The ancestor of the intermediate school district is the Office of County School Commissioner, which was established as an elective position by the Michigan legislature in 1867. The commissioner’s major responsibility was to the rural township (nongraded) schools where he/she certified teachers, inspected the schools, supervised the curriculum, and advised township supervisors about needed improvements. The commissioner also filed all required state reports.
In 1935, the Michigan legislature authorized the option for elected county boards of education to appoint a county superintendent of schools, which was implemented in Washtenaw County in 1947. The responsibility to care for the rural primary districts was similar, but the county school superintendent was also placed at the center of the state's encouragement to reduce the number of primary districts in Michigan, consolidating them into K-12 units.
In the early 1960s, with most of the state's primary districts consolidated or in the process of consolidating, the legislature, through Public Act 190 of 1962, abolished the county school district and established the intermediate school district. In place of the emphasis on supervising primary districts, the intermediate school district assumed a central role in providing cooperative, coordinated educational services among many school districts in the name of economy and efficiency. The smaller counties were encouraged to consolidate with larger counties, and today there are 57 intermediateschool districts in Michigan, many of them composed of two or more counties.
The 1962 legislation found Washtenaw County served by a five-person elected county board of education and an appointed county superintendent of schools, Julius Haab, who had been first elected as Washtenaw County School Commissioner in 1939. The county board of education became the intermediate school district board of education and Mr. Haab became the first Washtenaw Intermediate School District superintendent.
In 1965, Mr. Haab was succeeded as intermediate school district superintendent by Nick A. Ianni, who was assistant superintendent for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Prior to that assignment, Mr. Ianni had been superintendent at the Dexter Community Schools.
During the next several years, the district concerned itself with providing adequate facilities to provide essential services. Originally, the ISD offices were located in the county building and then moved to rented quarters at 130 South First in Ann Arbor in 1966. Soon after, property was purchased on Wagner Road for an intermediate school district service center and construction was begun in 1967, following Board of Education approval of a bond issue for that purpose. The building was completed and occupied in 1969.
In 1971, the voters approved a bond issue for High Point Center, and it was completed and occupied in 1974. In addition, the voters approved necessary increases in the special education operating millage to assist in meeting the new program mandates established in the early 1970s.
In 1986, Superintendent Ianni was succeeded by Dr. Michael O. Emlaw, who had previously served as superintendent of schools in Ludington and East Detroit. During these years the district focused on delivering high-quality services to its local school districts. In 1987 voters approved a bond issue to remodel High Point and the Ianni Educational Services Center. The improvements were completed and the buildings were rededicated in 1992. And in the process, the Ianni Educational Services Center became the Teaching and Learning Center. The Teaching and Learning Center honors two individuals who have contributed significantly to education in Washtenaw County:
- the late (1996) Nick A. Ianni, who devoted 36 years to education, serving as WISD superintendent for twenty-one of those years, and
- the late (1998) Elvira Vogel, graduate of the University of Iowa, who was first elected to a six-year term on the WISD Board of Education in 1959 and subsequently re-elected four times, voluntarily retiring in 1989 after 30 consecutive years of board service.
In the 1990s, WISD went beyond basic programming to become a leader in inclusive education for students with special needs. In 1993, voters approved a necessary increase in the special education operating millage to assist in meeting the program needs of students receiving special education services.
In 1999, Superintendent Emlaw was succeeded by Dr. William Miller, who was WISD's assistant superintendent. He had previously served as an elementary principal in Traverse City Area Public Schools. Prior to that, he had worked in several local school districts and intermediate school districts as a director of special education, a special education teacher consultant and as a teacher for students with special needs. Dr. Miller's history with the district dates back to 1975 when he student taught for WISD at Sullivan School, the predecessor to High Point School.
In the new millennium, the district focused on quality and equity, by including students with special needs into the regular education classroom with support and offering options for all students. In 2004, voters approved a necessary seven-year increase in the special education operating millage to assist in meeting the program needs of students receiving special education services.
In January 2011, Dr. Miller was succeeded by Richard Leyshock. Mr. Leyshock, WISD's Assistant Superintendent, became WISD's Interim Superintendent while the WISD Board conducted a superintendent search. In May 2011, voters renewed the seven-year special education operating millage that passed in 2004 to assist in meeting the program needs of students receiving special education services.
In July 2011, Scott Menzel, became WISD Superintendent, having previously served as the Superintendent of the Livingston Educational Service Agency and Whitmore Lake Public Schools.
In 2012-13, intermediate school districts will mark their 50th anniversary of providing quality programs and services to students, parents, schools and the community.