Plymouth-Canton Schools leader earns extraordinary honor
Following two-plus years of navigating through a maze of unpleasant surprises, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools Superintendent Monica Merritt enjoyed the opportunity to embrace an incredible one during the outset of the Oct. 25 P-CCS Board of Education meeting.
As an audience that included her family and lifelong mentors looked on, Merritt accepted the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators Superintendent of the Year award during the opening moments of last week’s meeting, which she fully expected to be routine.
“I’m still not sure how my team was able to keep this from me,” a smiling Merritt shared Tuesday afternoon.
The award is presented annually to one of Michigan’s over 800 school district leaders. Merritt is now in the running to win a national superintendent of the year award at a gathering of state winners set for February in San Antonio.
“I experienced every emotion possible in a two-minute period (after she was presented the award),” said Merritt, who was named P-CCS superintendent in 2015. “I was overjoyed, crying, shaking.
“I immediately thought about my parents, both of whom were educators, who are now deceased, and all the people who believed and invested in me throughout my years in education. This award is about more than me; it’s for the entire district and the work everyone has done to provide our students with every opportunity to be successful because it’s the right thing to do.
“To receive external validation like this, it just means so much.”
Since the first day of 2020 was ushered in, life has been anything but normal for P-CCS decision-makers.
Literally days after Plymouth and Canton residents voted on March 10, 2020, to approve a $275 million bond proposal for, among other things, major facility and site improvements within the district, Michigan schools pivoted to virtual learning to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
As if the pandemic wasn’t enough of a hurdle to clear, school violence surfaced — first on November 30, 2021, when the lives of four students were tragically taken during a school shooting in Oxford; and on Dec. 9, 2021, when the report of a weapon on the 6,000-student Plymouth-Canton Educational Park campus forced a four-hour lockdown of the three high schools.
“Literally, there is not a blueprint for some of the things we’ve been through the past few years,” Merritt said. “My focus has always been to do what’s best for the students. This includes being an active listener — listening to parents, families and staff — and make decisions anchored in what is best for the kids. I firmly believe we did the best we could with the resources we had available.
“I always said we’re not epidemiologists, we’re educators. Our job is not only to educate our students, but to make sure their secondary needs are met as well. There were families that were not able to to feed their children during the pandemic, so we did what we could to provide for the whole child.
“Life has moved so quickly the past couple of years, we haven’t had as much time to reflect on what we’ve been through together. We’ve learned a lot of lessons together, built up a lot of resilience. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Growing trophy case
Under Dr. Merritt’s leadership, P-CCS has been recognized with the NASRO Safe School Award, several National Blue Ribbon School awards, Michigan Schools to Watch, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Schools Ranking List.
“Superintendent Merritt is a special, one-of-a-kind leader – she is devoted, hard-working, and gracious,” said Diane Robertson, Merritt’s executive assistant and one of her nominators for the award. “Despite the pressure and never-ending responsibilities of her role, she still has a booming, infectious laugh that makes anyone within earshot smile.”
MASA distributed a state-wide press release shortly after Merritt accepted the award Oct. 25, triggering a tidal wave of congratulatory emails, texts and phone calls to her electronic devices.
“The kind words, thoughts, well wishes were overwhelming,” she said. “The very next day, when I walked through the (P-CCS administration) building, people greeted me with tears in their eyes.”
While all of the responses were impactful and appreciated, Merritt said a heartfelt conversation with the parent of a P-CCS student still resonates with her, several days after the award announcement.
“The parent told me that she knows I’m in a position where I probably rarely hear feedback on how certain decisions I make positively impact kids,” Merritt said. “She said she wanted to let me know how much her son (a P-CCS student) was impacted when he heard about my recognition and how proud he was to know that the superintendent of his school district was honored in this way.
“Hearing that really made me feel good about what we’re doing in our district.”