Carol Kelley

Plans to hire a permanent superintendent at Oak Park Elementary School District 97 are now underway. At the June 8 school board meeting, board member Gavin Kearney outlined the next steps to find a successor to Supt. Carol Kelley, starting with hiring a search firm.

“The timeline is clear that the process needs to start soon,” Kearney said.

He suggested reaching out to various search firms and inviting them to a special board meeting. This would give him and other board members the chance to learn more about the firms’ recruitment process and ask about their success in building a diverse candidate pool and approach to community engagement.

Those meetings should take place by late June or early July, with the hope of locking down a firm by the end of July, Kearney said.

In a timeline presented at the meeting, Kearney shared with the board a list of potential firms including the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB); Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates; BWP & Associates; School Exec Connect and Ray & Associates.

District 97 recently partnered with IASB to hire two interim superintendents, Patricia Wernet and Griff Powell, to help lead the 2021-22 school year. Wernet had prior experience working with the named firms, Kearney said.

Wernet, who created the timeline shared at the meeting, disclosed she is an associate of the Libertyville-based BWP and receives no compensation from the firm unless she conducts a specific search.

After Kelley announced her medical leave in early May, Wernet stepped into the interim role. Powell, who is currently the interim superintendent in DeKalb Community School District 428, will officially join Wernet July 1.

Kelley’s final day is June 30, but the district has yet to hear whether she will return from medical leave before then. In the last six years, Kelley has served as the superintendent at District 97, and she plans to reprise her role in Princeton Public Schools in New Jersey.

The process to hire a permanent superintendent may take up to four months once the board has chosen a search firm, according to the timeline. The process also includes time for hosting focus groups with the D97 community and collecting applications from candidates, as well as vetting and conducting interviews with those candidates.

“As a school board and as a district, we’re very much committed to the search that has broad stakeholder engagement from all community members, administration, teachers, parents, students, etc.,” Kearney said. “We’re also very much committed to developing a pool of candidates that is diverse and includes candidates with expertise actively serving a diverse community and student population.”

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