During its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 27, the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Board of Education approved the appointment of Griff Powell and Patricia Wernet as co-interim superintendents for the 2021-22 school year. They will replace outgoing Superintendent Carol Kelley, who is leaving the district at the end of the school year to serve as superintendent for Princeton Public Schools in New Jersey.
Powell and Wernet are both retired educators with decades of experience as permanent and interim superintendents. They recently worked together during the 2016-17 school year as co-interim superintendents in Glenview School District 34.
“The District 97 Board of Education is very pleased to appoint Dr. Patricia Wernet and Dr. Griff Powell as co-interim superintendents for the 2021-22 school year,” Board President Jung Kim said. “Dr. Wernet and Dr. Powell both come with stellar recommendations and a wealth of experience effectively leading school districts in Illinois, both as permanent superintendents and as interim superintendents. Critically, they bring experience working in school districts with diverse student bodies. We are confident that they will provide effective, steady leadership to District 97 and help ensure that our next permanent superintendent starts their tenure on strong footing.”
Powell comes to District 97 with more than 40 years of experience as an educational leader. He served as superintendent in five districts during his career: Grayslake Community High School District 127, Highwood-Highland Park School District 111, Ramapo Central School District in New York, West Chicago High School District 94 and Niles Township High School District 219. Since retiring, he has served as an interim superintendent for 10 districts, including Berwyn District 100, Rich Township District 227, Lyons Elementary District 103, Riverside District 96, Glenview District 34, West Harvey-Dixmoor District 147 and Country Club Hills District 160. He is currently the interim superintendent in DeKalb Community School District 428.
In addition, Powell has worked for several Illinois universities as a senior lecturer, instructor and clinical assistant professor. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Northern Illinois University and lives in Morton Grove.
Wernet comes to Oak Park with more than 25 years of experience, including four years as the superintendent of Berwyn School District 100 and four years as the superintendent of Lisle Community Unit School District 202. She has served as an interim superintendent in four districts: Frankfort School District 157-C, Lombard School District 44, Glenview School District 34, and—most recently—Berwyn School District 98.
Prior to becoming a superintendent, Wernet held several leadership positions in Palos Community Consolidated School District 118 and was a teacher in Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Aurora University, and resides in Lemont.
Powell will officially begin his role on July 1, while Wernet is likely to begin sooner given her availability. Because the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) limits the number of days a retired superintendent can work each school year, they will divide responsibilities and workdays as needed—a common practice among interim superintendents. A schedule will be established once both are able to meet with the board and the district’s administrative staff.
The District 97 Board of Education worked with the Executive Search team from the Illinois Association of School Boards to identify highly-qualified candidates who would be available to serve as interim superintendents during the upcoming school year. The board and members of the district’s senior administrative team met with three candidates, and the board ultimately selected Powell and Wernet based on their unique strengths and experiences, as well as their complementary leadership styles.
The board’s goal was to have the interim team in place as early as possible in order to begin the transition process prior to July 1. They will work closely with district administrators and school leaders as they continue planning for a safe reopening in the fall.
In the coming weeks, board members will begin evaluating search firms to assist with the permanent superintendent search, which will occur during the upcoming school year. The board is committed to engaging all of its stakeholders in a thorough and inclusive search process to find the next leader of District 97.
Statements from Dr. Griff Powell and Dr. Patricia Wernet
“We are honored to join the District 97 community and look forward to working with the board of education, students, staff and parents to further advance the vision of the district,” Wernet said. “We are here to provide support and are committed to working with both the current administration and future superintendent to ensure a seamless leadership transition.”
“Dr. Wernet and I are both collaborative leaders and welcome input from all stakeholders,” Powell said. “We will dedicate ourselves to serve the students of District 97 by providing the necessary resources and support for our administrators and staff members. Our goal is to maintain stability in the district, allowing the District 97 Board of Education to focus on their most important decision—the hiring of a permanent superintendent.”