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updated: 3/12/2014 2:09 PM

Indian Prairie administrator to take reins in East Aurora

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  • Longtime Indian Prairie Unit District 204 administrator Michael Popp has been named superintendent of East Aurora School District 131.

    Longtime Indian Prairie Unit District 204 administrator Michael Popp has been named superintendent of East Aurora School District 131.
    Courtesy of East Aurora School District 131

By Matt Hanley
East Aurora School District 131

A longtime administrator in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Michael Popp, has been named superintendent of East Aurora School District 131.

The East Aurora school board voted unanimously this week to hire Popp, 48, who currently is the executive director for teaching and learning for kindergarten through 12th grade in District 204. Popp is scheduled to begin working April 1 in East Aurora.

He replaces Jerome Roberts, who will retire March 28 after serving as superintendent since 2006.

"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. "I've worked in this area for most of my career, so I'm well aware of the incredible talents in East Aurora School District 131, as well as the challenges we face."

Popp has worked in education for 26 years.

Achievement gap

Popp has been working in his current position in Indian Prairie since 2011. In that role, he provides leadership and support to 34 schools in Aurora, Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Naperville.

From 2010 to 2011, he was the director of leadership services for Indian Prairie. At that time, he helped open two new buildings and led the parent diversity advisory council that created equity goals for each school in the district.

For the past 10 years, Popp has been deeply involved in an Indian Prairie initiative to increase student achievement, particularly among minority students. He helped shape and monitor district goals that focused on high student achievement while closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

In District 204, one of four students live in a home where the predominant language is something other than English.

Popp's team at Indian Prairie collected data, consulted experts, and used available research to develop a comprehensive strategy to open new opportunities for students. From this work, Popp realized he had to raise expectations for himself, for his staff and the students.

He pushed to enroll more students who showed academic achievement into Advanced Placement classes, where many soared. For the past four years, Indian Prairie has been named to the "AP District Honor Roll," which recognizes districts that increase access to, and achievement on, Advanced Placement exams. Indian Prairie was one of only 17 districts in the United States and Canada to achieve the honor four consecutive years.

"We can't simply say: Those kids aren't going to make it," Popp said. "We have to help every child dream, and we use education to cultivate that dream."

Popp calls the work on reducing the opportunity and achievement gaps one of the highlights of his educational career, which began in 1988.

Always a teacher

Popp grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Because of the profound influence teachers had on his life, he knew early on he wanted to work in education.

In 1988, Popp earned his bachelor's degree of special studies from Cornell College in Iowa. He later earned a master of arts in educational leadership from Aurora University in 1995 and a doctorate in education from Aurora University in 2004.

Popp began his teaching career at his alma mater, St. Rita High School in Chicago, where he taught English and served as the yearbook adviser, soccer coach, folk music coordinator and karate club moderator. From there, he moved to Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, where he taught English and coached soccer. He went on to work as a dean at Waubonsie Valley, monitoring student attendance and discipline issues.

He spent the next eight years as an assistant or associate principal at Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley high schools. During that time, he worked on hiring and evaluating staff, selecting and purchasing textbooks, negotiating contracts, increasing parental involvement, coordinating building security and planning long-term initiatives.

From 2004 to 2008, he was principal at Neuqua Valley High School, where he provided leadership to 4,400 students and more than 400 staff members. As principal, he led the school's building Equity Leadership team, which focused on eliminating achievement gaps. He earned a reputation as a dynamic and inclusive leader.

"Mike Popp is an outstanding administrator, with an excellent understanding of educational practices and programs," said Linda Rakestraw, Indian Prairie assistant superintendent for secondary leadership services. "His many achievements as a building and district level administrator, his passion for teaching and learning, his sincere love of children, and his commitment to excellence, will definitely ensure his success as the next superintendent of the East Aurora School District."

Popp has his licensures to teach English, in general administration and as a superintendent.

Selection process

Earlier this month, another candidate for superintendent of East Aurora School District 131 withdrew to pursue opportunities in his home district. Popp previously had been interviewed by the board during the superintendent search and stood out for his breadth of experience and his work with issues that directly affect District 131.

"The board discussed multiple options and candidates, including an interim superintendent," board President Annette Johnson said. "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."

To select the superintendent, the board used criteria gathered from surveys; in-person interviews with parents, community leaders and members of the public; as well as two forums that were open to any member of the public.

The search firm hired by the school board gathered more than 400 comments from 16 different groups. More than 125 community members provided written feedback in English and Spanish. The board used that feedback to develop the criteria that guided it search.