Oak Park and River Forest High School named Gwen Walker-Qualls, an 8-year psychologist at the school, as interim director of its Pupil Personnel Services department, which oversees special education and student health services.
Her appointment is effective “immediately,” according to a May 28 press release from the school.
Walker-Qualls, who’s also OPRF’s director of summer school, previously worked at Chicago Public Schools as a special ed teacher and psychologist. She’s replacing former OPRF administrator Tina Halliman, who resigned last month to accept the superintendent job at Blue Island School District 130. Hired in 2010 as OPRF’s special ed director, Halliman was elevated to the title of assistant superintendent for Pupil Personnel Services. Her last day with OPRF was May 23.
Walker-Qualls will serve as interim director for the 2014-2015 school year, and a permanent director will be hired the following year, said Supt. Steven Isoye. Structural changes are also in store for the department, Isoye said.
An outside consultant will be brought in over the next year to help review the department, which has experienced various configurations and internal turmoil over the last decade.
In 2006, the administrator over then-Pupil Support Services resigned in a dispute with the school over her job duties and responsibilities — special ed and student discipline was under her purview. Those responsibilities were temporarily shared by other OPRF administrators following the resignation.
In 2007, following the hiring of a new superintendent and separation of the responsibilities of building principal, Pupil Support Services was eliminated as a department. Special ed, student discipline and health services were then split among various newly-hired assistant principals.
Between 2007 and 2010, student discipline and health services would be reshuffled again within administration.
Upon his hiring in 2010, Isoye recast administration duties once again, creating the Pupil Personnel Services department with Halliman. A “divisional director” for special ed was also hired at that time. Laura Faber resigned from that position last month.
Isoye said he was aware of much of the department’s recent history, but stressed his focus was on its future and not its past. Isoye said he was looking for an internal hire for interim director and someone with a director’s license. The school will not hire an interim divisional director for 2014-’15 while the department is under review, Isoye said.
“To me, instead of bringing in two ‘chiefs’ and having both of them trying to figure out who’s making the call on this and whatnot, I though that would cause confusion and I did not think that was good for our division or our organization.”
Isoye said he’ll hire a “program chair” for the upcoming school year to handle the divisional director duties — the year will also be spent talking to staff about their expectations for the department and leadership.
“Then, with the interim coming in, and knowing how busy that person is going to be, I am looking to bring in an outside set of eyes to look at our operations in special education and health services, and to give us a report of how we’re doing and maybe some areas of where we can look at some improvements in how we serve students,” Isoye said.
As for Halliman’s departure, Isoye said being a superintendent was an aspiration of hers that she was able to now achieve.
“I think that’s wonderful … the last thing I would ever want to do is prevent her from getting to a different position, which I think she is very, very capable and will do amazing things there. There’s no doubt in my mind.”