Oak Park’s District 97 school board has selected two retired educators to serve as the interim senior directors of human resources, closing out the list of administrative hires for the 2021-22 school year. 

Cathie Pezanoksi

In a unanimous decision, the school board appointed Cathie Pezanoksi and Tim Kilrea at its July 13 meeting to share the role of senior director of human resources. While Pezanoski already stepped into the position July 12, Kilrea plans to start in August. 

Pezanoski and Kilrea are coming to the district with 35 years of experience in education. Among many jobs, Pezanoski worked as an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Downers Grove Grade School District 58 and director of elementary curriculum and instruction for Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, according to a school news release issued days ahead of the July 13 meeting. 

Tim Kilrea

For the last nine years, Pezanoski was the superintendent at Elwood Community Consolidated School District 203 before retiring at the end of June. During her tenure, Pezanoski helped negotiate three collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers union, handled personnel issues and hired staff, the release stated. 

Like Pezanoski, Kilrea spent the last 12 years of his decades-long career as the superintendent of Lyons Township High School District 204. In addition, Kilrea, who retired this past June, had served as District 204’s director of human resources where his position expanded to recruiting and developing district employees and coordinating a mentoring program for new teachers, as well as participating in bargaining union agreements.

Appointments explained 

Since late April, the board has appointed a total of six administrators to fill three open positions for the 2021-22 school year, placing two in each of the interim roles. The district now has two superintendents, two principals at William Beye Elementary School and two human resources directors. 

There are multiple reasons why school administrators recommended pairing people up in those roles, said Amanda Siegfried, senior director of communications at D97. 

One is the late departures of some administrators which left less time to conduct searches. Another is the absence of a permanent superintendent with the idea the next superintendent will want a voice in making key hires. Finally, under state law retired administrators can only work limited hours while still collecting full pensions.

On timing, Siegfried said, Jennifer Schemidt, a one-year principal of Beye, and Gina Herrmann, who served as the director of human resources for two years, resigned in late May. That meant “we would have had approximately four to six weeks to fill the positions,” which would not have left ample time to hold a proper search and vet the right candidates, Siegfried said in an email to Wednesday Journal. 

“Hiring interim administrators will give us more time to conduct comprehensive searches during the 2021-22 school year, and the timing will allow us to maximize the depth and breadth of our candidates,” Siegfried wrote. 

The decision to hire two principals at Beye came from school administrators, who sought to offer as much support as possible for staff, students and families during this upcoming school year, Siegfried said. She said administrators listened to D97 faculty and families who expressed the need for an “experienced leader who is familiar with Oak Park,” which led them to name district veterans Cheryl Sullivan and Sheila Carter

Sullivan is a longtime Oak Park resident who previously served several roles in D97, including assistant principal at Longfellow Elementary School and interim principal and student support specialist at Mann Elementary School. As for Carter, she spent 17 years as principal of Hatch  Elementary School and five years as assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary School. 

“We thought carefully about the current needs of the building, as well as the experience and expertise of our candidates,” Siegfried said, adding Sullivan and Carter are “exceptional,” “highly-capable” leaders and have deep ties to the district. 

The same thought process applies to the hiring of interim superintendents, Patricia Wernet and Griff Powell. Siegfried said the school board wanted to take the time to find a new permanent superintendent, after former Superintendent Carol Kelley’s departure. At this point, the board has begun the months long search for a permanent superintendent and hopes to announce a new superintendent before the end of the 2021-22 school year. 

Having interim employees will also give the incoming superintendent a chance to decide on key administrative hires, Siegfried said. Positions for a permanent Beye principal and senior director of human resources will be posted in early 2022, after the board has chosen a superintendent, she said. 

Another reason why there are two employees placed in each of the three positions is that most of them are retired. Of the total six new hires, five of them – Pezanoski, Kilrea, Carter, Wernet and Powell – are retired. Sullivan is the only full-time administrator. 

According to the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System, retired educators can only work 120 days or up to 600 hours in a school year to qualify for their benefits. Non-retired administrators usually work 260 days each school year, Siegfried said. 

“They are sharing their roles in order to ensure coverage for the full school year,” she said. “This is common practice in Illinois school districts.” 

On pairing Carter and Sullivan, Siegfried reiterated the need to offer support to Beye families. 

“We have full confidence in Cheryl and Sheila, both as individuals and as a leadership team,” Siegfried said. “They have already hit the ground running and are excited to welcome back students and staff next month.” 

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