East Aurora names new superintendent

AURORA — A 24-year veteran of Indian Prairie School District 204 was selected on Monday night as East Aurora School District’s next superintendent.

Michael Popp, 48, was approved by the East Aurora School Board as the district’s next top official less than two weeks after the board’s first choice reversed his decision to accept the superintendent position.

Jesse Rodriguez, a Milwaukee Public Schools regional superintendent, said he would remain in Milwaukee, citing “a unique set of circumstances.”

Rodriguez did not return phone calls asking him to elaborate, but East Aurora said in a news release Monday that Rodriguez “withdrew to pursue opportunities in his home district,” where the superintendent recently announced he would be leaving to head Baltimore City Public Schools.

According to the news release, the East Aurora School Board decided to offer the job to Popp, who was among the board’s original pool of candidates, instead of appointing an interim superintendent and continuing the search, as the district had previously announced.

“The Board discussed multiple options and candidates, including an interim superintendent,” Board President Annette Johnson said in the news release. “We all felt that the best course of action was to hire Dr. Popp, an extremely qualified person who met all of the public’s criteria, as soon as possible.”

Popp already holds an Illinois superintendent’s license, according to his resumé. Rodriguez did not hold an in-state superintendent’s license and had been in the process of seeking one when he withdrew his acceptance of the position.

According to state records, Rodriguez began the license application process on Feb. 3, the same day he was selected by the East Aurora School Board. Those records show that as of Monday, Rodriguez had not met all the necessary requirements to hold an Illinois superintendent’s license.

East Aurora’s sitting Superintendent Jerome Roberts will retire March 28 after leading the district for eight years. Popp is scheduled to begin his position on April 1.

Education career

A Chicago native, Popp began his career in education 26 years ago as an English teacher at the same high school he attended as a teen.

For the last three years, he has been Indian Prairie’s executive director for teaching and learning for kindergarten to 12th grade. According to his resumé, his job entails hiring principals and other administrators, helping the district transition to a new school improvement planning model, investigating staff misconduct and hearing student suspension appeals.

“I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to continue working for Aurora students, and I am tremendously excited about the opportunity to work with the staff in East Aurora School District 131,” Popp said Monday in a news release. Popp’s annual salary will be $215,800.

Popp was a finalist for at least three other superintendent openings in the state this school year: at Springfield Public Schools, Woodstock District 200 and Unit 5, which serves Bloomington and Normal. All three districts announced they had hired other candidates.

Popp began working at Indian Prairie in 1990 at Waubonsie Valley High School, where he worked as an English teacher, dean of students and assistant principal.

In 1997 he began an 11-year tenure at Neuqua Valley High School where he climbed the ladder from assistant principal to principal, a job he held for four years. He served for two years as Indian Prairie’s director of school improvement and planning and for one year as the district’s director of leadership services.

Popp began his teaching career in 1988 at St. Rita of Cascia High School, an all-male Catholic prep school on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

He holds a doctorate in education and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Aurora University, as well as a bachelor’s degree of special studies from Iowa’s Cornell College.

East Aurora said in its news release that Popp has been “deeply involved in an Indian Prairie initiative to increase student achievement, particularly among minority students” for the last decade.

Indian Prairie’s student body is nearly twice the size of East Aurora’s, according to 2013 state data, and has significantly fewer students who are Hispanic, low-income or not yet proficient in English.

Indian Prairie had about 28,400 students enrolled last year, about 55 percent of whom were white, 21 percent were Asian, 10 percent were Hispanic and 9 percent were black.

Among East Aurora’s 14,800 students, 85 percent were Hispanic, 9 percent were black, 4 percent were white and 1 percent were Asian.

About 5 percent of Indian Prairie students were English-language learners and 19 percent were low-income last year. At East Aurora, 37 percent were English-language learners and 90 percent were low-income.