with such an important role," Summerfield wrote. "Our administration and staff's professionalism, dedication, and expertise made my position much easier, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to work with so many talented people."

Board member Judy Gafa said on Thursday that Summerfield's children and wife were harassed via social media and in public comments, with most of the criticism coming after the school closure decision.

Gafa posted on Facebook that she was saddened by his decision.

"While some may be rejoicing, please pay attention to why he felt the need to resign," she wrote. "While politicians are open to criticism and negative comments, family members should be off limits. I can only imagine what his children have been going through as well as his wife.

"I have witnessed this community rise up to support those in need, to help those who are hurting and show what it’s like to be a neighbor. There are good kind decent people, but there are also bullies, and we should not tolerate it from adults any more than we would from our children."

Gafa told The Detroit News that current board vice president Margaret Weertz will become the new president, and the board has 30 days to appoint someone to fill the board vacancy.

At the board's Jan. 13 meeting, officers will be elected. Gafa said she expects an election to be held in the fall for the open seat.

"Brian was a very reasonable, level-headed leader," Gafa said. "Under him, we built up fund equity without cutting teacher pay or programs. He advocated for staff and students."

Superintendent Gary Niehaus said on Thursday he does not expect to have a problem getting candidates to run for the school board vacancy.

"There are people who want to serve," Niehaus said.

Summerfield presided over the board in 2019 when it voted to close two schools as part of a district-wide consolidation process needed to address long-time declining enrollment.

On June 24, the school board voted to close Poupard and Trombly and approved a K-4 and 5-8 reconfiguration. The reconfiguration will result in the movement of all fifth-grade students to three middle schools starting in the 2020-21 school year.

The actions follow 15 years of declining enrollment, which has meant financial losses for the affluent Metro Detroit district, officials said.

With each student equal to around $10,000 in school revenue, the district's average 100-student drop per year is $1 million lost.

District parent Jen Evans said Summerfield's resignation is a blow to the school community of 7,600 students in eastern Wayne County.

"I am personally heartsick that adults in our community cannot act like adults and have made his family feel attacked," Evans said.

"I hope that all of these people who have spent months attacking him personally from behind their keyboards take the opportunity to step up and actually make change rather than just complaining about the people putting in the real work."