Traverse City News and Events

Cardon Hits The Ground As Next TCAPS Superintendent Choice

By Beth Milligan | May 30, 2019

Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board members took less than 10 minutes Wednesday to unanimously select Ann Cardon as the district's new superintendent.

Cardon, 58, is expected to take the helm from retiring Superintendent Paul Soma in August following contract and salary negotiations with the TCAPS board. A posted salary range for the position is $170,000 to $190,000, plus benefits. Cardon is currently the superintendent of St. Joseph Public Schools in St. Joseph, Mich. – a district of approximately 3,000 students, compared to TCAPS’ 10,000 – and will bring 10 years of experience as a superintendent and an additional 14 years of experience as a central office administrator, principal, and teacher to her new role. She holds an Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.) from Grand Valley State University.

TCAPS board trustees made it clear Cardon was their top choice for the position even before Wednesday’s vote. An initial field of 24 applicants was whittled down to six finalists invited for a day of in-person interviews with the board on May 18. Following those meetings, trustees took the unusual step of inviting only Cardon to move forward to the final interview phase – an intensive day-long tour of the district. Board President Sue Kelly tells The Ticker the board made that decision because it was obvious following her interview that Cardon was the candidate they were searching for.

“It’s been our purpose to look for a candidate who is heads and shoulders above the rest,” Kelly says. “We interviewed six very well-qualified people, who all had good interviews. But it was obvious to the board that Ann was the candidate who was heads and shoulders above everyone. Beyond her credentials, beyond her experience as a principal and curriculum leader and superintendent of small and mid-sized districts, what I found impressive was her approachability. She relates to every person she meets, which is important for a leader in the community and in a school district.”

Other trustees were equally effusive at Wednesday’s meeting, which followed Cardon’s day-long tour of TCAPS that included stops at Central Grade School, both Central and West High Schools, West Middle School, the transportation and food service departments, the Sabin Data Center, and Eastern Elementary School. Cardon met with principals, teachers, staff, students, and each of the district’s bargaining unit presidents. Various trustees also observed parts of the tour, culminating in Cardon joining the board for a special meeting at the end of the day to hear the outcome of their vote.

“I’ve spent the past 30 years teaching, and meeting Ann this morning and watching her interactions, I just felt like I was with a teacher, so that’s comforting for me,” said Board Trustee Jeff Leonhardt, a former TCAPS instructor. Kelly chimed in, chuckling: “And I felt like I was with an administrator. And I feel comfortable about that.” Trustee Erica Moon Mohr said she appreciated Cardon’s “questions and engagement” with district staff during her tour, saying the candidate was “very knowledgeable of the inner workings of a school system.” Vice President Doris Ellery said Cardon presented herself as “forthright” and “comfortable,” adding: “I didn’t see anything that gave me pause even a little bit.” Concluded Treasurer Matt Anderson: “It’s been a long process. I feel like we’ve all done our diligence. We spent hours trying to find the very best candidate for our school district, and I’m happy to feel that Ann is the best choice.”

After trustees unanimously voted to hire Cardon, she smiled and shook hands with the board and a large contingency of attending students who congratulated the new superintendent. Talking to The Ticker, Cardon shared her enthusiasm about taking the helm at TCAPS – a move she says will be a “great challenge” and one she almost considered applying for several years. “I’ve been interested in this job for years,” she says. “When Paul (Soma) was hired five years ago, I thought seriously about putting in for it at that time. I had only been at St. Joseph’s two years, though, so that didn’t feel right. But this is a great school district, and we love the area,” she adds, referring to her husband, Dave, who will move with her to Traverse City this summer.

In addition to finalizing a contract with TCAPS and house-hunting in northern Michigan, Cardon says top priorities on her to-do list in the coming months will be “meeting people” – including both at TCAPS and in the larger Traverse City community – and “understanding the systems in place (in the district) and spending a great deal of time with the board.” Cardon acknowledges being aware of challenges facing TCAPS, ranging from inequitable student funding to a looming list of major capital projects to strained tensions between administrators and district leadership. 

“I’ve been a successful superintendent for ten years in the area of improving student achievement,” Cardon says. “Labor relations have always been good in the groups I’ve worked with. I think I bring a skillset that can help move things forward. Because I do think they are moving in a good direction right now, and I just want to help continue to grow that.”

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