Ushma Shah

Oak Park’s District 97 elementary schools have a new superintendent. Dr. Ushma Shah, one of two finalists for the post, was appointed Tuesday evening by school board.

Shah will start work in the district under a three-year contract beginning June 1 replacing two interim co-superintendents who have shared the district’s leadership over the past year.

In enthusiastic remarks to the board and the community during a virtual meeting Tuesday, Shah said she was honored to be the new superintendent. “It has been great even in the little time I have been here to meet the staff and principals. There is a lot that I am excited about. I will be entering this role with my teacher’s lens on.”

Shah arrives from the Chicago Public Schools where she held a leadership position overseeing four departments within the central office. She also spent 10 years as assistant superintendent for elementary schools at the Elgin Area U-46 district. She began her 30-year career as an elementary and middle school teacher within CPS.

Jung Kim, president of the Oak Park school board said in a statement, “I am thrilled to announce Dr. Shah as our new leader.” Kim heralded Shah’s experience in creating diverse leadership teams and focusing on equity

“We believe her vision, values and student-centered approach make her an excellent fit for our community, and we look forward to working with her to advance the goals and priorities of the district,” said Kim in the statement.

Pointing to the district’s acorn logo, Shah said it resonated with her approach to gardening and growth. She asked board members “as homework” to consider how they would plant, trim and build trellises to support growth. “When you zoom out and look at the resources we have – time, people, money, technology – where do we need to plant, to trim or prune,” what are places that need to be strengthened.

Shah, a native of India, arrived with her parents in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood in the 1970s.

Shah, who currently serves as the Interim Chief Portfolio Officer in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), said she is excited for the opportunity to lead in a community with a demonstrated commitment to racial justice, equity and academic achievement for all.

“I am honored to serve as the next superintendent of District 97 and look forward to building on the strengths of the community,” Shah said. “It is the integrated vision that Oak Park has for itself and the community’s call to fully realize it that brings me here as a leader.”

The statement from District 97 said that while Shah will begin full-time work on June 1 that she will work this spring with Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet, the interim co-superintendents to begin planning for the next school year.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...