Change abounds at Summit School as president retires, new leaders step in

Summit School Inc. in Elgin is preparing for exciting changes this summer as it welcomes new members to its administrative team and says a bittersweet farewell to President/CEO Johanna F. White.

White enjoyed her last few days with staff and students before retiring on June 30 after 47 years in education. White spent her early career in the Quincy Public School System in central Illinois where she focused on reversing high school dropout trends with successful retention initiatives. In fall 2000, she moved north to bring her expertise to Crystal Lake High School District 47. It was from this job that White had originally intended to retire, but Summit School had other plans for her.

In 2005, White became only the third principal in Summit School history since its founding in 1968 as a private therapeutic educational program for children with learning disabilities from throughout northern Illinois. During her tenure she developed several meaningful initiatives and established a mindfulness program for Summit staff and students that continues today. In 2008, White helped to facilitate the school's move from its original Dundee campus to its current facility on River Road in Elgin. In 2013, Summit School Inc.'s Board of Directors promoted White to her current position as president/CEO.

"Summit School, Inc., Summit School and Summit Early Learning Center have seen tremendous growth under Johanna's leadership," says Board Chair Michael Polchopek. "Her expertise and passion for young people has resulted in meaningful change to both programs and benefitted the lives of thousands of children."

Her commitment to her staff, says Polchopek, is another characteristic that has set White apart in her leadership role. "Johanna made changes to the administrative structure that created a strong team environment and established effective lines of communication across all levels throughout Summit School, Inc.'s programs and staff."

White's positive influence on her staff is evidenced by high staff retention and young teachers who grew into the school's leadership positions under White's guidance.

"Mrs. White has been a mentor to me since early in my teaching career, encouraging me to stretch and grow in the field of special education," says Natalie Gielarowski, now the Summit School Principal. "We are going to miss her but know that her influence will continue to shape our staff and programs for many years to come."

As the board sought White's successor, they knew that they already had the ideal leader on staff to assume the President CEO role. "Karen Romano is highly regarded within her field and throughout Summit," says Polchopek. "We are all excited to see how the entire organization flourishes under her upcoming leadership and are confident in the tremendous talent and unique perspective she brings to her new position."

Romano currently serves as the Director of the Summit Early Learning Center, a program that prepares at-risk 3- to 5-year-old children for kindergarten. Romano has been the Center's only director since its inception and a member of the Summit leadership team since the Center joined Summit School, Inc. in 2003. Under Romano's guidance, the Early Learning Center attained ExceleRate accreditation as a Gold Circle of Quality program in fall 2017.

With Romano's transition comes another opportunity for growth within its leadership structure. On Aug. 1, Linda Breen will become Director of Summit's Early Learning Center. Breen, a current member of the board, is the Director of Early Childhood Education for School District 300, and has worked closely with Romano since joining the Summit board.

As Summit School, Inc. prepares for the 2019-2020 academic year with Romano and Breen in new roles, two tenured staff balance out the administrative team.

Natalie Gielarowski is beginning her third year as the Summit School Principal while Rebecca Gillie continues as the Coordinator of Business.

Both of Summit School, Inc.'s programs are state-accredited as exemplary learning programs for more than 200 at-risk children each year.

To learn more about Summit School, Inc. and its two programs, visit

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.