By Charles Sercombe
After 40 years serving the Hamtramck Public Schools District, Superintendent Tom Niczay announced he will retire at the end of this upcoming school year.
“I started here, stayed here and succeeded here,” he told The Review in an email, echoing the district’s slogan used in a campaign to attract students.
In a short letter he submitted at Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Niczay said he will retire on June 30 of 2019.
But before he does that, he asked for a one-year extension to his employment contract, which is set to expire soon.
The school board agreed to the extension with little comment. Boardmember Dennis Lukas said he was “reluctant” to accept Niczay’s retirement while Board Vice President Evan Major thanked Niczay for staying on for the “transition” to hiring a new superintendent.
Niczay started out here as a teacher and then rose to the position of principal. He was appointed as superintendent 10 years ago. Niczay will be turning 65 this year. Asked why he is retiring now, he said: “I’ve reached the age when it’s time to enjoy life.”
During his tenure he and his administration faced a serious financial challenge.
Together, with the help of the school board and financial sacrifices made by teachers and school employees, the district climbed out of a $6.5 million budget deficit to a budget that now boasts of an $8 million surplus.
That achievement, he told The Review, was his biggest challenge. What he is most proud of, he said, “is being a Hamtramck Public Schools team player. Being able to work with talented people throughout my career brings a smile to my face. I’m most proud of being a part of the team keeping Hamtramck Public Schools a place where kids can receive a quality education over many years.”
Another challenge facing the district during Niczay’s watch was an ever-shrinking student population. Students were being snapped up by local charter schools during the past several years.
At one point the district ended its lease of St. Ladislaus’ former school and even considered closing one of its own buildings. But the district fought back hard with an aggressive campaign to attract students.
It got to the point where the district had to expand, purchasing a building from a failed charter school last year.
There are now over 3,000 students enrolled in the district, and it appears that number will keep growing.
Prior to Niczay being hired to take the helm of the district, the district went through several other superintendents. For a number of years the relationship between the various superintendents and the board was rocky at best.
At other points there was a deep divide between the two and at other times it became belligerent.
With Niczay, the relationship with the board changed dramatically and there is now little disagreement.
Niczay is leaving after spearheading a deal with the Detroit City Football Club to move their home games to Keyworth Stadium. That marriage has led to vast improvements to the stadium.
The team attracts upwards of 7,000 soccer fans, and the influx has spilled over to local bars and restaurants, giving the local economy a tremendous boost.
Niczay also arranged a first-time ever partnership with the city council, mayor and city administration to renovate the city’s historic baseball stadium. There is a strong possibility that the partnership will result in winning a multi-million dollar grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to make the stadium functional.
The Wilson Foundation has been awarding grants to communities in an effort to get more youths physically active.
Niczay told The Review that winning the grant and renovating the stadium, which at one time hosted the Negro National Baseball League in the 1930s, will be his focus in his last year with the district.
“In my last year I would like to see the Board of Education and the City of Hamtramck receive funding for a master plan to develop Hamtramck Stadium, Veterans Park, Playfair and Keyworth,” Niczay said.
“The master plan must meet the recreational needs of community and we need to receive funding to implement the plan. It can be done because of the joint effort and cooperation of the school board and city council.
“Having city council and school working in unison is not happening in many cities. Funders have noticed and respect the cooperating spirit shown here in Hamtramck.”
Come back next week for reactions from the school district and community.
July 13, 2018