Ph.D. Superintendent of Schools
Dr. Leadriane Roby was appointed superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools in February 2020.
Leadriane (pronounced Lee-dree-in) is an experienced and reflective educator with a 26-year history in public education. She began her career as an elementary classroom teacher, advancing to other roles including instructional leader, mentor, elementary and secondary principal and district leader in school districts in Michigan and Minnesota. click here to read Dr. Roby's full bio
Assistant Superintendent, Chief of Staff, and Executive Director of Public Safety & School Security
Larry received his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI and his Masters Degree in Police Administration, from Ferris State University. Currently, he is pursing a doctorial degree in Educational Leadership.
Larry is a former Benton Harbor MI., Lansing MI, and Retired Grand Rapids MI., Police Officer. He was also a police Sergeant with the Grand Rapids Police Department. While working for the Grand Rapids Police Department, Larry worked in the Departments Vice Unit, Recruiting and Training Unit, and was the supervisor of the Gang Intelligence and Special Response Team (SWAT). Throughout his professional career, Larry has received many awards for his actions, including the Grand Rapids Police most prestigious award, the Meritorious Service Award, for his actions in December of 1995, while involved in an undercover drug operation.
Larry Johnson was appointed Executive Director of Public Safety & School Security of the Grand Rapids Public Schools on August 15, 1997. Larry is responsible for a department that consists of 15 special (sworn) police officers and 25 security officers. Larry attended the United States Secret Services, National Threat Assessment Program. Larry was one of twenty-four individuals in the nation to attend the program, which is aimed at reducing the amount of targeted school violence in our nation schools. He is also a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, National Academy 218th Session in Quantico, VA.
Larry has written several articles that have been published nationally, on the issue of school safety and security and spends hundreds of hours studying and researching the causes of violence in schools. He is a sought after expert in the area of school safety and security. He has traveled throughout the nation to participate in national training conferences as well as speak on school safety issues. He has also served as a consultant to a number of school districts on school safety issues. He is very highly knowledgeable as it relates to school culture, climate and creating and maintaining a safe school environment.
In support of Superintendent Neal’s academic plan he is currently overseeing school safety and security issues, including emergency response and crisis management, bomb threats and safety and security training for teachers, administrators and support staff. Recently, he was given additional responsibilities in managing the districts Management Information systems (MIS), Risk management, EEOC, FERPA, Freedom of Information, and Internal investigations divisions. Mr. Johnson is working with his teams to provide excellent customer service, provide updated and quality technology for all students and to be responsive to the needs of the community and district by being transparent in all of the departments in which he manages by eliminating barriers that impact learning.
Larry is married and is the father of three children.
Ph.D. Assistant Superintendent
For over two decades Dr. Ron Gorman, has served the Grand Rapids Public Schools as an elementary teacher, a secondary teacher, a high school assistant principal, a high school athletic director, a K-8 principal, a high school principal, Executive Director of Secondary Schools, Assistant Superintendent of Pre-K-12 Instructional Support and Interim Superintendent of Schools.
Dr. Gorman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Aquinas College, a Master of Educational Leadership degree from Michigan State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership degree from Western Michigan University. Dr. Gorman holds Michigan Educator Certifications in English, Reading, Elementary Education, and Pre-K-12 Administration. In addition to his educational accomplishments, Dr. Gorman proudly served eight years in the United States Army Reserves.
He and his wife, Melissa, have two children attending GRPS and are residents of Grand Rapids. Melissa is also a proud educator serving the district for 15 years.
Dr. Gorman was appointed by the board on May 13, 2019. He has a one-year contract effective July 1, 2019. He will work tirelessly every day to ensure the district continues to make transformational improvements. He is honored to serve the district during this time of transition.
Sharron M. Pitts,
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources & General Counsel
Sharron leads the GRPS Human Resources & Legal Services Department. Sharron has over 25 years of experience working in a K-12 environment, having served as the General Counsel and Chief of Staff in a large urban school system prior to joining the GRPS team. Sharron has been a lawyer for 40 years with prior experience in employment and governmental law, and litigation. She currently specializing in the areas of human resources, labor relations and employment law. Sharron also has extensive experience in strategic planning, organizational development and process improvement. Sharron has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree from Wayne State University School of Law. Sharron is an active member of the Michigan, Georgia, and Florida Bar Associations and a member of the Floyd Skinner Bar Association. She is on the Chair of the City of Grand Rapids Civil Service Commission, and is on the board of directors of the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore and the Literacy Center of West Michigan.
Mel Atkins II,
Executive Director of Community & Student Affairs
Mel Atkins is the Executive Director of Community and Student Affairs, having been appointed in 2012 after serving the district in a series of positions: elementary teacher, principal, school reform facilitator, and executive director of K-8 and Middle/High Schools.
Mel has led the district in strengthening its family engagement model, creating a collaborative community approach to reducing chronic absenteeism and overseeing data-driven discipline reform measures. Nationally recognized for the success of GRPS’ Strive for Less than 5 attendance initiative, Mel is frequently called on to speak about evidence-backed strategies for improving attendance. In 2016 – 2018 he was a member of a Technical Working Group convened by the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate the impact of parent messaging strategies on student attendance. Mel brought Dr. Karen Mapp’s dual capacity model of school-family engagement to GRPS by initiating professional development within teams of parents, teachers, and administrators.
Overseeing multiple priorities within the department of Community and Student Affairs, Mel provides adaptive leadership for state and federal programs (Title I, Title IV, 31A), student assessments, program evaluations, research and grant-writing, student services, family and community engagement, extended learning, school counseling, and health services. Effective use of data to accurately define problems, design intervention strategies, and measure results characterize his leadership style. District-wide dissemination of learning from his department’s priorities include internally developed research reports on chronic absenteeism, suspensions and discipline, and indicators of high school success, as well as a Title I Handbook, Volunteer Handbook, Student Policy Handbook and Attendance Toolkit. Power Parent, an online monthly magazine targets parents and families with timely articles supporting student success.
Mel holds a BS in Child Development with ZA endorsement from Michigan State, and an MA in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University.
Furthering his professional development through the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Mel has completed executive programs in Urban Leadership; Family Engagement in Education; Leadership for Superintendents and District Leaders; Race, Equity and Leadership; and Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools.
Executive Director for Transitional Bilingual/Dual Language Programs, ELL, Migrant, Equity and Inclusion, & Shared Time
Mayda Bahamonde-Gunnell is the Executive Director for Leadership Middle School, Equity & Inclusion, and English Language Learners Program. During the past 26 years, she has served the Grand Rapids Public Schools as an elementary teacher, elementary principal, and the Executive Director of Elementary Schools.
Dr. Gunnell holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Peter’s College, a Master of Education degree from Kean University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University.
In support of Superintendent Neal’s academic plan, Dr. Gunnell is working with middle school principals, teachers, coaches and curriculum coordinators to create a Vision of Quality Teaching and Learning for GRPS Middle Schools, English Language Learners Program, and the development of the Equity and Inclusion Department. This plan will provide a targeted instructional focus to all Grand Rapids Public Schools’ stakeholders and prepare students for college and career readiness.
Executive Director of Pre-K, Elementary, & K-8 Instructional Support
Matthew Beresford is the Executive Director of Early Childhood and select PK-5 / PK-8 schools. For over 10 years, Mr. Beresford has proudly served the Grand Rapids Public Schools as a teacher, Early Childhood Director, and Executive Director.Mr. Beresford brings a world-view to GRPS from his first career in telecommunications serving in the U.S. Navy and various commercial companies. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Ferris State University and holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University.
In support of Superintendent Neal’s academic plan, Mr. Beresford is working with elementary school principals, teachers, coaches and curriculum coordinators to create a Vision of Quality Teaching and Learning for GRPS Elementary Schools. This plan will provide a targeted instructional focus to all Grand Rapids Public Schools’ stakeholders and prepare students for college and career readiness.
Executive Director of Pre-K, Elementary, & K-8 Instructional Support
Bridget Cheney is an educational leader for Grand Rapids Public Schools. She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Aquinas College and her Master of Arts Degree in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University.
Teaching third and fifth grade, Ms. Cheney saw firsthand the importance of connecting students, parents, school, and community so students were positively supported with and held to high standards regarding academics and social emotional learning everywhere they went. Understanding that, Ms. Cheney worked tirelessly, to make the home, school, and community connections that met student needs while also being aligned with the mission of inspiring students to love learning, advocate for oneself, and always work their hardest. It was through this work that her passion for working with marginalized and underrepresented students and families using a systems approach was fully realized.
In 2010, Ms. Cheney carried this model with her when she became the principal of Congress Elementary, a neighborhood turnaround school. With deep collaboration amongst the school, neighborhood associations, churches, businesses, and nonprofits a systems approach to school turnaround emerged. Employing strategies learned at Harvard Institutes for School Turnaround and Urban School Leaders, Superintendents and District Leaders, Ms. Cheney led the turnaround efforts at Congress Elementary. Within 5 years, Congress was one of the top performing schools in Grand Rapids Public Schools and was named a “Beating the Odds School” by the Michigan Department of Education.
Superintendent Weather Neal, in 2015, promoted Ms. Cheney to the Director of Priority Schools and Principal Leadership Development where she would support the district’s thirteen, state designated, Priority Schools. Ms. Cheney further developed school leaders in the area of increasing academic achievement through creating a culture of high behavioral and academic expectations for staff, students, and parents. In her position, Ms. Cheney saw the value of Philanthropic Community/District partnerships. These reciprocal relationships afforded students and families within the Grand Rapids Public Schools additional educational experiences and opportunities while showcasing the many rich talents and successes of GRPS students. In 2016, twelve of the thirteen schools were removed from the state Priority List and student achievement increased across these schools.
In 2016, appointed the Executive Director of Early Childhood, Elementary and PK-8 Schools, and in 2019, adding Philanthropic Liaison, Ms. Cheney is excited each day to support and supervise elementary and PK-8 schools while also connecting the philanthropic community to this work. She embraces the components of principal leadership development, school turnaround, school and community partnership development and creation with advocacy for marginalized students and families to incite better outcomes for children in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
In 2019, Ms. Cheney and two colleagues created and designed the Emerging Leaders Program within the Grand Rapids Public Schools. This program is aimed at identifying potential leaders from within the district and developing a pathway for future leadership opportunities.
Ms. Cheney is a sought after national speaker on the topics of school turnaround, leadership development, and creating a safe and positive school culture and climate. As a relentless voice for dismantling systemic and institutionalized racism and oppression, Ms. Cheney believes education is the vehicle for bringing about change.
Executive Director of Professional Learning
Erich Harmsen is the Executive Director of Professional Learning. His roots are deep in the District as his mother was a GRPS elementary teacher and Mr. Harmsen attended Sigsbee Elementary, Mulick Park Elementary, Iroquois Middle School, and graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. For the past 9 years, Mr. Harmsen has served Grand Rapids Public School students and staff in the Human Resources Department.
Mr. Harmsen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan, and a Master of Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University. He attended the Harvard National Institute for Urban School Leaders. He recently completed, through the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators (MASA), the two-year Horizon Leadership Academy. Mr. Harmsen holds a Michigan teaching certificate in social sciences, biology, and sociology. He also has a school administrator certificate with a central office endorsement.
Mr. Harmsen’s experience in education includes 5 years as a teacher and 14 years as a building administrator. Mr. Harmsen is an active member of Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators (MASA).
In support of the Academic Plan, Mr. Harmsen works with stakeholders to provide the highest quality staff and professional learning.
Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs
John Helmholdt serves as the Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Grand Rapids Public Schools, the fifth largest public school district in Michigan serving nearly 19,000 students with 3,300+ employees. He is responsible for the district’s internal and external communications, media relations, marketing and advertising, legislative affairs, community relations, and special projects. Prior to his service with GRPS, Helmholdt was partner and co-owner of Strategic Communications Group LLC, a Grand Rapids-based public relations firm and one of the leading political consulting firms in Michigan. His major clients included the Van Andel Institute, John McCain 2008, The Rapid-ITP, Saginaw Transit Authority, Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institute, State Senator Bill Hardiman, State Senator Michelle McManus, Judge Bill Schuette, Attorney General Mike Cox, and many others.
Helmholdt also served as a lobbyist and political affairs manager for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, legislative aide for State Representatives Scott Shackleton and Michelle McManus, and finance director for the McManus for Congress Committee. While in college, he worked as an administrative assistant for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and interned for Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus. He attended James Madison College at Michigan State University, majoring in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy with a minor in Political Science/Public Administration. In addition to his work with GRPS, Helmholdt is vice president and co-owner of The Political Winery LLC, a Michigan-based wine business.
In November 2007 and again in November 2009 and November 2010, Helmholdt was named among the “Top 40 Under Forty Business Leaders” by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. In November 2008, the Grand Rapids Magazine listed him among the 20 young leaders of “The Creative Class” who are “shaping the future of Grand Rapids – and beyond.”
He is a member of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, the Friends of West Michigan Business Political Action Committee, and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Policy and Education/Workforce Development Committees and was recently appointed to the Kent County Zoo Transition Committee.
Kurt D. Johnson,
Executive Director of Athletics & Dual Enrollment
Kurt D. Johnson has served the district for 18 years. In his time here, he has spent multiple years in each division as an administrator (6 years as assistant administrator elementary, 3 years as assistant principal middle school, 4 years as high school principal and 5 years in central office administration). He is a product of the Grand Rapids Public Schools attending all GRPS schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. He graduated from Ottawa Hills High School where he was an All-State athlete in Track and Field and participated in a record-breaking performance in that sport.
Kurt attended Los Angeles Southwest College (Los Angeles, CA), Howard University (Washington, DC) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He holds an Associates of Arts Degree, Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Master of Arts Degree. Kurt completed training for school reform under the Comer Model at Yale University (New Haven, CT). He plans to continue his studies and attain a terminal degree, Doctorate of Education Leadership.
Kurt currently serves as Executive Director of K-12 Athletics, K-12 Physical Education Supervisor, K-12 Student Activities and Dual Enrollment.
In support of Superintendent Teresa Weatherall-Neal’s Academic Plan, Kurt is placing a focus on ensuring that extra-curricular staff has more than a working knowledge of academic achievement thereby supporting the whole student. He will also continue to work to expand and bring new opportunities and activities for students in physical education and dual enrollment/early college.
Born a musician, Kurt enjoys performing, spending time with family and publically speaking about contemporary educational issues.
Executive Director of Special Education & Early Intervention Services
Laura LaMore is Executive Director for Special Education and Early Intervention Services, and Section 504 for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has over 30 years' experience in teaching, learning and administration. Laura graduated from University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown (B.S., 1983); University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh (MEd, 1984); Grand Valley State University (Supervisor and Director Approval, 2010); Grand Valley State University (Central Office Administration Certificate, 2014); and completed coursework for Doctoral Studies (Wayne State University, 2009). Laura is a former Teacher, Teacher Consultant, Principal, Planner Monitor, Consultant for the Policy Unit of the Michigan Department of Education, ISD Director, and is an SCAO Trained Mediator for the State of Michigan. Laura is a member of the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education (MAASE), Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE), Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), National Civility Center, and League of Women’s Voters.
Executive Director of High School Support
Rodney Lewis is an educational leader for Grand Rapids Public Schools. A transformational educator with vision, passion, and the determination to implement innovative strategies that improve student achievement in high priority educational environments. He excels in the areas of instructional practice, professional development, professional learning communities, research- based strategies, and monitoring using both qualitative and quantitative data. He is a proven leader with a record of accomplishment to improve school culture, to improve academic achievement, and to improve assessment data.
Mr. Lewis holds an Associate Degree in Printing Technology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Printing Management from Ferris State University. In 1990, he began his career in the printing industry at Wynalda Litho, Inc., located in Rockford, Michigan. He ended his printing career as the CEO/Owner of Litho-Tech Printing in Holland, Michigan. In 2001, Mr. Lewis transitioned to the field of education, after serving as assistant football coach at Creston High School. He first became a teacher in the field of Career and Technical Education (CTE) before becoming an Educational Specialist at Creston High School, his alma mater. Mr. Lewis earned two Master’s Degrees from Grand Valley State University in Educational Leadership and Educational Specialist. He also holds endorsements in Career and Technical Education, K-12 Administration, and a Central Office endorsement. Currently, he is pursuing his doctorate degree from Eastern Michigan University.
After three years at Creston High, Mr. Lewis transitioned into the position of Assistant Principal at Ottawa Hills High School. Within a year and a half, he was promoted to Principal. He served ten and a half years as principal. Under his leadership, Ottawa Hills High School accomplished the following:
- Two consecutive years of making Adequate Yearly Progress, removing the school from the State of Michigan’s watch list.
- Led academic gains resulting in the school moving from the bottom 5% to 33% in the State of Michigan’s top to bottom ranking.
- Nomination of the 2011-2012 Michigan Teacher of the Year, Ms. Bobbi Jo Kenyon.
In 2017, Mr. Lewis became the Director of Secondary Schools. He coached and supported secondary leaders, provided district oversight of master scheduling, monitored graduation rates, and created new opportunities for students in the area of career and technical education. In addition, he supported school-based budgets in the secondary division.
In July of 2019, Mr. Lewis assumed the role of Executive Director of High Schools and Alternative Education. In this role, he will rely on his extensive experience to support eleven GRPS schools and work to move academic achievement in the high school division.
Mr. Lewis furthered his education by participating in the Dartmouth College Minority Business Program and the Harvard University Instructional Rounds and National Institute for Urban School Leaders programs. In addition, Mr. Lewis holds memberships in the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP), in the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), in the Association for Supervision of Curriculum Development (ASCD), in the Michigan School Business Officials. He is also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Executive Director of Middle School Support
Karl Nelson started in Grand Rapids Public Schools after graduating from Grand Rapids Community College and Ferris State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Education and Mathematics. He has earned his Master’s Degree and Doctoral Degree from Michigan State University in Educational Leadership.
Dr. Nelson served as a teacher of mathematics at Burton Middle School, Ottawa Hills High School, and Creston High School. He also coached football, baseball, and was an Assistant Athletic Director at both Creston High School and Ottawa Hills High School. Dr. Nelson served as the Athletic Director and Assistant Principal of Creston High School. He was the principal of Creston High School and most recently, Union High School.
Dr. Nelson, with support of the Grand Rapids Board of Education, past Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, and Interim Superintendent Dr. Ron Gorman, made significant progress in bringing Union High School out from the Michigan Department of Education Priority School status by increasing student achievement and collaborating with staff to provide an environment for students to grow and develop. Through the pillars of Relationships, Literacy, and Instructional Focus, Dr. Nelson guided the staff at Union High School to become more consistent and intentional of the supports and interventions for students to be academically successful and career ready.
In his new position, Dr. Nelson plays a key role in helping middle schools throughout the district take the GRPS Transformation Plan to the next level and strengthen their neighborhood connections.