District 97 Appoints Three School Administrators for 2020-21 School Year

During its regularly scheduled meeting March 17, the members of the District 97 Board of Education approved the appointment of three school administrators for the 2020-21 school year:

  • Ryan Gordon will be the co-interim principal of Lincoln Elementary School. She will join the building’s current interim principal, Sheila Carter, who will be recommended to remain at Lincoln during the 2020-21 school year. Carter’s contract will be brought to the board at a future meeting.
  • Jennifer Schemidt will serve as the new principal of Beye Elementary School. She will be replacing Principal Jonathan Ellwanger, who is retiring in June after more than 30 years of service at Beye.
  • Hussain Ali will be the principal of Mann Elementary School. He will replace interim principal Cheryl Sullivan.

Principal Search Process

District 97 Superintendent Carol Kelley expressed her gratitude to the parents/guardians and staff members who were involved in the principal searches for Beye and Mann. Both groups participated in focus groups and surveys that helped the district develop principal profiles, which were used to screen applicants for each school. Parent and staff representatives, along with a small group of District 97 principals, also interviewed and evaluated candidates following the screening interviews.

Three administrators were chosen after a rigorous recruitment process that included:

  • Surveys and focus groups for parents and staff at both Beye and Mann, which helped the district develop principal profiles;
  • Applicant screening interviews;
  • Interviews with parent and staff representatives, as well as a small group of current District 97 principals;
  • Interviews with district-level administrators;
  • Site visits with Dr. Kelley.

“I am deeply grateful to all the parents and staff members who were involved in our principal searches over the past several months—from those who helped us build our candidate profiles to the representatives who served on our interview teams,” Kelley said. “After an extensive search and interview process, we are thrilled to announce three exceptional administrators who will be leading Beye, Mann and Lincoln next year.”

Biographies of the appointees and statements from Dr. Kelley are included below.

Ryan Gordon, Co-Interim Principal of Lincoln Elementary School

Photo: Ryan GordonDuring the interview process for Beye and Mann, the district identified a strong internal candidate, Ryan Gordon, who has been an assistant principal at Julian Middle School since 2018.

From Dr. Kelley: “Over the last six weeks, we have been engaged in an after-action review in order to improve the recruitment, hiring and mentoring process for the leadership at Lincoln. We have also heard from staff and families who are seeking stability and a strong system of support for the school. During the interview process, Ryan Gordon emerged as a dynamic and capable administrator who understands that trust and collaborative working relationships are part of the foundation of every school community. We believe that Ryan, along with interim principal Sheila Carter and assistant principal Paula Hughes, will provide Lincoln with the vision, leadership and consistency needed for a successful 2020-21 school year.”

Prior to joining District 97, Gordon was a teacher in Chicago Public Schools for 11 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a master’s degree in educational administration from Concordia University.

Gordon said she is looking forward to building relationships with the Lincoln community to strengthen the school culture and ensure a positive learning experience for all students.

“I am a leader who puts children first and collaborates with stakeholders to drive change,” Gordon said. “I am looking forward to working with staff and families to create inclusive, engaging opportunities for teaching and learning that support our goals for student achievement.”

Jennifer Schemidt, Principal of Beye Elementary School

Photo: Jennifer SchemidtJennifer Schemidt comes to District 97 from Maplebrook Elementary School in Naperville Community Unit School District 203, where she has served as an assistant principal for three years. She also served as one of the district’s directors of Extended School Year Services, where she led, planned, developed and organized the district wide summer programming for students from 14 elementary schools. Prior to serving as an administrator, Schemidt served as a school psychologist for 14 years.

Schemidt has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Evansville and an education specialist degree in school psychology from the University of Detroit-Mercy. She also holds a master’s degree in educational psychology from National-Louis University and a master’s degree in educational administration from Northern Illinois University.

“I am honored to serve as the new principal of Beye Elementary School,” Schemidt said. “I am excited for the opportunity to work with such a caring and compassionate staff that is focused on meeting the needs of all learners. I am also looking forward to working with the students, staff and families to ensure that all students reach their highest potential.

Dr. Kelley congratulated Schemidt on her appointment, citing her strong background in special education, social-emotional learning, and academic and behavioral systems of support as being among the many reasons she was selected for the position.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jennifer to Oak Park,” Kelley said. “She is an accomplished educator who has extensive experience leading school teams, analyzing data to improve instruction, and increasing access to high-quality education for all students.”

Hussain Ali, Principal of Mann Elementary School

Photo: Hussain AliHussain Ali is returning to District 97 after serving the past two years as the principal of Poupard Elementary School in Grosse Pointe, Mich. He was a student support specialist at Beye Elementary School from August 2015 to March 2017, and was an interim assistant principal at Longfellow Elementary School before accepting his current role. He started his career teaching first and fourth grade classes in Michigan public schools.

“Hussain is an ambitious instructional leader with a unique ability to build strong relationships with staff, students and families,” Kelley said. “I believe his energy and passion for education, coupled with his skills and experience, will help build upon the tradition of excellence at Mann.”

Ali has a bachelor’s degree in education from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in education administration from Michigan State University.

Ali was born in Pakistan, and is a first-generation American. He has three sisters, and will be moving back to Illinois to join his girlfriend and their French bulldog, Jasper.

“I have been dreaming about the opportunity to serve as a principal in Oak Park,” Ali said. “I can't wait to begin meeting Mann students, families, staff and stakeholders, and developing relationships that will promote learning, belonging and efficacy. I'm confident that together we will continue to provide an outstanding learning environment for our students.”

**The March 17 board meeting was held virtually via Zoom. A recording of the meeting will be made available on the district website, www.op97.org, on March 18.