Lemon says District 68 'The best job of my career, bar none'
Two big cardboard boxes filled with gifts for teachers were delivered Wednesday to Oak Grove School in Green Oaks by a just-graduated eighth-grader.
The gesture says something about the student and community connection with the single-school K-8 district and its leaders, including Lonny Lemon, who toted the boxes inside.
After eight years as superintendent of Oak Grove District 68, Lemon managed to get a little more work done before calling it a career and turning over the keys to his successor, Allison Sherman.
Lemon, who was hired at Oak Grove to start the 2012-13 school year, said he never took a sick day in a 37-year academic career. He long ago had given notice he would be leaving, and Wednesday was his last day.
"This has been the best job of my career, bar none," he said. "I'd rather walk out on my own terms and leave early than stay too long and be shown the door."
Sherman was hired late last year to lead the National Blue Ribbon award-winning district and since Feb. 26 has worked in tandem with Lemon as associate superintendent.
They had three weeks of relatively normal working conditions until all schools were ordered closed March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic. They confronted remote learning and other aspects of an altered academic landscape.
Sherman continues work on in-person learning, teacher training and other aspects with a priority of opening school safely.
And she'll have a greater opportunity to focus as Lemon has provided stability and gotten some potential heavy issues under control.
He engineered a strong foundation for Sherman by bringing facilities up to date and establishing a solid relationship with teachers.
The affable Lemon oversaw a five-year, $14 million building program to modernize the original 1950s-era building and multiple additions to create a progressive, technically advanced facility.
In March, teachers signed a second consecutive five-year contract. That has cleared the way to concentrate on academics.
"You don't need another Lonny Lemon. You need a strong curriculum leader, and they've got exactly that now," he said of Sherman. "I want her to succeed."
Before coming to Oak Grove, Sherman oversaw an Illinois State Board of Education program to ensure every child was learning and on the path to college and a career.
Sherman said she got to know the Oak Grove culture and its stakeholders, develop relationships with teachers and students and see the staff and parents persevere through crisis. She said its strong teaching and parental culture didn't happen by chance.
"Family -- it was a word that was said to me in the first few weeks," she said. "But after the experience of the last few months, I saw it and I felt it."
Lemon said he isn't sure what to expect in retirement but wants to exercise more, read for leisure and become proficient in Spanish.
"That's really important to me," he said.
The last goal is a nod to his long-standing annual mission with the help of custodians, bus drivers and others of collecting and delivering pencils -- an estimated 35,000 during his time at Oak Grove -- to a poor school in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Lemon also raised $15,000 for 150 new school desks for the school and is working on getting them new equipment.