Charter Board Presidents Leadership Retreat

The GVSU CSO invites board presidents of GVSU-authorized charter schools to join fellow leaders for the inaugural Board Presidents Leadership Retreat. 

Held in partnership with the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, this retreat will draw on the life and leadership of President Ford to “model the way” to help board presidents increase their capacity to govern and lead with a high degree of integrity. 

April 20, 2023
Board Presidents
of GVSU-authorized charter schools
Gerald R. Ford Museum
Grand Rapids, MI.

Exterior of Gerald R. Ford Museum

The Venue

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum opened to the public in September 1981 and is part of the Presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration. At the core of the museum is the permanent exhibit, which allows visitors to experience highlights from President and Mrs. Ford's lives. The exhibit teaches democratic citizenship and allows for quiet reflection. In addition to the permanent exhibits, changing temporary exhibits draw artifacts from museums all over the country.

In 2016, the museum opened its doors to new 21st-century exhibits and the state-of-the-art DeVos Learning Center. With that came the opportunity, resources, space, and technology for the museum to offer a wider range of programming for all members of the public. Using classrooms and exhibits, the Learning Center contains something for everyone. Its programs focus on American History, Civics and Government, Leadership, Betty Ford, Civil Discourse, Space, and much more.

Learn more


Agenda (subject to change)



11:30 a.m.- Noon

Arrival, check-in, and networking

Noon - 1:00 p.m.

Lunch Session: Leading with Character (featuring Gleaves Whitney and Jeff Polet)

  • Draw insights from the character and leadership style of President Ford
  • Discuss necessity of good character for good leadership
  • Highlight examples of character leadership within GVSU's charter public schools

1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Session 1: The Role of a Board Member in Civic Engagement (featuring Buzz Thomas and Greg Warsen)

  • Board members as public officials; characteristics of great public servants
  • Governing vs. governance
  • Beyond the fiduciary duties; who the board represents and how
  • School board contributions to society beyond your school

2:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Break, explore the museum

3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Session 2: Deliberation and Decision-Making

  • Moving from reviewing and ratifying to setting direction
  • “Wicked problems” and how to address them head-on
  • The board president’s role in guiding toward consensus
  • Potential modeling or team-building activities
  • Characteristics of an effective meeting

4:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Debrief and closing remarks

  • Take-aways
  • What we will do different in governing
  • Next steps

5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Break, hotel check-in (if needed), networking

6:30 p.m.

(Optional) Dinner with fellow board leaders and GVSU colleagues


The GVSU CSO is offering complimentary overnight accommodations at the Amway Grand Plaza on April 20 to all retreat attendees who are traveling from more than 80 miles away.

If you would like to utilize this opportunity, you must complete your RSVP form by March 27 and indicate that you would like the CSO to reserve you a room.

About the Speakers

Lunch session

Gleaves Whitney speaking at an event

Gleaves Whitney

Executive Director, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation

Gleaves Whitney began his role as executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation on September 1, 2020. He is the fourth person to lead the Foundation as it fosters increased awareness of the life, career, values, and legacy of America’s 38th President.

Whitney was the director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies from 2003 until his selection as the Foundation’s Executive Director. Receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2012, he established the first sustained and comprehensive common ground initiative in U.S. higher education. Since 2015 he has worked with his colleague Jon Lauck to revive Midwestern history as an academic discipline; together they have hosted six major conferences and edited four books. In addition, Gleaves launched the first presidential Q&A column in the nation, Ask Gleaves, in which he fielded questions from political junkies around the world. Under his direction, the Hauenstein Center’s Cook Leadership Academy has become a premiere center for leadership excellence. The fellow candidates have met with four U.S. Presidents, three First Ladies, two Vice Presidents, four Secretaries of State, one U.N. ambassador, more than one dozen state governors, and a host of business and non-profit entrepreneurs.

Prior to directing the Hauenstein Center, Whitney served for eleven and one-half years in Michigan Governor John Engler’s administration as (seriatim) senior writer, chief speechwriter, and historian. During that time, he assisted in the creation of Michigan’s Department of History, Arts, and Libraries.

He was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) and inducted in the College of Fellows in 2006 at the Graduate Theological Union’s Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California. He earned an MA in history and is ABD toward the Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Colorado State University.

Headshot of Jeff Polet

Jeff Polet

Director, Ford Leadership Forum

Jeff Polet is Director of the Ford Leadership Forum at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. Previously he was a Professor of Political Science at Hope College, and before that at Malone College in Canton, OH. A native of West Michigan, he received his BA from Calvin College and his MA and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America in Washington DC.

In addition to his teaching, he has published on a wide range of scholarly and popular topics. These include Contemporary European Political Thought, American Political Thought, the American Founding, education theory and policy, constitutional law, religion and politics, virtue theory, and other topics. His work has appeared in many scholarly journals as well as more popular venues such as The Hillthe SpectatorThe American ConservativeFirst Things, and others.

He serves on the board of The Front Porch Republic, an organization dedicated to the idea that human flourishing happens best in local communities and in face-to-face relationships. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal. He has lectured at many schools and civic institutions across the country. He is married, and he and his wife enjoy the occasional company of their three adult children.

Session 1

headshot of Buzz Thomas

Buzz Thomas

Principal, Activate Detroit

Buzz Thomas knows how to build winning relationships and break down barriers. Having spent 14 years in the Michigan Legislature, Buzz has been recognized by his peers as a leader. In fact, he served as the Democratic floor leader in the Michigan Senate and the Democratic leader in the Michigan House of Representatives. Buzz also served as co-chairman of Barack Obama’s 2008 Michigan presidential campaign and chairman of the Michigan John Kerry for President committee, and he founded “Turnaround Detroit,” the super PAC credited with electing Mike Duggan as Detroit’s mayor.

While in Lansing, where he represented the city of Detroit, Buzz honed his expertise in the areas of health care, education reform, business development incentives, and arts and culture. His legislative focus led to the creation of rigorous academic standards for Michigan schools, as well as the creation of tax incentive laws that helped spur development in Detroit.

Buzz serves on the boards of The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the ACLU of Michigan, and Voters Not Politicians. He is chairman of the boards of Equality Michigan and MAPSA, Michigan’s Charter School Association.

He was honored with the Peacemaker Award from Wayne State University and was named The Most Dedicated Detroiter by Real Detroit Weekly. Buzz established a Diversity and Inclusion practice within Activate Detroit to empower the city’s business, government, and community organizations to become the best versions of themselves.

headshot of Greg Warsen

Greg Warsen

Professor, GVSU Educational Leadership Department

Dr. Greg Warsen serves on the faculty of the Educational Leadership Department at Grand Valley State University and as the Graduate Program Director for the Educational Specialist in Educational Leadership which prepares future central office administrators.  He has also been named the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professor for Civil Discourse. Prior to these appointments, he served in PK-12 roles for 25 years initially as an ELA and Psychology teacher and then for 20 years as an administrator at both the building and central office level, including as a superintendent. In addition to his faculty roles, he consults in PK-12th systems for strategic planning, Board relations, culture and climate assessment, and organizational change. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at Western Michigan University.

Session 2

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Session 2 presenter bios

Details about the Session 2 speakers are coming soon.


If you have any questions about the retreat, please reach out to your GVSU School Consultant. You can also connect with our main office at 616-331-2240 or [email protected].

A special thank you to our partners at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation for their support in this event. 

Logo for Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation

Page last modified March 8, 2023