New superintendent hopes to fix Benton Harbor schools

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WNDU) - Benton Harbor Area Schools will have a new superintendent starting next month. It’s the latest move from a school district trying to keep its head above water.

16 New Now spoke with the school board president Thursday to learn more about the new choice for the top spot in the district.

"I think this young man is what we've been looking for,” BHAS School Board President Joseph Taylor said.

Dr. Andrae Townsel will be the new superintendent starting Feb. 17. He represents new leadership for a district looking to go in a new direction.

"It was the knowledge of how to turn around a school," Taylor said of what swayed the board in Townsel's favor. "Most importantly, he talked about putting kids first and not adults."

Townsel will earn a salary of $168,000 a year. That's less pay than previous superintendents.

"We've raised the bar for superintendent, but we've lowered the pay to try and save money for our taxpayers," Taylor said.

But it remains higher pay than other districts nearby.

"Even though we have high-performing districts around us and they make around $140,000 and they're highly ranked in the state, but they don't have all of the issues that we have, the details with truancy, disruptions and things like that that we have to fix," Taylor said.

The district is trying to handle those issues along with low standardized test scores, as well as dealing with $18 million in debt. Taylor says it’s all about keeping students from leaving and then growing the district.

"The easiest way a business can get out of debt is increasing in people, right? And so people create our money, and those people are our students, right? So the more students, the more money, the more you can pay towards your debt,” Taylor said.

BHAS will see what Townsel can do next month. They're hoping for positive growth and that the community will take notice.

"We hired him for his vision, his leadership and his strengths. And we're not asking you to bring your students back; we’re asking you to bring them back when we've changed the way we do things," Taylor said.