Profile: Edward J. Manuszak II
Starting Young and Staying Young
BY PAUL RIEDE/School Administrator, March 2020
His resume reads “Edward John Manuszak II,” but don’t let the formality throw you. “Everyone calls him Eddie,” says Lee Haselschwerdt, a 6th-grade teacher and president of the teachers union at Dundee Community Schools in Michigan.
Manuszak is in his fourth year as superintendent of the 1,700-student district, located 25 miles south of Ann Arbor. He’ll turn 47 next month but insists, “I’m really kind of a kid at heart.” He is inclined to say he’s infected with “the Peter Pan Syndrome — I never want to grow up. … I find being around kids is life-fulfilling and energizing.”
Manuszak discovered his lifelong passion for improving the education of young children while he was in college, working at the preschool run by his future mother-in-law.
He graduated from Butler University with a degree in young childhood education and became a kindergarten teacher in Indianapolis. Then he moved back to Michigan and taught kindergarten and 1st grade for seven years.
As he moved on to other districts in Michigan as elementary school principal, assistant superintendent and now district leader, he became even more convinced of the paramount importance of the early years — something, he says, that is not fully appreciated.
“The majority of superintendents have no experience in early learning, yet early learning is probably the most important area for any student’s development,” Manuszak says. “Ninety percent of a student’s brain develops between 0 and 5.”
The United States lags behind most other industrialized nations in providing preschool experiences, something he says contributes to the nation’s subpar international test scores.
“Are we comfortable having only a quarter of our students proficient across the board when we’re compared to other nations around the world?” he says. “I am horribly uncomfortable with that. I think we’re in a crisis mode right now as a nation.”
To address that, Manuszak, a co-chair of AASA’s Early Learning Cohort, is completing a doctoral dissertation featuring a tool he created for school districts to assess the quality of their programs for young children.
He tested the tool in Dundee and concluded the district is not doing a good enough job with children from birth to age 3. He plans to address that by hiring a family engagement specialist during the next school year to focus on creating play groups, family work-shops and physical and mental health opportunities.
Manuszak hopes to do that through a grant application developed by the Monroe County Superintendents Association Early Childhood Plan, which he spearheaded. The grant would provide specialists for every district in the county.
His impact on the Dundee schools appears in other ways, including the creation of a one-to-one technology program. Haselschwerdt, of the teachers union, says the superintendent’s greatest impact has been turning around the district’s climate.
“There was some bad blood in the goings-on between the (previous) administration and the school board and the teachers,” he says. “Eddie tried to knock down those walls and build relationships with people. He really cares about establishing personal relation-ships with not just teachers but everybody in the community.”
For all his concern about the state of education for the youngest children, Manuszak says the heightened discussion of early childhood issues by some of the presidential contenders is reason for hope.
“This is my 25th year as a professional educator,” he says, “and honestly this is the most optimistic I’ve felt.”
PAUL RIEDE is a freelance education writer in Syracuse, N.Y.
BIO STATS: EDWARD J. MANUSZAK II
superintendent, Dundee, Mich.
assistant superintendent of instruction and student services, Temperance, Mich.
GREATEST INFLUENCE ON CAREER:
My mother-in-law Jacqueline Alvarez, who operated her own preschool for two decades and invited me to volunteer as a college freshman.
BEST PROFESSIONAL DAY:
The day I learned I would be superintendent in Dundee. I was called by the board president. On speaker phone, I verbally accepted. It was pure joy knowing all that I had sacrificed to reach this pinnacle.
BOOKS AT BEDSIDE: The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers
by Maxwell King and Turning the Flywheel
by Jim Collins
I was the keynote presenter at a kickoff for a new online curriculum mapping system. In front of my entire district, I forgot my log-in credentials. Everyone sat and waited while I profusely sweated in front of everyone.
WHY I'M AN AASA MEMBER:
As a co-chair of the AASA Early Learning Cohort, it is my responsibility to amplify the voices of those that need to be amplified.