Meet April's #MICharterHero: Mike Irwin from Grand River Preparatory High School

Kyra Biscarner
Apr 3, 2024 10:29:44 AM

Nominated by more than five members of his staff, Grand River Preparatory High School (GRP) Principal Mike Irwin’s number one thing was to make sure his school was highlighted for the great work they are doing. Mike said those at GRP in Kentwood make the school special. 

I don't think a lot of people's experience is what we get to experience, it’s a strong culture. We like each other but again we're just all so focused and we pride ourselves on being not only great for our kids, but I believe we have to be a beacon.”

Nominations came in talking about Mike’s drive and leadership. One nomination said the trust he has in his staff is so important and impressive. 

Mike is a strong supporter of his staff and students. He genuinely wants each person to be their best and does his best to coach and provide opportunities for them to reach their potential. He sees the potential in each person and actively looks for ways to utilize their talents. When difficult situations arise, he works hard to remedy them and create learning opportunities. He is always looking for ways to enhance our school community and bring new opportunities to our school. In his time here, he has worked tirelessly to support new programs like our GV Prep dual-enrollment partnership, robotics, PBS reporting labs, and more. He trusts his staff and appreciates his students and his growth as a leader continues to be impressive.”

A Lansing native, Mike graduated from Michigan State University with his degree in Education. From there, he and his wife both began teaching at Henry Ford Academy for Creative Studies in Detroit, which is now University Preparatory Academy for Art and Design. After moving to the west side of Michigan, he went to teach at a traditional public school which Mike said, had its challenges. 

I went to work at West Ottawa Public Schools, in Holland, and really enjoyed my time there. I think it's a great district, with a lot of great people. But I didn't feel the same things that I was feeling when I was at HFA. I was doing conference presentations all over the world for some of the work that I was doing in Detroit. And just whether it was the environment, whether it was me, whatever it was, I just didn't have those same motivations when I was at West Ottawa and I did good work there. I just didn't feel the same. So over the summer of the pandemic, I applied to Grand River Prep.”

For many in education, the pandemic changed teaching and learning drastically. One of Mike’s nominations said his growth throughout this challenging time was admirable. 

Mike took over this position during a time of stress and transition and was relatively new to school leadership at this time. He was quick to accept feedback and constantly strives to improve. His growth has been admirable and he always leads by example”

Now in year four as principal, Mike said he loves what he and his staff are able to do at GRP. 

This is my fourth year as the principal and I love every part of what we do here. I love the people that we work with. I think we are everything that is good about education. We have a bunch of people that believe in the idea that our students are capable of meeting high expectations and are vulnerable enough to look at themselves when it doesn't happen and say, "What can we do differently?"

One nomination said Mike’s ability to recognize his staff's needs is one of the reasons he is a great leader. 

Irwin is a great leader. His main goal, always, is to help everyone get better and move forward. I've shared with him my goals for the future and he takes every opportunity to push me forward in that direction, even if it means it makes things harder for him. If he thinks a teacher will make a good coach, he will adjust schedules to make it happen. If he thinks someone would excel in AP, he will push them to do so. He has a great ability to see what people are good at and where they want to go and he makes it happen. I've been able to accomplish things I didn't think possible because he's pushed me to do so.”

For Mike, he gives his staff all the credit. Mike said his staff are the future of education and recognizes how lucky he is to have them. 

I have a very veteran staff that MAPSA has recognized over and over and over again. And they have offers all the time to leave and go make a lot more money than what I'm able to offer here. And I think they all believe in what we are trying to do. And I think the next two to three years at GRP are going to be extremely special.”

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