By Travis Smola
Schoolcraft Superintendent Rusty Stitt was recently one of two persons selected to receive the Golden Apple award from Western Michigan University (WMU).
This award goes to graduates of WMU’s College of Education and Human Development who show great enthusiasm for education and have a distinguished service record, with a history of developing good relationships with students.
Stitt was nominated for the award by Teresa Belote, superintendent of St. Joseph County Intermediate School District, who was a principal in Sturgis with Stitt in 2006. She said Stitt also received letters of recommendation from other supporters, including former Sturgis Superintendent Rob Olsen, State Representative Aaron Miller and Von Washington, executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise.
Belote said it was easy to nominate Stitt after seeing the way he worked with students. “I was really just impressed with the way he built relationships with students,” Belote said. “He really knew how to support and scaffold for success. He understood the importance of knowing your students.”
“I remember him standing at the curb waving at families as they pulled in. I’ve seen him high-five,” Belote added. “Lots of fist bumps and chatting with students about what they did the evening before. He knew his kids.”
She has continued to work with Stitt through the Michigan Association of School Administrators where he served as president. Belote credited Stitt for his work there with the targeted intervention program called the Reading Now Network. He also helped to get a grant that has provided for school library improvements and money for instructional leaders across the region.
The news of the award came as a complete and overwhelming surprise to Stitt. “I certainly was blindsided when I got the call from the Golden Apple committee chair,” Stitt said. “I did not know someone put my name in for it.”
At the awards ceremony, Stitt was quick to give credit to anyone but himself. Belote noted he handed the award off to his father during the ceremony. “He always recognizes the value of the team and I think his priority is building and maintaining relationships,” Belote said. “It comes across in his ‘It’s not me, it’s we’ attitude.”
At the October school board meeting, board President Jennifer Gottschalk took a moment to recognize the significance of the award. “Congratulations on your Golden Apple. That was a fantastic night for everybody and a great celebration for all your hard work,” Gottschalk said.
Finance Director Rita Broekema agreed with that sentiment. “It was fabulous. It was well-deserved and definitely just goes to show the power of education when done right because he’s a product of public education,” Broekema said.
Stitt credited the entire staff for the award at the meeting. “It’s a collective. So, while it says Rusty Stitt, it’s the work of the folks, great admin, great staff, great board,” Stitt said.