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Neuqua Valley freshman facility to be named for outgoing superintendent

The Neuqua Valley High School Gold Campus will be renamed the Kathryn J. Birkett Center, after the retiring superintendent who also was the school's first principal.  |  Suzanne Baker ~  Sun-Times Media
The Neuqua Valley High School Gold Campus will be renamed the Kathryn J. Birkett Center, after the retiring superintendent who also was the school's first principal. | Suzanne Baker ~ Sun-Times Media

Retiring Indian Prairie School District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett got a bit of surprise this week — the kind that will last for a good, long time.

After approving a proclamation in her honor, the School Board approved renaming the freshman building at Neuqua Valley High School in her honor.

Neuqua Valley Principal Robert McBride joked that the only other district facility named after Birkett was a detention pond, saying “that really is not the kind of legacy you should have.”

McBride noted the appropriateness of naming the freshman facility for the person most responsible for its existence, saying that she understood the “importance of a freshman having a full high school experience … I can’t think of anything more appropriate.”

Birkett choked up at the mention of the freshman facility being named in her honor.

“For me, the freshman campus speaks of kids,” she said, stressing that her best memory of the district was that “we’ve always put kids first.”

Birkett presided over her last School Board meeting Monday night. She is retiring from a 35-year career in education spent entirely in Indian Prairie School District 204.

“It’s really been a blessing,” she told the Board of Education, stressing that she couldn’t think of a better place to spend her career. “I’ve had the best superintendency in the country.”

Birkett, originally from North Carolina, grew up in Illinois and graduated from St. Charles High School, after which she earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University, a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and a doctorate in educational administration, also from NIU.

She began her career in District 204 in 1979 as a physical education teacher at Waubonsie Valley High School, which at the time included a middle school and was home to about 400 students.

Birkett’s career includes being the inaugural principal at both Steck Elementary School and Neuqua Valley High School, after which she served as deputy superintendent before taking over the reins of District 204 in 2009.

Birkett said that she has no regrets about her time as superintendent, but hinted at the budget headaches so many school districts have faced in recent years.

“We’re financially in good shape and academics are at an all-time high,” she said.

Birkett’s last official day on the job is May 30, after which she said she plans to take the entire summer off to relax.

She hasn’t made definite plans for the future, but said she will likely do some consulting, while holding out hope to travel and learn a foreign language.

Birkett’s replacement is Karen Sullivan, who has served as District 204 assistant superintendent of Human Resources since 2011.

Her initial contract is for three years at a yearly salary of $238,000, with 2 percent increases scheduled for the second and third years of the agreement.

“I’m excited,” she said before this week’s School Board meeting. “Kathy’s a hard act to follow, and she’s been a great mentor to me.”

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