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New Finance Officer's Heart Has Always Been with K-12 Education

Jim English, the Kalamazoo Public Schools new assistant superintendent for operations, said people may be surprised how similar his new job is to being a middle school math teacher — which was his first job in education. 

“My job now is pretty much applied mathematics,” English said. “My role is very much about working with numbers and working with people — just like being a math teacher.” 

He has a bachelor of arts in elementary education from Hope College and an MBA from Grand Valley State University. 

English was most recently the vice president for finance at Calvin University in Grand Rapids. Before assuming that position, he served for eight years as associate superintendent of business services in West Ottawa Public Schools. He also served in the chief financial officer role for three other school districts during the nine years before joining West Ottawa. 

“I’ve been in K-12 education for most of my career,” he said. “That’s where my heart is.” 

His wife of 25 years, Melissa, is a nurse supervisor for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. They have three college-age children: Nathan, Drew and Amber. In the summer he likes to be on the water, but in the winter you can find him downhill skiing. 

As he looks toward his first year with KPS, he anticipates work on two initiatives: a needs assessment for all facilities and implementation of financial software updates. 

“We need to look at a total needs assessment. We need to look at the infrastructure, facilities, and technology and to look at what it’s going to cost for us to bring all of that up to modern-day standards,” English said. “For example, the district has 15 steam boilers. That’s very old equipment. As we learned, in part from COVID, we need to modernize our HVAC systems, so we can have clean air and healthy air in our buildings. We’re looking at everything from roofs and parking lots to classroom needs, technology, safety and security.” 

The business office also needs to update its financial software systems, he said. 

“As we saw during COVID, we need to do more business electronically and use less paper,” he said. “That’s just the way business gets done now. We need to make significant improvements there.” 

As part of the federal COVID relief efforts, K-12 school districts have seen a historic investment in education. A good amount of that funding will be used for learning recovery, English said. 

“The challenge is to do the best we can with those funds and make an impact for today’s students,” he said. “What people have to realize is that these are short-term funds that are only available for the next three years. We’re not going to have these stimulus funds forever. We’re trying to make wise investments that will help the school district and support these students who experienced the pandemic uniquely.”