State Superintendent Brian Whiston Dies at 56 After Battle with Cancer

Photo Courtesy of Dearborn Public Schools

Brian Whiston

Michigan’s top education official died Monday night after a months-long battle with cancer.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston worked up until he took medical leave just last Friday.

Whiston was a rare figure in Lansing; a public official whose political affiliations were almost invisible. He spent time as chief of staff to a Republican state senator, but was championed by Democrats and Republicans alike when his name was floated for state superintendent in 2015. His policy priorities were rooted in data and practicality as opposed to political talking points.

His tenure as superintendent was far too short to see his goal to make Michigan a top-ten state for education realized. Whiston held the top job at the Michigan Department of Education for just three years. In the seven years prior to that, he was superintendent of Dearborn schools.

It was his performance in that job and others that led then-State Board of Education President John Austin to advocate for Whiston during the selection process to find someone to replace longtime state superintendent Mike Flanagan.

Austin was Whiston’s chief backer on the board in 2015. Some would say it was Austin’s procedural maneuvering that guaranteed Whiston’s ascension to the job.

John Austin joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about Whiston and his impact on education in Michigan.

We wanted someone, and we got it in Brian, who was truly selfless and selflessly devoted to what could work in public education and for kids,” Austin tells Stephen Henderson.

He was able to build bridges and find common ground… and get things done,” he says. ”That’s always a recipe for effectiveness.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

Laura Weber Davis/WDET

John Austin


Image credit: Michigan Department of Education

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