District 97 Appoints New Middle School Principals and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and General Counsel

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By Community Editor

During its meeting this evening, the District 97 Board of Education unanimously approved the appointment of Todd Fitzgerald as the principal of Percy Julian Middle School, Mike Michowski as the principal of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, and Joanne Schochat as the district's assistant superintendent for human resources and general counsel. Fitzgerald will be replacing Dr. Victoria Sharts, who is retiring at the end of the school year; Michowski will be replacing Tom Sindelar, who announced his resignation in March; and Schochat will be replacing Trish Carlson, who is also retiring at the end of the school year. All three will begin their employment with the district on July 1, 2012.

"I want to thank Vicki, Tom and Trish for their years of dedicated service on behalf of the Oak Park community," said Superintendent Al Roberts. "I also want to welcome Todd, Mike and Joanne to the District 97 family. While the three of them have big shoes to fill, I believe they possess the qualifications, leadership skills and expertise to help our schools, staff and students reach new heights and exceed all expectations."

Prior to joining Julian, Todd Fitzgerald served as the principal of S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield for six years. He was also the assistant principal at Westmont Junior High School for the 2005-2006 school year, and a social studies teacher at Hauser Junior High School in Riverside from 1996 to 2005.

Fitzgerald has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education and History from Valparaiso University, and master's degrees in History and School Leadership from Northeastern Illinois University. He is currently seeking a doctorate degree in School Leadership from Concordia University.

Fitzgerald, who is 39 years old and resides in LaGrange with his wife Becca and two sons Noah (5) and Nathan (3), said he is ready to help take Julian and the district to the next level.

"Percy Julian Middle School and District 97 exemplify the proud tradition of excellence that is the hallmark of Oak Park," said Fitzgerald. "I am incredibly excited about being named the new principal at Julian, and look forward to working closely and collaboratively with the staff, parents/guardians and community members to build on its history of success and help our students continue to grow, develop and excel."

Prior to joining Brooks, Mike Michowski served as the principal of Prairie Hill School in South Beloit for 13 years. He also held two positions in School District 170 in Chicago Heights—principal during the 1997-1998 school year and the behavioral coordinator from 1994 to 1997.

Michowski has a bachelor's degree in History from Illinois State University and a master's degree in Educational Administration from Governors State University. He said that he, his wife and his three children are excited about starting this remarkable new adventure.

"As someone who has always had a great deal of respect and admiration for Oak Park, I am thrilled about having the opportunity to serve as the next principal for Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School," said Michowski. "I share this community's passion for education, and look forward to joining the team of exemplary staff and dedicated parents/guardians who provide the students from Brooks with the knowledge, guidance and support they need to successfully reach their fullest potential."

Prior to joining to District 97, Joanne Schochat spent 12 years in Troy School District 30-C where she served as the director of special programs, the assistant superintendent for human resources and, most recently, the assistant superintendent for human resources and general counsel. She was also the assistant general counsel for labor and employment for Chicago Osteopathic Health Systems, and has experience as a teacher, educational administrator and an attorney specializing in the area of school law.

Schochat earned her bachelor's degree in special education teaching at Illinois State University, her master's degree in educational administration at Northern Illinois University, and her law degree at the DePaul University College of Law. She also recently completed a certificate program in Strategic Talent Management and Organizational Design at the University of Chicago.

Schochat has two sons, the youngest of whom will begin his freshman year at the University of Illinois, Champaign in the fall. She said she is looking forward to using her skills as an educator and lawyer to support the work of her new colleagues and build on the district's well-respected reputation in the educational community.

"I am honored to join Oak Park Elementary School District 97 as its assistant superintendent for human resources and general counsel," said Schochat. "This district is widely considered one of the state's leaders in education, in large part because of the dedication of its exemplary, award-winning staff. I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to utilize my legal and educational experience to further the outstanding work being done at the schools and ensure that we continue to meet the needs of our staff members and the families we serve."

While the search to fill Schochat's position was handled primarily by the superintendent and district administration, parents/guardians and staff were heavily involved in the efforts to find the new principals for the middle schools. Both groups used surveys to provide the superintendent with feedback about the qualities and characteristics they felt applicants for the positions should possess. They also selected the individuals to serve on the school site teams for Brooks and Julian, which were comprised of four parents/guardians and four staff members for each building. These teams interviewed a pool of six candidates and identified the top three for the two positions. The superintendent and other district administrators interviewed these three individuals one final time and performed the necessary background checks and site visits prior to selecting the top two candidates to present to the board.

"I want to express my sincere appreciation to the parents/guardians and staff members who participated in the search for the new middle school principals," said Roberts. "Their significant contributions of time, effort and energy played a pivotal role in helping us find two dedicated professionals who are collaborative leaders, strong decision makers and individuals who share the values that make Oak Park special."

Fitzgerald, Michowski and Schochat were all given two-year contracts. Fitzgerald and Michowski will both receive a base salary of $120,000 for the 2012-2013 school year, while Schochat's base salary will be $150,000.

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