New D97 curriculum chief has tech, special ed expertise

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New District 97 assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Kevin Anderson doesn't expect to make sweeping changes when he takes over for a retiring Mary Schneider July 1.

"Coming to Oak Park is not like working on an old Volkswagon," said Anderson, a hobbyist mechanic who works on old models of the German cars. "It's like working on a Porsche. All you need is a little tweaking."

Anderson hopes to support principals administratively so they may become better curriculum leaders, and, after talking with incoming Supt. Connie Collins, implement common assessments across grades and courses.

"We don't want to say everybody has to teach the same way, but there need to be some common check points," Anderson said.

Anderson spent the past four and a half years in Kenosha, Wis., in a role similar to the one he'll hold at Dist. 97. However, the 22,000-student unit district in Kenosha meant a more administrative job than what he'd prefer. And, the district went through four superintendents in the past five years, which didn't affect his job as much as recent budget cuts did, he said.

Anderson received a bachelor's in elementary education and history from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa in 1976, then received master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Northern Iowa in 1981 and 1992 respectively.

He taught general third grade before taking curriculum chief jobs beginning in the early 1990s. From 1994 until 1999 he taught at the collegiate level, first at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, then atSoutheast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The move to Kenosha was a family decision to "move back north."

Anderson said he wants to stay with public schools, where his work has more direct impact on kids, until he retires. And although he was asked to interview for the superintendent position in Kenosha, he didn't want the job.

"I wasn't seeking the superintendent's job," he said. "I'm happiest with curriculum."

Anderson said one of the biggest issues he faced at Kenosha was the achievement gap, which started with getting some families to realize their kids needed to be in school every day.

He said Kenosha saw negative effects of having gone to a middle school model once students reached ninth grade, or the freshman year of high school. The nurturing environment created in middle schools mollycoddled the students, leaving them unprepared for the challenges of high school, so much that about one-third of some freshman classes were getting mostly F's in their classes.

The problem wasn't that students hadn't taken the right classes, but that they weren't trying hard enough in those classes.

He also worked with a local business organization's mentoring program to expand its reach. What started as a program for students in grades three through five became a full K-12 program with more than 400 mentors culled from businesses, the community and college student population.

"I think Kevin's background is the perfect fit for District 97," Schneider said of her replacement. "We're delighted he's coming to this district."

She expects Anderson's strong background in early childhood education and special education will be of particular benefit to the district. He said he got into special education as an interest, through his interest in technology and ways of using technology across special ed and regular ed curricula. That helps blur the line between the two curricula, and get educators thinking, "They're children we need to educate," Anderson said.

Anderson's wife, Cindy, is also an educator who teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg. The couple is remodeling a home they bought in Wisconsin, but plan to move to the area once the project is complete. Their son, Mark, is a computer programmer in Madison, and daughter Lindsey is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying advertising and journalism.

Anderson, a Cubs fan, replaces Schneider, a diehard White Sox fan.

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