Jeff Schuler popped in on a few classrooms last week at John Stewart Elementary School in Elburn, something he said is part of his early-in-the-school-year routine as the district’s superintendent.
Schuler spoke softly with teachers and children at each stop, greeting each with a smile and asking questions and listening for answers.
Only a few days remain before Schuler, 42, leaves the district to become the superintendent at Wheaton Warrenville District 200. On Monday, the Kaneland School District 302 Board hired Ken Sorrick as an interim superintendent, and the search will begin for the next long-term superintendent.
He said his most significant challenge was working to deliver on an expectation to endure cuts and work through a difficult economy and, at the same time, improve quality and make significant progress.
“That’s a tough message to balance,” said Schuler, who noted getting better “means something different to everybody” based on where their children or grandchildren might be in the educational system.
The district last week issued a news release touting that its students reached new heights on ACT testing, with the Class of 2014 achieving a composite ACT score of 22.2, which the news release said was the highest ever compiled in the district. But Schuler said while test results can provide an indication of how a system is doing, it doesn’t tell the entire story.
“If you would ask me if the test score growth is what I’m most proud of, I’m not,” he said.
Instead, Schuler pointed to expanded offerings at the district’s schools, regional partnerships that were made, the expansion of technology and the opportunity to grow 21st century learning opportunities. Also, he talked of a “really robust” intervention program, which he said targets both those who need help and those who need more of a challenge. There was a new schedule put into place at the high school. Also, he said the district has helped create a structure that allowed teachers to have common planning time.
Schuler, a Plainfield resident, heads to a school district in Wheaton Warrenville that has two high schools, four middle schools, and 13 elementary schools. In contrast, Kaneland has one high school, one middle school and four elementary schools.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Cheryl Krauspe, the president of the board, invited those in attendance to share thoughts on Schuler’s time at Kaneland. Krauspe held back tears when talking about her feelings for Schuler, and she praised him and said he was able to help the district through a time of financial constraint. Others in attendance, including Elburn Village President Dave Anderson, high school teacher Lynn McHenry and other Kaneland board members shared positive thoughts.
One board member, Tony Valente, did not speak during that portion of the meeting. At times, Valente has been critical of the district’s administration, Schuler in particular. When it was announced Schuler was leaving the district, Valente said he had not come across anyone who had said Schuler was doing a great job.
Schuler said he would not comment on one board member or one situation. But he said he accepted criticism as part of the job, “if issues are genuinely brought up for the right reason and the right concern. … There’s nothing wrong with that, whatsoever.”
He said there can be issues “if certain issues are brought up for political gain.” He said the school board “should always do what’s right and not allow politics to become a driving force.”
At the meeting, Schuler said he wanted to “thank everybody for allowing me to lead.” He said when people have told him thank you, he thanked them back.
“I will always be grateful,” Schuler said.