D97 board hires new superintendent

Dr. Carol Kelley, a former engineer, says closing the achievement gap is her passion

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park District 97 Board of Education has selected Dr. Carol Kelley as the district's new superintendent. The board made the announcement during a special meeting held today, June 3. Kelley succeeds outgoing D97 superintendent Al Roberts, who announced his retirement in January. The board voted unanimously to authorize Kelley's three-year contract, which stipulates a starting base salary of $199,500 and will take effect July 1.

Kelley, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been the superintendent of schools for K-8 Branchburg Township School District in New Jersey since 2012. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the district had an enrollment of about 1,700 students in the 2012-13 school year.

The board hired professional search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) on January 27 to lead a national search process "informed by over 330 members of the community who offered feedback regarding the qualities and characteristics they believed should be found in our next superintendent," board president James Gates said at tonight's meeting.

According to Gates, Kelley was selected from among a pool of 48 candidates from 11 states — 33 males, 15 females, 21 superintendents, 10 assistant or associate superintendents, nine administrators in other capacities and 8 principals. Gates said 40 of the 48 had a doctorate, while the other eight candidates without a doctorate had at least a master's degree. That pool was narrowed to six candidates, who were then interviewed before the candidate group was further narrowed down to three finalists.

To a person, board members, both present and former ones, were effusive with praise for Kelley. So was Roberts.

"I feel [Kelley] is a wonderful fit for the district and the community," said Roberts. "She strikes me as an individual who will lead with integrity; one whose commitment to equity and excellence; and I think her collaborative approach will be appreciated by faculty, staff and administration. And I think her focus on students will be appreciated by all."

"I am a little sad I don't get to work with you," said former board member Denise Sacks, whose term ended this year. Sacks, who did not seek reelection, was instrumental in the search process before her term ended.

"This is the third superintendent search I've been involved in," said board member and former board president Robert Spatz, who noted that he was on a community interview team when former superintendent Constance Collins was hired in 2005 and was on the board when Roberts was hired in 2010.

"This was probably our strongest pool […] partly because we went with a closed search," Spatz said, adding that officials from HYA said that if the board went with an open search, some candidates wouldn't apply.

"The fact that you came out on top is a testament to your qualifications and your effort," Spatz told Kelley.

Board member Rupa Datta said she was impressed by Kelley's "experience as an instructional leader" and her "commitment to, and expertise with, really excellent teaching." Datta also expressed her admiration for Kelley's "attitude for data and information [as important] to decision-making" and said she was "hopeful about [Kelley's] collaborative style."

Kelley was an engineer before going into education. She earned a bachelor's degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the University of Virginia. She worked in engineering for Bell Atlantic and as a product manager for Johnson & Johnson before transitioning into the educational field.

She was a classroom teacher for seven years in New Jersey, in addition to serving at various points as a dean of students, an assistant principal, a mathematics supervisor, a principal and a director of curriculum/instruction.

Kelley returned to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue her Doctor of Education degree. Her dissertation was on how black parents could support their children's mathematics education. She said closing the academic achievement gap separating white and minority students "is a huge passion of mine."

"My dissertation is around the area of closing the achievement gap," Kelley said, adding that she's a member of the New Jersey Network of Superintendents, an organization "committed to closing the achievement gap."

"I don't think that there is any one individual that has all the answers [to closing the gap], but I'm definitely collaborative in nature [and] will work together with the board, my team, the community, to look at the data and to see how we can work together to address that issue," she said.

Kelley, who noted that she was recruited by HYA, said that she was attracted to Oak Park because of its demographic diversity, the direction the district is taking in the area of curriculum and instruction, and the fact that D97, like Branchburg Township, is an elementary school district.

"The things that you're doing in terms of the curriculum — the IB [International Baccalaureate] at the middle schools and the one-to-one initiative at the elementary schools — so many of the things [going on] here are aligned to my values as a leader," she said.

Kelley and her husband Gary Kelley have two sons and reside in New Jersey. They're expected to move to the Oak Park area within the coming months.

Email: michael@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Dean Rogers from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2015 6:40 PM

Dave,Cormac,couldn't agree more.For almost thirty years now,we have been talking,and throwing money at,so called solutions for this problem.It has been characterized as institutional racism,teachers' forced to undergo "cultural sensitivity training",teachers afraid to discipline students for fear of throwing off their "percentages",money thrown at all-day kindergarten,and when that wasn't enough,the dubious early childhood collaboration. The fact is,and the district refuses to share these figures,much less discuss them,the single best predictive factor for a student's success,is being brought up in a family with two parents.Close behind,is parental involvement in their child's education.Ask the teachers' who shows up for conferences or events.Until parent's take some responsibility for their children,we will continue to throw away money on programs that are based on an underlying assumption of racism and discrimination.Time to change our approach.

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: June 5th, 2015 9:20 AM

Well said, Cormac. If our only way to address the gap is to throw money at it, we are in for a long, expensive ride. The culture and mentality needs to change, and that isn't accomplished with money.

Cormac Battle  

Posted: June 5th, 2015 12:30 AM

I hope that Mrs. Kelley will address the achievement gap in an honest way and not be afraid to address the parents of students who are suffering openly regardless of creating tensions. All too often the attention in these cases is shifted to things like lack of funding, the system... And the main issue of the accountability of parents and the culture of seeing education in a negative light is sweated aside. I've heard black students called out as "acting white" if they work hard and get good grades, so if "being black" is equated to academic failure and not working hard, we are in for a tough road of trying to turn round a negative culture that some how has been adopted by a lot of black youths. I'll be interested to see whether these issues of parental accountability and addressing negative cultures will take center stage, of it the usual blaming of the system will dominate as a way of stay PC

Rob Breymaier  

Posted: June 4th, 2015 9:49 AM

I'm happy to see the achievement gap get priority. We have excellent schools in an excellent community. Our community can beat the achievement gap with the right leadership and commitment. In the end, all of our kids will be better off.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: June 4th, 2015 9:10 AM

I do not believe our students need a living wage. After all, we are talking about K-8 students who are under 14 years of age for the most part. I do agree that they need a stable home and that starts with families which are reasonably secure and also are present for their children.

Chica Gomez  

Posted: June 4th, 2015 6:21 AM

The achievement gap is a misnomer. It is an economic gap that plagues Oak Park. Middle class / wealthy students do very well and are celebrated for their success. A living wage and a stable home are what most kids, of any race, need to do their best work.

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