Retiring District 25 superintendent discusses medication scandal, pandemic

Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein will retire next week, after a decade at the helm of K-8 district that included navigating through the pandemic and a contentious schools reopening debate, and the recent scandal of a school nurse dispensing the wrong medication to students.

Bein counts those experiences among the most challenging in her 33-year career in education.

“The pandemic was a challenge because our community was split,” Bein said in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Herald this week.

  Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein, right, visits the “Trip Around the World” class taught by Alison Berg on the first day of summer school Thursday at Thomas Middle School. Joe Lewnard/

Of the recent medication misuse case, she said, “kids are involved.”

“Something happened and we don’t know the whole story yet. But something happened and kids are in the middle of that,” said Bein, who paused to wipe back tears. “That’s heart-wrenching to me.”

Bein put the Westgate Elementary School registered nurse on administrative leave in late April after learning of concerns about the employee and the potential misuse of prescription medication intended for student use. A little more than two weeks later, per Bein’s recommendation, the school board fired the nurse.

Arlington Heights police are conducting an investigation, but no criminal charges have been announced.

Bein was asked if there was anything she or other administrators could have done differently.

“We have implemented all required policies, procedures, safeguards. We have more nursing staff than most school districts have. Something like this was never in a frame of reference. You couldn’t have asked me in a million years. I never would have imagined,” she said.

Bein added that the district’s procedures are evaluated by the Illinois State Board of Education every four years, but the district will “do better” and “do more” going forward.

Bein, 56, is retiring at the end of next week, which is about a month before the planned retirement of her husband David Bein, the assistant superintendent of business services in Barrington Area Unit School District 220.

  Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein, who is retiring next week after a decade at the helm of the district, helps direct traffic during the first day of summer school Thursday at Thomas Middle School. Joe Lewnard/

Her successor is Brian Kaye, who has spent 18 of his 25 years in the education field in District 25, including the last 4⅟₂ as assistant superintendent of personnel and planning.

Bein spent about half of the hourlong interview Wednesday morning addressing her response to the pandemic. At the height of tensions — marked by school board meetings that often stretched late into the night — some called for her ouster, amid the cautious school reopening recommendations she endorsed.

But Bein said she wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Despite the raucous public meetings where some were calling for her resignation, she said many more people were sending emails and dropping off gifts as signs of support behind the scenes.

She said she maintained the perspective that criticism of five or 10 people at a meeting or on Facebook was out of 3,500 families and 75,000 residents in the district — and that some of those who came to meetings didn’t live in the district.

“I sleep at night — I go home at the end of a career — feeling proud that everything we did was from a place of doing what we believe was right and good for kids and a community and teachers,” Bein said.

  Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein greets students and parents during the first day of summer school Thursday at Thomas Middle School. Joe Lewnard/

Amid surging COVID-19 cases in the fall of 2020, the board voted 4-3 against Bein’s recommended temporary suspension of in-person learning.

But Bein said she had a productive relationship with her bosses, who gave her a three-year contract extension in the summer of 2021.

“I actually, as a superintendent, appreciate the accountability,” she said. “I appreciate having a group that’s responsible for holding me accountable. … I like that checks and balances piece.”

Bein came to District 25 in 2014 after seven years at the helm of Roselle Elementary District 12. She previously was an assistant superintendent and principal in Skokie-Morton Grove Elementary District 69 and started her career as a seventh grade teacher in Palatine Township Elementary District 15.

The most visible reminder of Bein’s tenure in District 25 is the 11 school building additions to handle growing enrollment and a full-day kindergarten program that begins this fall.

But she says she hopes her legacy is her support of teachers. The Des Plaines native said she wanted to be an educator since her first day of sixth grade at Dempster Junior High.

  Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein greets Jenna Lambert, 9, on the first day of summer school Thursday at Thomas Middle School. Joe Lewnard/

“A teacher’s impact on a kid is immeasurable, and lifelong. We all remember teachers we had, and I believe that teachers’ skill, knowledge, preparation, ongoing training, is stronger than probably any career there is. And by building the confidence and the belief in teachers that they should do what they came here to do — that's how I best impact kids and learning. That's how I help kids grow.”

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