Nominee’s nameRobert Shaner

SEEN Changemaker CategoryEducation

A picture of the nomineeA picture of the nominee
Nominee’s job titleSuperintendent of Rochester Community Schools
Nominee’s cityRochester
Please describe why the nominee is a SEEN Changemaker:

As superintendent of the state’s seventh largest school district, Dr. Robert Shaner’s primary professional role is to educate children in Rochester Community Schools (RCS). As a father, former teacher, past principal, retired police officer and United States Marine, his personal obligation extends beyond the classrooms in his district. His uniquely diverse life experience means he is no ordinary superintendent. He is an agent of change.

Not only does he care about teaching academic fundamentals to students, Dr. Shaner is also deeply concerned about educating and inspiring the larger community to work together to contribute in meaningful ways to our diverse and changing world. His educational initiatives are intentionally designed to affect the greater good.

In the area of literacy education, Dr. Shaner is a changemaker. Although improved reading and writing growth is a strategic area of importance for RCS, it goes deeper. “Literacy for every child is our moral imperative,” Dr. Shaner says. He believes that a solid foundation in literacy provides equity and access for all, enabling children to build their skills for a lifetime of communication, deep thinking, self-confidence and self-expression. By implementing districtwide evidence-based practices like establishing Reading Recovery interventions, hiring literacy specialists to provide one-on-one support for students, and committing resources to literacy development, Dr. Shaner instills in students a passion for learning. That passion is expected to last a lifetime and serve students well as they contribute to communities that build understanding and cultures of cooperation. “Passion will inspire a child to exceed expectations and accomplish more than he or she ever thought was possible,” Dr. Shaner said.

In the field of student well-being, Dr. Shaner is a changemaker. Faced with the societal realities of childhood anxiety, increased adolescent suicide and a national opioid addiction crisis, Dr. Shaner’s discussions with stakeholders are leading to action. As he chips away at the stigma of mental illness, Dr. Shaner is a national leader in forming a social-emotional wellness task force to address mental health comprehensively in the K-12 setting. “Healthy personal connections are a fundamental part of education and human growth,” Dr. Shaner says. “More can be done, and we are prepared to do the work.” Under his leadership, RCS is implementing best practices and encouraging mental health priorities to make sure the measurement of student success goes beyond academics to consider resilience, balance and well-being.

When it comes to building innovative learning cultures and environments, Dr. Shaner is a changemaker. Although RCS has highly ranked academic programs that provide graduates with many competitive advantages, Dr. Shaner also places great importance on the warmth, approachability and culture of the learning environment. He leads a team that puts their beliefs into action. For example: consider yes before no; consider we before me; invest time in relationship-building; embrace a growth mindset; and be a source of inspiration and love. Committed to ensuring that all students can achieve their best potential, Dr. Shaner has built a culture of learning where students, staff members and families feel safe, valued and respected.

Dr. Shaner’s innovative, community-wide approach to teaching and learning shows that he is no ordinary educator.

Tell us about the individual’s accomplishments:

Dr. Shaner’s diverse experience qualifies him to expertly manage both the heart of the schools and the business enterprise of the district.

Since being named superintendent of Rochester Community Schools in 2013, Dr. Shaner has provided expert leadership managing the business operations of the district’s 21 schools, while maximizing dollars for instructional programs in classrooms to support strategic initiatives. During his tenure, he has aligned expenditures with available resources, delivered a balanced budget, ensured a healthy fund balance, eliminated the line of credit, and upgraded the credit rating twice, all while delivering high-quality programs for children.

As other districts have been forced to cut curriculum programming, Dr. Shaner has added orchestra and enhanced world language instruction. He expanded preschool, added a children’s center, established a transitional kindergarten option, and built a modern facility for our adult programs, including those for students with special needs. It is because of Dr. Shaner’s leadership and his vision that RCS is now a comprehensive educational resource that serves infants as young as five-weeks old, along with preschool and K-12 students, post-high, special education and adult education students.

The district was recently granted accreditation through AdvancEd—an objective confirmation of success that RCS schools are effectively meeting the needs of all students in supportive learning environments. Furthermore, five RCS schools achieved National Blue Ribbon status from the U.S. Department of Education for academic excellence and for closing achievement gaps for student subgroups.

Prior to becoming superintendent, Dr. Shaner served as the executive director for technology and instruction for Warren Consolidated Schools, principal of Sterling Heights High School, and a classroom teacher.

Academia was his second career after serving honorably as a United States Marine and then a police officer. These life experiences provided his foundation as a team leader, an advocate for inclusion and unity, and provided real-world examples of how access to education and deep learning can improve the lives of children and build communities that work together for the greater good.

How is he/she impacting the community or the lives of people in Metro Detroit or across the world.

Dr. Shaner has the courage to advocate for high-quality K-12 public education for all students across the district, county, region, state and nation. His philosophy is: “all means all.” He cares about ALL kids. He works for programs and policies that grant students accessibility to great educational opportunities. He provides love, hope and joy on the front lines every day for students and teachers inside and outside his own district.

He has worked relentlessly to ensure K-12 education has a louder voice in high-level conversations with business executives, community leaders and lawmakers, from Lansing and Detroit to Mackinac Island and beyond. He does this because he firmly believes that each child has the right to receive a quality education and to be considered as an individual with unique personal potential.

Bound by funding restrictions, tense political climates and tight limitations on spending, it would be understandable for a superintendent to become discouraged. Instead, Dr. Shaner showcases what is right about public education. He has flipped the narrative to build an understanding about the important benefits of investing in the children of our district and our state.

Dr. Shaner continues to take public education to new heights by ensuring care for the whole child, academically, socially, and emotionally. The outcomes from his social-emotional task force may become a model for other educators to benefit students and families and provide a new kind of wraparound care and learning.

Dr. Shaner also does the right thing for students and staff in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Although this area can stimulate passionate discussion, he remains committed to ensuring students of various races and ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, genders, languages, religion, and sexual orientations are made to feel safe, valued and respected. Again, “all means all,” and he will advocate for all students.

His budget and resource allocations indicate his values. He invests in education. He invests in children. He invests in our collective future.

Dr. Robert Shaner is a changemaker.


The SEEN Changemaker Awards are brought to you by

Peter and Danialle Karmanos