Oak Park Elementary School District 97 officials have announced two interim superintendents who will step in, after current Supt. Carol Kelley departs June 30. 

However, because Kelley began a medical leave on May 3, one of the two interims has already stepped in.

Retired educators Griff Powell and Patricia Wernet were named the interim superintendents for the 2021-22 school year at an April 27 school board meeting. Powell and Wernet previously worked as co-interim superintendents in Glenview School District 34. 

Wernet, who among many career roles was a superintendent at Berwyn School District 100 and Lisle Community Unit School District 202, already started her new position at District 97 May 4, said Amanda Siegfried, the district’s communications director. While Wernet sought to slip into her interim role ahead of July, her May 5 start date coincided with Kelley’s recent medical leave announcement. 

“That just timed well with [Kelley] being on leave,” Siegfried said, adding the district is unsure when Kelley will return. Siegfried also added Powell is currently an interim superintendent in Dekalb Community School District 428 and will move over to D97 in July. Until then, he continues to stay in touch with Wernet. 

The district emailed families April 30 about Kelley’s medical leave, which officially began May 3. 

“She has been working closely with the board and district administrators this week to develop a plan for her absence,” the letter stated.

Siegfried said Kelley’s return to District 97 remains uncertain and the district cannot provide any further information on her medical leave for privacy and legal reasons.  

Wernet carries more than 25 years of experience as an educator, according to a release issued April 27 by D97. She has also served as an interim superintendent in four districts, including Frankfort School District 157-C, Lombard School District 44, Glenview School District 34 and Berwyn School District 98. 

As for Powell, his 40-year career in education includes roles as a clinical assistant professor and instructor at many universities across Illinois. Powell has held the position of permanent superintendent for five school districts including Niles Township High School District 219 and Grayslake Community High School District 127. Throughout his retirement, Powell has been appointed interim superintendent at 10 school districts, including Country Club Hills District 160 and West Harvey-Dixmoor District 147.  

With the help of the Illinois Association of School Boards, the District 97 school board  interviewed three candidates for the interim superintendent position, Siegfried said. The board plans to look into hiring a search firm to help find a permanent superintendent, and that process will be more intensive and aims to include input from district families and faculty, the April 27 release also stated. 

On the decision of hiring Powell and Wernet, Siegfried said the board feels fortunate to have a pair of experienced leaders at the district. Home to about 6,000 students, District 97 is made up of eight elementary schools and two middle schools. 

“We feel confident that we’ll be in good hands next year,” Siegfried said.   

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