State Superintendent Brian Whiston, the state's top education leader, passed away Monday night after battling cancer for several months, according to a news release from the Michigan Department of Education.

He was 56 years old.

Whiston announced in March that he was taking a medical leave. That leave began Friday.

His health struggles were made public in January during a meeting of the state board.

Whiston has been the state superintendent of schools since 2015 and has led the department through the ambitious goal of turning Michigan — which has seen its education status decline nationally — into a top 10 academically performing state.

Shortly after beginning the state superintendent's job, Whiston faced tragedy: His 32-year-old son Ryan Whiston was killed in a car crash in Waterford.

He previously was superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools and prior to that was a lobbyist for Oakland Schools.

The State Board of Education is holding its monthly meeting beginning at 9:30 a.m. Board members are expected to begin the meeting with a tribute to Whiston.

You can watch the meeting at www.michigan.gov/mde.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Brian,” said State Board of Education Co-Presidents Casandra Ulbrich and Richard Zeile. “Brian was a wonderful person who devoted his life to serving others. He was always focused on doing what is best for the children of Michigan. The vision he set forth to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years will endure. His leadership and talent established the dynamic strategies that will help all children in Michigan have the opportunity to learn and be prepared for success.”

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