Sullivan tapped as new District 204 superintendent

<p>Karen Sullivan</p>

Karen Sullivan

Karen Sullivan is the new superintendent of Indian Prairie School District 204. She will replace Kathy Birkett, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

The Board of Education on Monday night approved a three-year contract with Sullivan, who currently serves in the district as assistant superintendent of human resources.

Her starting salary will be $238,000.

School Board President Lori Price said Sullivan’s experience in the school district and passion for students made her the best candidate.

“Her focus always has been on students. That is what came across in our interviews and conversations,” Price said.

Price said Sullivan, who lives in Hinsdale, was identified early as a qualified internal candidate.

“We wanted to put her up against the best candidates in the nation,” and the search firm Ray and Associates Inc. in Iowa identified 60 people. Price said that number was whittled down to about a dozen, and then again to six. The six semi-finalists were brought in for interviews and two were identified as finalists.

“Through the process, we found Dr. Sullivan continued to rise to the top. We are giving the community an outstanding superintendent,” Price said.

Sullivan said she will continue the strong communication with the community and district transparency established by Birkett, adding the message will be the same, just the face will change.

She also wants to continue to push the STEM (science, technology, education, math) partnership with Aurora University as well as the online/blended learning classes.

“That’s the future for our students,” she said. “I would like to see every high school student participate in some type of blended learning before graduating.”

A big goal for Sullivan is to look at the diversity in the district and close the gaps in student achievement. Sullivan said she will draw on her experience as principal of Cowlishaw Elementary School from July 2005 to June 2009 and her doctoral dissertation was on principals’ beliefs about their ability to do social justice work in her pursuits.

Price said her record of raising student achievement between 12 and 15 percent at Cowlishaw was one of the reasons that made Sullivan such a qualified candidate.

Working in the district and having been inside every school in the district also helps.

“She’ll be ready to hit the ground running,” Price said.

The biggest challenge Sullivan sees will be in her new role as an ambassador for the district beyond the school community. Sullivan said much of her experience has been in education circles. That circle will significantly get larger.

Sullivan is a familiar face in District 204, with 18 years of experience in the areas of special education, human resources, and leading schools. Since 2011, she has served as assistant superintendent of human resources, where she has established working relationships with the associations that represent the teaching and clerical staffs. As lead negotiator, she worked on both contracts.

Sullivan also served as the first principal of Prairie Children Preschool and the director of student services in District 204.

In addition to working in the Indian Prairie School District, Sullivan served as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Elmhurst Unit School District 205 from 2009-2011. While there, she implemented an intervention system used to better support students with special needs. She also facilitated the incorporation of Common Core State Standards into the district’s curriculum.

Sullivan began her career in 1981 as a speech/language pathologist in the Flossmoor-based South Metropolitan Association, a special education cooperative that provided services to south suburban school districts. She went on to lead the group’s parent/infant program and later was named the director of grants and special projects.

Sullivan, 55, received her bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing and her master’s in speech/language pathology from the University of Illinois. She is married and has two children, a daughter, who attends the University of Illinois, and a son, who is a junior in high school.

The third largest school district in the state, Indian Prairie has three traditional high schools, one alternative high school, seven middle schools, 21 elementary schools, one preschool and a transitional college program. It encompasses 46 square miles and includes portions of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.