District 97’s school board may explore the hiring two interim superintendents for the 2021-2022 school year at Oak Park’s elementary schools.

At an April 15 special board of education meeting, Patricia Sullivan-Viniard, a consultant from the Illinois Association of School Boards, suggested that board members consider finding a pair of acting superintendents because of the district’s large student body. D97 is made up of two middle schools and eight elementary schools and is currently home to nearly 6,000 students.

“In the times that we’re in with obviously the pandemic and all that is going on and the size of your district and the number of schools that you have, you would be looking at two interim superintendents, not one,” Sullivan-Viniard told the board over Zoom Thursday night.

The interim superintendent(s) will step in for Superintendent Carol Kelley, who will be leaving the district to take on a new job at Princeton Public Schools in New Jersey. With Kelley’s June 30 departure fast approaching, the board hopes the interim superintendent will start by July 1. But that date could change, said Amanda Siegfried, the district’s communications director, in a separate interview with Wednesday Journal.  

With the search now underway, Siegfried said the board looks to be efficient, “knowing that we’re quickly nearing the end of the year.”  

During the meeting, Sullivan-Viniard shared with board members a few tips on how to find the right interim superintendent to help lead their schools. Candidates must be flexible, committed to fulfilling the district’s mission and have experience working with Illinois schools, she said. Sullivan-Viniard noted candidates should also have a good attitude, demonstrate problem-solving abilities and be willing “to do the hard things.”

“One of the terms that one of the interims who I spoke with used is, ‘I’m not a placeholder,’” said Sullivan-Viniard, recalling a previous interviewee. “‘I’m not just there if something catches on fire. There is work to do.’”

“A year is a long time, but in a school district, a year is a very long time,” she continued. “It’s an entire period for our students.”

Sullivan-Viniard has already selected a few potential candidates for the interim superintendent position at District 97, Siegfried said.

Siegfried said the board’s search for an interim superintendent is separate from its hunt for a permanent superintendent. The hunt for a permanent leader will be more thorough and offer more opportunities for district families and faculty to be part of the conversation.  

“For our permanent superintendent search, we are very much committed to a robust search that has extensive stakeholder engagement, administration, teachers, personnel, parents and students,” board member Gavin Kearney said during the meeting. “This is obviously a very important decision for us as a board, as a community, and we’re committed to doing it in a way where all of the voices in Oak Park have an opportunity to weigh in.”

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