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New DeKalb superintendents talk district leadership transition amid COVID-19 pandemic

DeKALB - After meeting with each member of the DeKalb School District 428 board, interim superintendent Griff Powell said he's optimistic about taking over the role with Ray Lechner.

Approved last week by the board in a unanimous vote, Powell said he and Lechner are ready to hit the ground running when they officially take over for Jamie Craven on July 1.

"We started talking to Jamie (the week of June 8)," Powell said. "We've met with him, we've met with all the cabinet members (June 16). We've talked individually with every single board member. What I told the board is true: They have so much in common and so many good intentions for this community and the students here and our job is to get them to work together."

Powell and Lechner both come from the Center Cass School District, a kindergarten through eighth grade district serving Downers Grove, Woodridge and Darien.

D428 will be Lechner's second go-around as an interim superintendent and the tenth for Powell. They will both split a $1,000 a day salary without benefits until a permanent replacement can be found.

Powell said that could be as soon as this year.

"We're hoping by December, maybe January, they'll already have a hire, a person who will start July 2021," Powell said. "However we will then start a transition plan and work with that person so that by July 2021 that person had a very seamless transition into the job. And I've already done this nine times."

Lechner said he enjoyed his experience at Center Cass and is excited for this go around.

"I'm excited about this," Lechner said. "This is my second interim position. The first was with Griff last year, and it's a really wonderful opportunity. You're running the schools every day but you're also like a consultant, identifying areas to grow. We give feedback to the school board and they take those opportunities. It's usually a very positive, supportive experience and I'm excited about that."

Lechner said his role is two-fold, with the first thing being to help navigate through a COVID-19 world.

The Illinois State Board of Education released their guidelines for in-person schooling on Tuesday, making sure classes happen in the fall a focal point, with a backup plan for remote learning if necessary.

"The COVID experience is really a big deal," Lechner said. "Fortunately we've had the opportunity to work together and address COVID in the district we're in right now. So we come armed with some tools to help the district transition."

Powell said the pandemic has changed the face of education dramatically.

"Every teacher when it comes to COVID-19 is a first-year probationary teacher. And every administrator is a first-year administrator," Powell said. "Because nobody has experience with this. We are all learning as we go along. What we did in DuPage County, we met weekly with all the superintendents in the county along with health officials and started talking about what we're doing currently and what the future is going to look like."

The other aspect of the job, Lechner said, is handling as much of the day-to-day aspect as possible so the board can focus on naming a new superintendent.

"They are truly embracing diversity," Lechner said. "They are reflecting on our practices and policies to make sure we develop, support and provide an education for every single child regardless of their differences."

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