District 97 Board Selects Dr. Ushma Shah as New Superintendent

District 97 Board Selects Dr. Ushma Shah as New Superintendent

The Board of Education of Oak Park Elementary School District 97 is pleased to announce that it has selected Dr. Ushma Shah as the district’s next superintendent of schools, effective June 1, 2022. Her three-year contract will be approved during the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 8. The live stream can be viewed on the district’s YouTube channel starting at 7 p.m.

“On behalf of the District 97 Board of Education, I am thrilled to announce Dr. Shah as our new leader,” said Board President Jung Kim. “She comes to Oak Park with a wealth of experience in elementary education, equity, and the development of diverse and dynamic leadership teams. 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.”

Dr. 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.”

Dr. Shah has been the Interim Chief Portfolio Officer for CPS since August 2021. Reporting to the Chief Executive Officer, she oversees four central office departments, including a portfolio of schools. Prior to joining CPS, Dr. Shah served Elgin Area School District U-46 for 10 years as Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools and Chief of Equity and Social Justice. During her decade as a member of the U-46 Cabinet, Dr. Shah provided supervision to the district’s 42 elementary schools, as well as the departments of English Language Learners, Early Learners, and Assessment and Accountability. 

“What I know from almost 30 years in the field is that a district of successful schools will require strong and coherent support from central office. We need to make decisions that are informed by the practitioners who are closest to our students,” Shah said. “I look forward to working together with staff, students and families to create that alignment.”

Dr. Shah began her career in education as a CPS elementary and middle school teacher, and has also worked as a principal, principal supervisor, independent consultant, adjunct professor and curriculum designer. She currently serves as board member for the Grand Victoria Foundation and a council member for the Early Learning Council in the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

“It is clear that the bridge between our inclusive values and equitable outcomes can be built with great public schools for every child. There are too few examples of districts that have delivered on this promise, but it is within our reach,” Shah said. “There is space for all voices in that journey.”

Born in India, Dr. Shah’s parents immigrated to the Austin community in Chicago in the 1970s. While Illinois has been home for most of her life, Dr. Shah has also lived in San Francisco, Cambridge and Tokyo. She has two children, one who attends the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a second who will enter college in the fall of 2022. Dr. Shah plans to move to Oak Park with her husband of 28 years, and they both look forward to being part of the everyday life of the community. Dr. Shah speaks Gujarati and is a Spanish language learner.  

In terms of her education, Dr. Shah holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and educational studies from Knox College, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois in Chicago, and a doctorate degree from the Urban Superintendents Program at Harvard University. She has completed coursework through Northern Illinois University to obtain a Chief School Business Official endorsement on her Illinois superintendent license.

The Board contracted with Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct a national search for the next superintendent of District 97. Board members committed to a transparent and inclusive process that included multiple opportunities for stakeholder engagement, including focus groups, interviews, a survey, and three community forums.

“The board is deeply grateful for the staff, families and community members who engaged in this important process,” Kim said. “Their participation and feedback were enormously valuable in identifying the priorities of our community and the qualities we were seeking in our next superintendent.”

Although Dr. Shah’s official start date is June 1, she will begin working with the district’s current interim superintendents, Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet, this spring to ensure a smooth transition ahead of the new school year.