New superintendents face challenges as students return to school
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com August 19, 2013 10:56PM
Omar Castillo in the new superintendent in Mokena School District 159. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 27, 2013 6:02AM
When Mokena grade school students boarded the school bus on the first day of class earlier this month, a friendly yet unfamiliar face planned to greet them: Mokena School District 159’s new superintendent, Omar Castillo.
“I want to be in the community. I wants parents and students to know who I am,” said Castillo, who comes to Mokena from Addison Elementary School District 4.
He is one of several new superintendents who moved this summer into new offices in south suburban school districts. After getting their feet wet, they are ready to plunge into the new school year with a lot of excitement.
Scott Tingley is the new superintendent in Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, and Janet Stutz has the reins in Orland School District 135, Paul Enderle in Oak Lawn-Hometown District 123, Courtney Orzel in Forest Ridge School District 142, Russell Ragon in Manhattan School District 114, and Doris Langon as the interim superintendent in Rich Township High School District 227.
In Mokena, parents can expect more visibility, in the classroom and in the community, Castillo said. They will see a more approachable school board and improved communications, he said.
“I will challenge my team to be the best school district that feeds into Lincoln-Way High School. Can we do that? Yes, we can,” he said. “We will build upon what we already have. Parents want what I want — the best education for their children.”
Castillo, Stutz and Ragon are new to the area, while Tingley, Enderle, Orzel and Langon were promoted from within their districts.
As they each tackle a new learning curve, all will be faced with financial and academic challenges as school funding continues to be uncertain and the state moves forward with the new, more rigorous “Common Core” standards and new achievement tests by which to measure educational results.
“This will be a learning year for me,” said Stutz, who moved to Orland Park from Aurora in May. Most recently she served as assistant superintendent of curriculum in Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills School District 181.
“I’m not worried about being the new kid on the block,” she said. She spent the summer learning about the community and meeting its leaders, reviewing board policies and getting acquainted with its school buildings.
“There is a lot of change in education. We do not know what jobs our kids will have. We have to prepare them for the world of tomorrow without knowing what it is going to look like. We have to prepare them to be critical thinkers, and to work together,” Stutz said.
She described herself as a “collaborator” who is focused on community service and will “tell it like it is.”
Stutz, the fourth superintendent in three years, also hopes to bring stability to the large district.
“If you do not have stability, people are confused and do not know what is expected of them, and that will affect the classroom,” Stutz said. “Our teachers have the greatest impact in the classroom and we are their support system.”
In the Lincoln-Way area, District 210 has been “very fortunate” to have a stable administration, said Tingley, who succeeds Lawrence Wyllie, who retired after 24 years as superintendent.
“You can’t have a successful team without a successful coach,” Tingley said. “Our decision-making has been consistent over time. We have a strong culture here. Everyone has the same belief and mind-set.”
It is centered around improving student achievement and maintaining fiscal responsibility, he said.
Tingley does not plan to change anything, but nor will he “stand pat.”
“We never did it the exact same way as last year. The staff expects change and expects to get better,” he said.
He has spent 16 of his 20 years in education in District 210 and was picked last fall to succeed Wyllie.
Tingley, Enderle and Orzel served as principals in their districts before stepping into the superintendent’s office.
While the transition has been rather smooth for them, their new role offers a much broader perspective, as they focus on multiple schools in their districts instead of just one.
“This is an opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale,” Enderle said. “My philosophy as a leader is one of being a public servant. And that’s rewarding.”
Enderle is very familiar with the neighborhood, having been born at Christ Medical Center — just around the corner from his office — and having worked in District 123 for the past 10 years.
He has spent the summer working on his transition plan — “doing a lot of listening,” he said, and establishing relationships, learning school finances and establishing “positive lines of communication.”
While there may be some “potential roadblocks” with state funding and pension reform, Enderle said they will “deal with it as best they can.
“We are trying to push the envelope and be creative,” he said.
In the near future, the district may develop a more progressive report card system, one that reflects student growth and learning, he said.
“We want to catch students where they are and take them where they need to be. This is an exciting time to be in education,” Enderle said.