State Superintendent Brian Whiston informed the State Board of Education on Friday he will be taking a long-term disability leave, effective immediately.

Appointed state superintendent by the State Board of Education in April 2015, Whiston was diagnosed with cancer late last year. He has been receiving medical treatments while continuing to run the Michigan Department of Education.

“My doctors have advised me to step back for now and concentrate on my medical care,” Whiston said in a statement. “It is difficult for me to take a leave at this important time in leading the education resurgence in Michigan, but it is the best course to take for my health and my family.”

While on leave, chief deputy superintendent Sheila Alles will oversee operations of the Michigan Department of Education.

In an interview with The Detroit News in February, Whiston said he has had a rough couple of months with his health.

“I started off with liver and kidney failure, went to cancer and then a heart attack. The last two months have been a little rough ... I have a good sense of humor and good faith, so I am in good shape,” Whiston said Feb. 13 during a break at the state board of education meeting.

Before becoming the state’s top education official, Whiston was superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools from 2008 to early 2015. He also was director of government and community services for Oakland Schools and a local school board member for 17 years.

The state board gave Whiston a rating of outstanding on his annual evaluation and extended his contract by one year in March.

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