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updated: 7/5/2012 12:12 PM

District 88 superintendent retires after 42 years in education

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  • Steve Humphrey, superintendent of DuPage High School District 88, is retiring after more than a decade leading the district and 42 years in education.

      Steve Humphrey, superintendent of DuPage High School District 88, is retiring after more than a decade leading the district and 42 years in education.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer


Depending on how you look at it, there are two ways to measure Steve Humphrey's 11-year tenure leading DuPage High School District 88.

As superintendent since 2001, the biggest undertaking during his time at the helm was the five-year, $115 million Building the Future project that dramatically modernized Addison Trail and Willowbrook High schools by the time it was complete in 2010.

But as he steps down from his post, ask those who worked closely with him about his biggest impact, or even ask Humphrey himself, and you might hear something different.

"How do you sum up these years except to say he's always been about being the best we can be as a school district," Donna Craft Cain, District 88 school board president, said. "He's about giving kids every opportunity to succeed no matter what their background or what their abilities are, and understanding that students blossom at different times."

Humphrey already had nearly 30 years in education under his belt when he came to lead District 88 more than a decade ago.

After earning his undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University, Humphrey was hired in 1970 as a history teacher for three years at Brown County High School in downstate Mount Sterling. He later served as principal of Seymour High School in Payson, then as assistant administrator and assistant principal for a decade at Thornridge High School in Dolton.

During his early career he earned graduate degrees from Western Illinois, his doctorate from Illinois State University, and spent five more years as assistant superintendent at Thornton Township High School District 205. He would serve as superintendent at Crete-Monee Unit District 201 for eight years before joining District 88.

But even though he had a firm grasp on what his job would entail in District 88, Humphrey said he discovered something he didn't expect. In addition to a "wonderful" board of education, students and staff at both high schools, Humphrey said he also found parents and the community were intensely invested in the future of the roughly 4,100 teens at Addison Trail and Willowbrook.

"There was such a positive interaction between (everyone) on what's good for kids, and it's sometimes hard to create that dynamic," Humphrey said. "All that energy, everyone coming together, was so positive. That's what I'll remember, that's what was so incredible.

"To see all these things happening, kids learning at higher levels, the addition of all these advanced placement classes; that is really exciting, to be on a team with people who make that happen. It's not one person. It's a lot of people."

That synergy is part of what helped voters approve a measure to raise taxes for Building the Future the first time it appeared on the ballot. Such approval is unusual on the first try, but students, parents and District 88 staff worked together to raise awareness in the community on why they believed the project was important.

Both schools received major upgrades, including new science labs, wireless Internet access and upgraded athletic fields.

"It cost a lot of money to do those things, but taxpayers are excited when they see those buildings being used. We keep kids busy in the community," he said.

"The Polish school, for example, can use our classrooms in the evenings and on the weekends, and the seniors can use our track. That's what you really take away from the job. We really are proud of what we did together."

As Humphrey departs, former Addison Trail Principal Scott Helton has been promoted to replace him. Helton has been transitioning under the departing superintendent throughout the past school year.

Still, Humphrey is not leaving education behind completely. Soon, he will join the Rosemont-based ECRA Group, a research and analytics consulting firm composed of researchers and Ph.D. statisticians. His new work, he said, will involve researching and analyzing school data, aiding in superintendent searches and doing leadership program planning.

"They do a lot of things I believe in," Humphrey said. "When schools have major shifts in leadership, there's that turnover and transition time, so you want to support that in some way and help them move to different levels. I feel like I still have a lot to contribute."

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