'Visionary' District 155 superintendent plans to retire next year
Superintendent Steve Olson is set to retire at the end of June 2023 from Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 after almost four decades at the district.
Making his way up from a social science teacher starting in 1985, Olson served in several capacities within District 155 during his tenure, including as Crystal Lake Central High School principal for 16 years. He also worked in the district as a guidance counselor, athletic director, dean of students and vice-principal before becoming superintendent five years ago.
"It's been a journey," he said. "I've had the good fortune of having a variety of roles in the district."
Olson said rising to superintendent wasn't something he thought about until deep into his career. He knew early on he wanted to be a high school principal, but the desire to be a superintendent didn't develop until he got into various leadership positions and felt he had a chance to make it into that kind of role.
Jason Blake, vice president of District 155′s board of education, said Olson's rise came after the previous superintendent left for another job, saddling the district with the need for a new top administrator.
After they brought on Olson as the interim superintendent at the time, Blake said it became immediately apparent that Olson had some "amazing leadership skills." He said Olson has also excelled at bringing the community together.
"He's been a visionary on a lot of different things," Blake said. "There was a lot of uncertainty, and Steve was able to calm those waters."
Coming up on his 38th year in education, Olson said while he still has the energy and a love for the job, he views his leaving as an opportunity for somebody to step in and lead the district in another direction.
Looking back at his proudest achievements, Olson pointed to the work he and the district did on strategic planning. Throughout that planning, he said, the district made strides in career planning for students and preparing them for the world.
The planning brought about a five-year program that included a new mission statement: "Enter with promise and leave with purpose." He said that planning has driven much of the decision-making over the course of his tenure.
"It's allowed us to do some new and innovative things for kids," Olson said. "I think the district's in a good place from an academic standpoint, from a financial standpoint and getting through ... COVID."
The other thing he said he finds the most pride in is bringing the college readiness program Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, to Crystal Lake Central while he was principal.
"We've been blessed by a very supportive community, wonderful students, and a lot of alumni that find their way back to the community in which they grew up in," he said.
Olson said originally he signed a four-year deal with the district, but opted to stay on for a couple more years as District 155 waded through the coronavirus pandemic.
Black said during the past two years, Olson put the kids first and "always (did) the right thing."
"I applaud him for all the steps he's taking," Blake said. "He's a man of integrity, and we're going to surely miss him."
With Olson leaving, the district will be launching into a superintendent search. At the same meeting Olson's retirement was formally announced, board members received a presentation from the Illinois Association of School Boards on the potential services they could offer the district during the search.
The board opted at that point not to formally approve any partnership.
Blake said the role of superintendent is something a person needs to have "a lot of passion for," calling it a tough position. But ultimately, he wants to also continue the strategy developed by Olson and the board, as well as someone who can be a leader to a similar level as Olson.
"The person that's going to take over this position has big shoes to fill," he said.