'Voice' of District 211 for 26 years retiring
Six superintendents have guided Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 since 1995, but the "voice" of the district has remained the same -- Community Relations Director Tom Petersen.
Petersen is retiring Tuesday, ending a tenure that has witnessed profound changes in how a school district communicates with its community.
"I think everything evolves, and communication really is no different," said Petersen, a Palatine native and Palatine High School grad.
"We really communicated with our parents and community through newsletters and letters. Those took some time to reach their destinations. The expectations are much more immediate today. Social media and websites are two of our primary communication tools now."
Petersen said he's enjoyed the different leadership styles of each of the superintendents he's worked alongside. Though his training is in communications, he feels blessed to have applied it to education -- a multigenerational industry for his family -- and in the community where he grew up.
"I owe a lot to Dr. (Gerald) Chapman," Petersen said. "When he hired me, I think it changed my life. I think there's no greater joy than to come full circle and work in familiar surroundings."
His parents and three daughters are among the trained educators in his family. His late wife, Dana, had been principal of Marion Jordan Elementary School in Palatine before she died from cancer in 2011. His current wife also found a way into the industry through human resources.
With just days to go in the job he loves, Petersen reflected on what made working in education so special.
"I think the most important thing one can do when working for a school district is to put students first," he said.
"Our goal is always to make sure students have an opportunity. ... You liken it your own children. They come in as freshmen, not knowing much, and then you see that evolution, knowing District 211 has prepared them well. It's great to be a part of that."
But the memories of the colleagues he worked alongside are what's most making retiring bittersweet, he added.
"People are the greatest asset any organization has, and that's what I will miss the most about my job."
Apart from working as a summertime custodian during college, Petersen's time in District 211 began in the publications office in 1993, two years before being named community relations coordinator.
As evidence that the responsibilities of the job have and continue to evolve, his successor -- Erin Holmes -- will have the title of communications director rather than community relations director.
Holmes is currently assistant director of community engagement and outreach for Northwest Suburban High School District 214, as well as executive director of the District 214 Education Foundation. She will join District 211 on July 1.