ST. JOSEPH — Dave Killips is great at a lot of things. Except when it comes to retirement.

Killips knows what it takes to be a superintendent, which is one of the reasons he was asked to end his retirement and join the Michigan Leadership Institute as a regional president.

Having spent more than 40 years in the education system, the St. Joseph resident is now tasked with helping the St. Joseph school board do something it hasn’t done in seven years – find a new superintendent.

The Michigan Leadership Institute is a relatively small organization that is comprised of retired superintendents who are placed throughout the state.

The organization has been around for two decades and completed more than 400 superintendent searches in the state. Killips and others within the organization also work with school boards on strategic planning, governance meetings and helping superintendents and boards “play well in the sandbox together.”

Killips, who has helped several other Southwest Michigan school districts with the same dilemma the past few years, sat down with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski to discuss what goes into a search like this.

How did you find yourself working at the Institute?

They came to me and asked if I would help out by taking over an area. I now cover Southwest Michigan, but it’s quite extensive. I go all the way up to Ludington and Mason County. This is my third or fourth year.

How are you taking to it?

I like it. I enjoy working with school boards, meeting new people and doing some problem-solving with school districts. I’ve been a superintendent coach through this system where a rookie superintendent is hired and they kept me on a year or two to help them along.

That’s one thing we do as an organization too. For the first year, we’re there as a mentor if the superintendent needs us. We believe in leadership and want to be supportive of the people we help find a place for.

How long have you been in the education system?

I actually started when I was 16 years old, teaching at a community college. I taught some P.E. classes. I went to school and started off in the accounting field and soon switched to education. From there, I taught, coached, became an athletic director, assistant principal, principal and superintendent.

Having been a superintendent before, what leads to someone in that position to leave?

There are several things that affect the longevity of a superintendent. I call it “the life expectancy of a superintendent,” which is now averaging about 2.7 years in the state of Michigan. There are a lot of reasons for that.

No. 1, it’s an end-of-the-career job. You don’t go from being a superintendent to a principal most often. You are finalizing your career. Also, the state of flux in the financing of schools has seen tough times. Sometimes as a superintendent, you’re saying no an awful lot because you don’t have the finances to pay your teachers like you should.

I relate it to being manager of the Detroit Tigers. You don’t pitch the ball, you don’t throw the ball, you don’t catch the ball. You don’t hit. And yet, when things go awry, you’re the first one out the door.

I find it interesting that everyone in your organization is made up of former superintendents.

We know what it takes to do the job. It’s not easy. (As a superintendent), you’re on the clock 24/7. There’s a lot of different views on education. But as long as you’re student-oriented and believe that teachers make a difference, I think you can be successful.

What do you miss most about being a superintendent?

Oh the interaction with people. Every position I’ve been in, I’ve had contact with a lot of different people.

How was the transition from being a superintendent to finding superintendents?

Well, what happened was six months after I retired, I got a call from Ludington to be their interim (superintendent). My wife stayed in Chelsea and I went back and forth.

I tried to enjoy retirement some more. But like my grandchildren say, “Grandpa, you’re the worst person we’ve ever seen trying to retire.” The Institute approached me and asked if I wanted to get involved. The last two and a half years have been incredibly busy.


Yes. We had maybe 22 or 23 searches in this area last year. I have been super busy this spring as well. It doesn’t seem to stop. There are a lot of retirements and a lot of moving.

To take a quote from your grandchildren, it does seem like you’re awful at this retirement thing. When do you finally see yourself stepping back?

(Laughs) You know, the hard part is you are going 24/7 as a superintendent. It takes a lot of energy. Then to pull the plug, you’re not going to go from 100 mph down to zero just like that.

I think this has been a pretty good stepping stone for me. I don’t know how much longer I’ll do it, but I’ve enjoyed it.

Contact:, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski