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Administrative Structure Study & Search

The Kenilworth 38 Board of Education is undertaking a search for its next superintendent and reviewing the District's administrative structure. Community engagement is vital to our process. Through soliciting input from student families, alumni, our educators, faculty, staff, residents and other interested stakeholders on the characteristics, experience, and skills they most desire in our school's educational team. We invite everyone in our community to participate and engage in the process.

Information about the search for the next District superintendent and administrative structure will be available on this web page.

News posted in order of appearance, most recent first.

May 18, 2020

Dr. Gary Zabilka presented the School Exec Connect Final Report. The report details the Superintendent Search and Administrative Structure Study, along with details of the processes and hires for the 2020-2021 school year.

APRIL 1, 2020

The Board voted to approve Dr. Crystal LeRoy's resignation from her position as Superintendent and Chief School Business Official of Kenilworth School District No. 38, effective Friday, April 3. The Board thanked Dr. LeRoy for her service to the District, and we appreciate her commitment to The Joseph Sears School and its students over the past seven years.

The BOE also voted to appoint Dr. Lisa Leali as Acting Superintendent effective April 4, 2020, through June 30, 2020. The Board noted that Dr. Leali’s experience and familiarity with the educational processes at the school would help maintain stability for students, teachers, and parents. Dr. Leali will prioritize the health and well-being of our students and staff as we continue to adjust to remote learning and will develop the transition plan for returning to in-person instruction.

The incoming superintendent of the District, Ms. Kate Donegan, will take over the role on July 1, 2020.

Director of Student Services
The BOE voted to approve incoming Superintendent Kate Donegan’s recommendation to hire Dr. Carrie De La Cruz, as Director of Student Services for the 2020-21 school year. The interview process began with School Exec Connect and their selection of highly qualified candidates. Interviews were held with parents, teachers, and staff.

Dr. De La Cruz has been serving as part-time Interim Student Services Administrator for the 2019-20 school year. She previously spent five years in West Northfield District 31 as its Director of Curriculum and Instruction and one year as their Interim Director of Special Education. While in District 31, Dr. De La Cruz provided leadership, direction, and support for all programming related to curriculum, assessment, instruction, and professional development. She was also instrumental in the development and implementation of the District's strategic plan, which led to improvements in student achievement and outcomes. Prior to District 31, Dr. De La Cruz was employed for 11 years at North Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) and took on many roles including; Intervention Specialist, Direct Services Coach, Coordinator of District Services and Assistive Technology Supervisor. Dr. De La Cruz will be a great asset to our District as we work to ensure more alignment between our general and special education departments, and implement a strategic plan focused on high academic achievement and strong social emotional competencies.

Assistant Principal
The BOE approved the recommendation of Dr. Stephanie Helfand, 2020-21 school year Principal, to hire Marty Heffner as Assistant Principal beginning in the 2020-21 school year. The interview process began with School Exec Connect and their selection of highly qualified candidates. Virtual interviews were held with parents, teachers, and staff, and included seventh and eighth-grade students.
Marty is currently the Dean of Students at Oliver McCracken Middle School in Skokie School District 73.5, where he also oversees, coordinates, and facilitates many school and district projects that are similar to those at Sears, such as PBS, CHAMPS, MTSS, and others. We are also happy to share that Marty brings a middle school math and science background to the administrative team, with seven years of teaching experience in these areas, and that he has been a basketball coach since 2011.

Thank you to all of our stakeholders who participated in the interview process. Their feedback was essential in helping our new administrative team to select the right candidate to serve in these critical roles.

March 10, 2020

The Board of Education for Kenilworth School District No. 38 approved the appointment of Dr. Stephanie Helfand as the next Principal of The Joseph Sears School beginning July 1, 2020.

The Board of Education for Kenilworth School District No. 38 voted to appoint Dr. Stephanie Helfand as the next Principal of The Joseph Sears School at a Special Board Meeting on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. Dr. Helfand is currently the Interim Assistant Principal at Sears School.

Prior to joining The Joseph Sears School, Dr. Helfand was the Chief Technology Officer at New Trier High School and Assistant Director of Educational Technology at Warren Township High School. She spent the first four years of her career as an elementary and middle school special education and general education teacher, and then served as an Instructional Technology Coordinator and professional development provider in Lake Zurich.

"Dr. Helfand is a skilled and passionate educator who puts students at the center of all her decisions," said incoming Superintendent Ms. Catherine (Kate) Donegan. "It was clear throughout the interview process and when speaking to her references, that Dr. Helfand is a collaborative leader who builds relationships with all stakeholders and will provide vital stability to The Joseph Sears School."

According to School Exec Connect Senior Associate Linda Yonke, Helfand was chosen from among 25 applicants for the position. The search firm's process began with focus group meetings and surveys of parents, community members, and staff. Results were used to develop a New Principal Profile. Parents, staff, and students participated in stakeholder committee interviews, and the process culminated in interviews with incoming Superintendent Kate Donegan, who made the final recommendation to the Board.

"The Joseph Sears School is supported by a thoughtful community committed to the exceptional education of their children," said Dr. Helfand. "I look forward to continuing the close partnership established with the community this year to achieve our mission and deliver a personalized educational experience that empowers and challenges each student to grow academically and develop personally."

Dr. Helfand earned an Ed.D.and a master's degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Chicago, where she also received Superintendent and General Administrative Certification. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Upper Iowa University.

February 10, 2020

School Exec Connect (SEC) would like to determine if there is any additional feedback from stakeholders on the open administrative positions. They will host a community focus group on Wednesday, February 19, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. They will also host three additional focus group opportunities for faculty/staff.

School Exec Connect is also establishing a Stakeholder Interview Committee to interview the candidates for the position of Principal at The Joseph Sears School. This committee will provide valuable feedback to the incoming Superintendent, Ms. Donegan, as she makes her hiring decision. The interview session will take place on Monday, February 24, 2020, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Stakeholder Interview Committee will be comprised of six teachers, four parents, four students, one 12-month employee, and one Instructional Assistant. Final interviews will take place the last week of February, and a special meeting of the Board of Education is tentatively set for the first week of March 2020.

In summary, there will be:

  • 3 Faculty/Staff Focus Groups
  • Community Focus Group, Wednesday, February 19, 2020, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the MPR.
  • Stakeholder Committee Interviews, February 24, 2020, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Stakeholder Interview Committee Interest Form

  • January 29, 2020

    The Board of Education for Kenilworth School District No. 38 voted unanimously to appoint Catherine "Kate" Donegan as the next Superintendent of the district starting July 1, 2020. Ms. Donegan currently serves as the Superintendent of Skokie School District 73.5, where she has worked for 24 years and served as Superintendent for the past 13 years.

    "We believe Ms. Donegan's extensive experience as a superintendent, her proven ability to lead a district, and her student-centered approach will be great assets in delivering the best possible education for the students of Joseph Sears School," said School Board President Evan Lukasik. "The Board of Education worked with School Exec Connect on an extensive, national search for our new Superintendent, and we are grateful for the support and input provided by the entire school community. Our stakeholder interview committee comprised of faculty, staff, parents, and community members enthusiastically endorsed Ms. Donegan as an experienced, collaborative, strong, and dedicated leader and educator."

    During Ms. Donegan's tenure as Superintendent of Skokie School District 73.5, she was responsible for:

    • The development of gifted and talented programs for students
    • The implementation of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports
    • The implementation of a Social-Emotional Learning curriculum
    • The implementation of Standards Referenced Grading and Report Cards
    • The development and implementation of Professional Learning Communities
    • Two major construction projects, which both included 20,000 square foot plus additions to school buildings

    Prior to becoming Superintendent of District 73.5, Ms. Donegan held positions as Principal and Assistant Principal of McCracken Middle School. She began her career asa Special Education Teacher. Ms. Donegan is actively involved in several organizations supporting public schools and her community, including being a superintendent mentor for IASA and and ED-RED executive board member.

    "The Joseph Sears School has a history of rich traditions, academic excellence, and talented faculty and staff," said Donegan. "I look forward to working in close partnership with the Sears community to advance the goals of the district in supporting our student to be fearless learners, creative thinkers, courageous advocates, and compassionate citizens of the world."

    Ms. Donegan earned an Ed. S in Educational Leadership, a Chief School Business Official Certification, and a General Administrative Certification from Northern Illinois University. She also holds a master's degree in Special Education from Illinois State University and a B.A. in Business Administration from Illinois Wesleyan University.

    December 9, 2019

    The BOE is now conducting initial interviews for the Superintendent position. For the final round of interviews, we will establish a Stakeholder Interview Committee comprised of the following members:

    • 5 Teachers
    • 3 Support Staff
    • 1 Administrative Representative
    • 3 Parents
    • 2 Community Members (without current students at the school)

    The Stakeholder Interview Committee will interview the final three candidates for the Superintendent of Kenilworth School District 38 position. The interview sessions will take place Monday, January 13; Tuesday, January 14; and Wednesday, January 15, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

    A survey was sent to parents and the community members to secure participants for this committee. The survey will close on Monday, December 16, and individuals selected for the committee will be notified by Friday, December 20.

    A Special Board of Education meeting has been tentatively planned for January 29, 2020, to vote on the hiring of the new Superintendent.

    For those who are unable to participate in the Superintendent selection process, there will be other opportunities to engage in the administrative search process later in the year.

    An internal announcement for the additional administrative openings will be posted this week, and they will be announced externally before the winter school break. Those applications will close the third week of January. School Exec Connect will share a more detailed timeline and process for these searches in the coming weeks. The new Superintendent will be very involved.

    November 14, 2019

    At the Board of Education (BOE) Regular Meeting on Thursday, November 14, the BOE finalized the future administrative structure. We are pleased to share this update, as well as highlights of Board’s commitment to collectively improve our school culture, and the current Superintendent search timeline.

    The BOE made the final administration structure conclusions after carefully considering a refined recommendation from the search firm, School Exec Connect (SEC). Below is an outline the structure for the Joseph Sears School administration for the 2020-2021 school year:

    • We are shifting the Superintendent focus away from business operations to an educational leader. We will hire a non-administrative Business Services and Human Resources Manager to assist with these duties.
    • We are committed to three building level administrators, a Principal, an Assistant Principal and Director of Student Services, who will work collaboratively to uphold the values of a JK-8 school in both operations and culture. Moving forward, all faculty and staff will report up through the Principal
    • The Chief Education Officer position will remain in place for 2020-2021, and the status of the position would be re-assessed during that school year.

    • See proposed organization chart here.
      See complete SEC recommendation here.

    We recognized that the administrative structure study is just one piece of our effort to reduce administrative turnover and improve the overall culture of the school. We also understand the community’s desire to know more about the challenges within the district. We have conducted our own exit interviews with all of our departing administrators, worked closely with SEC and had several internal conversations to gain a better understanding of underlying issues contributing to the instability within the District. While we can not share all of the details due to employee privacy standards, we have agreed to commit to areas in which we as a Board can improve, move forward from our history in a positive direction, set up our new administrators, faculty and staff for success, and ultimately deliver a better experience to our students.

    Among the efforts the Board commits to include:
    • Continue to make decisions in the best interest of our students
    • Run a thorough and robust search process to hire our new administrators
    • Work with our new Superintendent and Administrative Leadership Team to clearly define the roles & responsibilities of the new team
    • Uphold the Four Cornerstones
    • Work collaboratively with our stakeholders to seek feedback, actively listen and resolve matters together
    • Provide the necessary support to the new administrative team balanced with giving them autonomy to do their jobs effectively

    We also encourage our stakeholders to consider setting some commitments so that we can come together collectively to make our new administrative team successful and continue to meet the needs of our students.

    Below is the current timeline for the Superintendent Search:

    • Nov. 15: Deadline to receive applications
    • Late November: SEC interviews
    • Dec. 2: SEC presents slate of candidates to Board
    • Dec. 4, 10, 11: Superintendent interviews by the Board
    • Jan. 13, 14, 15: Superintendent interviews by Board & Stakeholder Committee (updated 12/3/19)
    • Jan. 29 (tentative): Vote on hiring of new Superintendent (updated 1/23/20)
    Last spring the BOE committed to several goals for this process: to maintain excellent short-term operations with the hiring of a strong interim administrative team, work to understand issues related to administrative turnover in order to minimize this in the future, conduct a robust administrative search process and maintain transparency throughout. As we move into the final phase of hiring our future administrative team, we hope you believe we have delivered on these commitments.

    October 7, 2019

    A Special Board Meeting was held Monday, October 7, at 6 p.m. in the Joseph Sears School Library Tech Center. The primary focus of this meeting was to review the results of the Administrative Structure Study, the profile of the Superintendent, and discuss the next steps in the Superintendent search. Dr. Linda Yonke of School Exec Connect, the search firm handling the administrative study and searches, presented all of the findings and next steps, and addressed the Board's questions related to the presentation.

    • An analysis of the Administrative Structure Study and Superintendent Search Input can be found here.
    • The Superintendent Profile can be found here. Applications are being excepted through November 15, 2019 here.

    View the presentations from School Exec Connect:

    • Administrative Structure Study Presentation can be found here.
    • Superintendent Profile Presentation can be found here.