William Beye Elementary School, 230 N. Cuyler (Courtesy of District 97)
Cheryl Sullivan

Two former educators from Oak Park Elementary School District 97 have recently been named co-interim principals of William Beye Elementary School. Beye is at 230 N. Cuyler Ave.

During a June 29 special meeting, the Board of Education unanimously voted to appoint Cheryl Sullivan and Sheila Carter to share the role of principal at Beye for the 2021-22 school year. Sullivan and Carter replaced Jennifer Schemidt, who resigned from her position as principal after one year and plans to take on a school psychologist post in the Naperville Community Unit School District 203. 

The position was posted internally, and two other candidates were interviewed, said district spokesperson Amanda Siegfried in an email to Wednesday Journal. 

Sullivan, a longtime Oak Park resident, comes to Beye with 27 years of experience in education, dedicating nearly half of that time to District 97. Sullivan has served as an assistant principal for Longfellow Elementary School, as well as an interim principal and student support specialist at Mann Elementary School, according to a news release issued June 30 by the district.  

Sheila Carter

As for Carter, she has spent more than 40 years working many different positions in District 97. Carter was the principal of Hatch Elementary School for 17 years and an assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary School for five years, the release also stated. While Carter retired in 2015, she has continued to support the district and most recently served as a co-interim principal at Lincoln Elementary School, according to the release. 

“I am honored and humbled to have been chosen to be a co-interim principal at Beye along with Sheila Carter,” Sullivan stated in the news release. “I am passionate about working hard to meet the needs of all students in collaboration with students, staff and families. I am truly looking forward to serving the Beye community.”

Interim Superintendents Patricia Wernet and Griff Powell, who also began his position July 1, plan to work with the district’s senior leadership team and provide further support to Beye throughout the school year, the release stated. 

Plans for a formal and open search for a permanent principal will “likely begin after the district’s new superintendent is named in early 2022,” according to the release. 

“Cheryl and Sheila are collaborative, student-centered educators who care deeply about our community and the families we serve,” Wernet said about the incoming co-interim principals. “We are confident that they will provide excellent leadership and stability to Beye during the coming school year.”

The superintendent search continues 

At the June 29 meeting, board members also continued their discussion on finding a permanent superintendent for District 97. The board is currently considering working with one of the following search firms to help with the hiring process: BWP & Associates; Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, and School Exec Connect. 

Jung Kim

Board members plan to invite the three search firms to a meeting later this month, so they can learn more about them, said Board President Jung Kim. With that meeting, the board hopes to select a firm and offer a contract, Kim added. 

With BWP & Associates, Kim said she was impressed to learn that 82% of the superintendents placed by the Libertyville-based search firm stayed at their districts beyond their three-to-five-year contracts. Among the board’s list of potential firms, BWP & Associates had one of the highest retention rates for superintendents hired and a strong community engagement plan, said Kim and board member Nancy Ross Dribin.  

For board member Gavin Kearney, he said what he appreciated most about BWP & Associates was its commitment to bringing in a diverse pool of candidates and forming relationships with organizations such as the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and the National Alliance for Black School Educators. 

Also up for consideration was Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, a search firm out of northwest suburban Schaumburg. This past January, Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 hired HYA to conduct the search for the district’s next superintendent. 

Like BWP & Associates, HYA also had a high retention rate for superintendents hired, Kim said. In previous years, people of color made up half of HYA’s candidate pools, “which is impressive considering how white leadership tends to be in education,” Kim added. Board members also mentioned that one of Hazard’s team members is Connie Collins, an Oak Park resident and a former D97 superintendent.  

As for School Exec Connect, Kearney said the Oak Park-based organization had associates in at least eight states, which meant they could help cast a wider net of applicants. Kearney said he wanted to ask School Exec Connect questions about its engagement process and whether it would include open forums, “so people don’t feel handpicked” to be part of the conversation.  

Board members also briefly spoke about Educational Leadership Solutions (ELS) and the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), which they later ruled out from their short list. While ELS seemed to involve the board in the search for the next superintendent, Kim and board member Cheree Moore said their biggest critique was that the Mississippi-based firm didn’t lay out any plans to pull in diverse applicants. 

With IASB, the district recently sought help from the organization and worked with a consultant after Superintendent Carol Kelley resigned. During the board’s conversation, Kim said IASB’s retention rate for superintendents with three-year contracts was 68%, which was lower than BWP and HYA. 

The upside, however, was that IASB had previously worked to staff superintendent positions for schools in diverse communities such as Berwyn, Lyons and Country Club Hills, she said.  

As far as the hiring process goes, IASB had “à la carte” options, Kim said. That meant the board would work alongside IASB and be more hands-on in the superintendent search, she said. 

Board member Venus Hurd Johnson commented on IASB and said she did like its approach, as it allowed her and her colleagues to customize the search process, but “I also see how it could get overwhelming.” She also voiced concerns on how the organization may not be helpful when it came to drawing in candidates from out of state. 

The next school board meeting will be at 7 p.m. July 13.

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