New adviser to push skilled trades issues for Snyder

Michael Wayland and Chad Livengood
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Rick Snyder has tapped a veteran West Michigan public school superintendent to be his new senior education adviser focused on improving the state’s pipeline of skilled trades workers.

Karen McPhee, superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District since 2004, will join Snyder’s office next month.

Snyder announced McPhee’s appointment Monday afternoon at the Governor’s Economic and Education Summit at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

As head of the Ottawa ISD, McPhee has overseen a technical education program that partners with area schools, businesses and Grand Rapids Community College to help students find career pathways in the skilled trades, according to Snyder’s office.

“I couldn’t think of a better background to have, and I know she’s going to do a good job,” Snyder told reporters.

In his second four-year term, Snyder has placed major emphasis on expanding skilled trades training and exposing high school students to educational alternatives to college to help fill a skills gap in the state’s workforce.

McPhee said priorities in her new role will be to “listen and learn” to understand what is important to Snyder’s administration, as well as making sure opinions of major stakeholders in businesses, schools and communities are all heard.

“You put it all together, and you get a really nice full picture of what’s real and what’s possible,” McPhee told The Detroit News. “That’s what we’ve got to bring together: What’s real and what’s possible, and make sure everyone has a good understanding of that to get to that mutual common interest of strong communities.”

During the economic and education conference, participants were shown a video featuring actor Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs.”

“It is a great message,” McPhee said. “We’ve got to do a better job of backing kids up and making sure they have an opportunity to explore career options early in their tenure, so that they have a chance to start matching up what they like to do, and their passions, and their talents with a career.

“We can’t wait until they’re at 11th or 12th grade to do that, so we need to back that up. And skilled trades is a vital part of this state’s economy.”

McPhee, who has been an educator and administrator at the Ottawa ISD since 1984, will be paid an annual salary of $110,000, Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Monday.

She replaces Craig Ruff, who retired at the end of 2014.

McPhee also will be responsible for leading the governor’s initiative to boost the number of third-graders who are proficient readers.

“She has tremendous experience,” Snyder said. “We’re excited to have her on board.”

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