Grand Rapids academy CEO named Michigan charter school administrator of the year

Pat Cwayna, CEO of West Michigan Aviation Academy, has been named the 2018 Michigan Association of Public School Academies' Administrator of the Year. 

The announcement was made Monday, May 7, at a surprise assembly in the school gym without Cwayna knowing about it.

"I was duped," he said, jokingly.

Cwayna said fake meetings had been set up for him that day off-campus. When he got back to the school and entered the gym, he knew something was up.

The students were assembled there, but so were some of his mentors and his family, including his grandchildren. 

"I knew something nice was going to happen," he said.

The West Michigan Aviation Academy is a tuition-free public charter high school founded by Dick DeVos with encouragement from his wife, Betsy DeVos, according to the school's website.

The school opened its doors in the fall of 2010 and is located on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

After spending over 20 years as East Grand Rapids High School principal, Cwayna took on a new challenge in 2010 as the founding CEO of the West Michigan Aviation Academy.

"What Pat Cwayna has done at West Michigan Aviation Academy is nothing short of remarkable," MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry said. "He came from the world of traditional education, and he discovered that because his new school was a charter school, he was able to be innovative and creative, and design a school that was entirely focused on the student.

"There's no other school in America that's quite like West Michigan Aviation Academy."

As a science, technology, engineering and math-focused school, West Michigan Aviation Academy has produced graduates who have been accepted to some of the top engineering schools in the country, according to a MAPSA press release.

Cwayna said the school has had 61 students earn their private pilot licenses.

Cwayna has 45 years of experience as an educator in Michigan. He said the last eight years as the academy CEO have been a "dream position to hold." 

He said the single biggest reason students at the school are so successful is due to the teaching staff, which is "exceptional in every way." 

He said he was thankful to MAPSA and all the wonderful people he's worked with over the past eight years for the recognition.

"It's a reflection of the whole," he said. "I'm just fortunate to be where I'm at in the organization."