DeKALB – Jamie Craven said he wasn’t actively looking to leave his role as DeKalb School District 428 superintendent, but when he found out a position in Peru became available, he couldn’t resist.
Craven announced at Tuesday’s District 428 board meeting he’d be leaving after three years in DeKalb. On Wednesday, Peru Elementary District 125 unanimously approved him, setting up his return to the same community where he started professionally. He’ll remain in DeKalb through June. The school board will meet Friday to discuss soliciting an independent search firm to begin the process for filling Craven’s role, for which he’s currently paid $202,000 annually.
“It’s not like we were out there surfing the job banks looking for superintendent positions,” Craven said. “There was a superintendent open just a few miles north of us, which the Sycamore job would have been a great job as Kathy [Countryman] is retiring. But I didn’t pursue the Sycamore job, again, knowing it’s going to be a really good job.”
But while he said the Sycamore job didn’t attract his attention, the Peru one did. He started his career in the early ’90s at LaSalle-Peru High School.
His wife, Jodee, grew up in the area as well. Craven also has four daughters – three are in college, and one is getting ready to start the fifth grade next year.
“It wasn’t so much looking to leave the district as it was this opportunity,” Craven said. “As we got into it, we liked what we were seeing, so we went ahead and went after it.”
Craven was approved by the DeKalb school board in June 2017, taking over for interim superintendent Brad Hawk, who in turn had been on the job for a couple months after taking over for Doug Moeller. Moeller resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal that still has not gone to trial.
At the time, Craven said he wanted to bring stability to the district. Three years later, he said he’s accomplished that – with some help.
“It isn’t just me,” Craven said. “I’ve had Sarah Abate, who is the HR director who came on at the same time I did,” Craven said. “This cabinet staff, we’ve had to work hard to restore the trust and really needed to get things done. And all of the building administrators contributed to that as well as the leaders of the different labor groups. We’ve had to work hard together to restore that trust.”
He said he feels the district is in a strong position.
“This has been a great opportunity and I’ve enjoyed the past three years here,” Craven said. “I feel like we’ve gotten a lot done. We’ve made a lot of progress with a lot of areas. And, I’ll say it, I’m pleased with where I’m leaving it. I think this district is in good shape for the next superintendent coming in.”
Craven listed four things that came to mind when asked about an achievement that made him proud. He said he felt as if the district has done right by the budget and done their best to keep the tax rate from spiking in the next few years. He also pointed to the hires made to help students in social-emotional areas.
In addition to pointing out the 18 to 21 program, he said the lease of an empty elementary school building could have a lasting impact.
“We’re going to have to delay the progress of the Cheseboro-Menta group agreement just because of all this COVID-19. But it’s going to happen, I know it will happen. We were ready to sign the paperwork before this all started. Getting that therapeutic day school here in town is going to be a huge asset for the district and surrounding districts.”
Craven praised the staff’s dedication to students as well.
But he also said the opportunity to go to a smaller district was very appealing. He came to DeKalb from Rochelle.
“In Rochelle, I knew all the teachers, and I knew all the secretaries and maintenance staff,” Craven said. “I knew the kids and all the administrators. I feel so many layers removed from the students and teachers. I felt more like a CEO of a $95 million corporation than I did a school administrator.”