Dr. Sarena Shivers came to Redford in 2015 to lead the Redford Union School District. She’s making history as the first black Superintendent of the district.
Shivers has worked in education for over 20 years, including for Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Southfield Public Schools and districts in Indiana, Maryland and the Department of Defense. Thus far, she says the people have been the best part about her new job. “Regardless of our differences, people are genuinely kind and cooperative. It makes my job a lot easier!” She also appreciates “the spirit of optimism and change. While change is hard, it has been embraced here….I find that there is such a spirit of hope and caring for the young people of Redford Union specifically, but also the Township as a whole.”
Shivers grew up in Midland, Michigan until she was about 10 when her family moved to Saginaw. Her father was an executive for Dow Chemical and her mother, as well as many other family members, work in the field of education. “I think it is truly in the genes,” she says. Her mother, whom she considers a major influence, still teaches music today. “She’s a great example of what every educator should be – a tirelessly dedicated worker!”
Shivers calls herself a proud graduate of Saginaw High School. The school was predominately African-American, which was different from some of her earlier educational environments where she and her sister were often the only minorities. As an educator, she developed the Creating Culturally Proficient Communities: The Racial and Economic Justice Project, a five-year initiative. The program provides tools to educators for not only teaching, but connecting with and empowering students of backgrounds different than their own to help those students be more successful.
Shivers has a lot of plans for Redford Union Schools. “I hope that I am a part of the ongoing surge of achievement and accomplishment in the district….I hope to continue to bring the community together around the single goal of providing our students the equity and access to the educational opportunities that are afforded to them and they deserve. Some examples would be in the area of a robust and challenging curriculum, technology, an array of extra-curricular options/fine arts, global awareness and international experiences and the list goes on.”
“Ultimately, I hope to see young people excel in whatever they wish to do, and be superbly prepared for life after high school.”
As someone who has spent her career shaping young minds, Shivers has lots of advice for young people who want to lead: “Don’t be afraid to have faith in your ability to make a difference in this world. We all have special gifts, we all have a purpose here on this planet, and if their gift is to lead—follow that passion! The thing about leadership is that it is not something that you ‘do’. At least that hasn’t been my experience… It becomes who you are, and you welcome the opportunity to make an impact, every day! Don’t let where you come from, your past mistakes, your bad decisions keep you from leading. It is those life experiences and missteps that actually shape us into more passionate, accomplished and determined leaders!”
When asked about her interest in history, Shivers brought up several topics. Her mother grew up in Selma, Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s. “I have a few glimpses through her stories and experiences, but if I could travel back in time I would visit this era.” Selma was an important site during the Civil Rights Movement and the push for the Voting Rights Act. Martin Luther King, Jr. led protest marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Shivers also enjoys the arts and the lessons they can teach about history. “Music does a great job of shaping the narrative of different historical periods and it is fascinating to me.” She points to movements in Harlem and New Orleans in particular. Her Christian faith also fuels an interest in the history that can be learned from the Bible.
Co-developed the ALICE program while working in Washtenaw County, in which the school district partnered with law enforcement. ALICE is a protocol and training to prepare for and prevent threats like an active shooter. Shivers also brought the program to Redford Union and all school personnel and staff have been trained the in ALICE protocol.
Favorite hobbies include spending time with her four children, creative writing (poetry and short stories), ballroom dancing, and spending time at the beach. “I love to swim or just sit by the ocean and listen to the waves. That is so important to rejuvenating my soul. So, if I have any free time, the beach is where I will be.”
She once taught second and third graders in England at the RAF Alconbury, a Royal Air Force Base, for the Department of Defense.
Earned her degrees at schools in Maryland and Indiana, including a bachelor’s from Morgan State University, master’s degree from Ball State University, and her doctorate from Indiana University, Bloomington.
This post was written by Stefanie Caloia, a member of the Redford Township Historical Commission from 2014 to 2019.