A longtime North suburban school administrator, Heidi Wennstrom, has been named superintendent of Oak Brook's Butler Elementary District 53.
She will assume her new duties July 1, replacing Sandra Martin at the helm of the high-performing district that serves roughly 435 students at one elementary school and one junior high. Martin is retiring after 10 years in the superintendent's post.
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The District 53 school board is expected to formally approve the appointment on Monday, Jan. 14. Wennstrom, who currently serves as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park and Highwood, will receive a three-year contract with a base salary of $195,000 in the first year.
She previously served as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Antioch District 34.
District 53 officials said they held community and staff focus groups and conducted surveys to develop a leadership profile to help guide their search. They reviewed 75 applications and interviewed seven candidates before selecting Wennstrom.
Ironically, Wennstrom didn't originally apply for the job, school board President Alan Hanzlik said Thursday. The district approached her after its search firm suggested her as a possible option.
Hanzlik said Wennstrom is coming from a much larger district with 4,462 students, but it shares many of the same characteristics as Butler. He said officials were impressed by her ability to collaborate, her energy and her focus on high academic achievement.
"The main factor is she is a real academic professional," Hanzlik said. "She really is an educator's educator."
"I think I wanted to be a teacher when I was 6 years old," Wennstrom said, and she remains "all about child advocacy and educational skills."
"I'm still a teacher at heart," she said.
Hanzlik said Butler's relatively compact size helped lure Wennstrom. "It's going to allow her to really focus ... now she can really specialize and focus ... on knowing every student and their parents," he said.
Wennstrom agrees. She said she sees District 53 as a "premier district with a proven track record for educational excellence" for both current and future students, but she's also attracted by the possibility for more one-on-one communication.
She said she began her career in a K-8 district and "I knew every family and their children. It's very rewarding to have an opportunity to get to know families and children and staff that well."
"Making a difference in the lives of children is at the heart of everything I do," she said.
Wennstrom began her career as an elementary teacher, working in both Antioch and Libertyville. In 2001, she was named principal of Hillcrest School in Antioch District 34 and four years later was appointed the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
An Antioch resident, Wennstrom received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Trinity International University, her master's in educational leadership from Northeastern Illinois University, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Loyola University. She is working toward another doctorate in educational leadership and policy from National Louis University.