Naperville Unit District 203, already losing its captain this summer, has learned a first mate also is jumping ship.
Superintendent Mark Mitrovich and Chief Academic Officer Kathy Duncan both are leaving the district June 30, just months before the school board is expected to restart conversations about installing an all-day kindergarten program, instituting the second phase of a two-phase boundary plan and preparing for the adoption of the Common Core curriculum standards.
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Mitrovich announced his resignation two weeks ago. But Duncan surprised many board members by announcing her resignation via email Sunday night and accepting the newly created position of chief academic officer Monday night in neighboring Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
Naperville board President Mike Jaensch was visibly upset Monday night when asked if he knew District 204 had approved Duncan's hiring.
"They did? Bummer. You'd be surprised how late I found that out, " Jaensch said following his own board's meeting. "I was notified (Sunday) and I had no idea before that. Absolutely no idea.
"Obviously we hate to see her go. It apparently was in the works for a while since I know that position was announced last year."
He wasn't the only one caught off guard. Board members Dave Weeks and Terry Fielden also said they were "shocked" and "disappointed" to get her resignation email from Mitrovich Sunday night.
"I didn't see that one coming at all," Weeks said, adding Duncan is in the category of "the top one or two people you don't want to lose."
"It's disappointing that she decided to leave but it's her career. She has to do what's best for her," Fielden said. "I was certain (District 204) would say yes, but I was hoping they'd say no. Such is life I guess."
Duncan's new post in District 204 will combine the positions of assistant superintendent of curriculum and deputy superintendent.
District 204 is familiar to Duncan. Prior to joining District 203 in 2010 she spent 14 years in Indian Prairie as a teacher, student services coordinator, principal and assistant superintendent of instructional services.
As chief academic officer, she will be responsible for developing and implementing programs that reflect the district's goals to directly benefit each student. She also will serve as the ranking administrator in the absence of Superintendent Kathy Birkett.
Birkett described Duncan as a passionate educator who is focused on doing what is best for students.
"We are fortunate to have Kathy return to our district," Birkett said. "Our students and staff will benefit tremendously from her knowledge and experience."
Duncan saw the posting of the position, which was created last year, and applied for it.
"I was very intrigued by a new opportunity here with some new responsibilities in a familiar place," Duncan said after being introduced in District 204. "I was fortunate enough to be provided a great opportunity to come to 204 and back to where I've spent a lot of my career with familiar people and great people. There are great people in both districts regardless of which one you are looking at. It was one of those opportunities that came along. I gave it significant thought and I just couldn't pass it by."
Duncan's base salary and payment in the Teacher Retirement System will increase from roughly $152,000 to $175,000 annually.
Duncan thinks her job will be very similar and said the two districts are not that different.
"There is so much going on in education today that all of the pieces have to operate together in order to support our children the way that they deserve to be supported and to give our teachers what they need to take care of our kids," she said.
Despite losing Duncan, Jaensch and several board members say District 203 remains in good shape and is well-positioned to tackle the major items on its agenda.
"Obviously that's a very important position in the district so we'll have to work with Mark (Mitrovich) and whoever the interim (superintendent) is to account for that somehow going forward. But we do have a lot of depth, kind of like the Chicago Bulls," Jaensch said. "We'll just have to press on but we have a deep bench. We have some super people working downstairs in the curriculum and teaching areas."
"It's hard to tell, hard to tell (if her loss will affect the district's momentum with all- day kindergarten, boundaries and Common Core)," he said. "We have some really strong people in that department who can pick up the work that Kathy's been doing. So I think we'll lean on them pretty heavily."
Fielden specifically mentioned Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Jennifer Hester as someone who will play a vital role in the next several months.
"Jennifer Hester and Kathy walked arm-and-arm so whatever Kathy was working on, Jennifer can step in without skipping a beat," Fielden said. "And that's key, because we have a lot to get done."
The board is expected to announce an in-house candidate to replace Mitrovich later this week and that interim superintendent will decide how to replace Duncan.