Meet Our New Administrators as Back to School Quickly Approaches

Meet Our New Administrators as Back to School Quickly Approaches

PHOTO: District 401's new administrators recently gathered for a group picture before the start of a back-to-school training session. For more information and a larger version of the photo, please scroll down. 

District 401, under the leadership of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nicolas Wade, enters the 2018-19 school year with 10 new administrators, including two who have been hired for the newly created District-level position of special education coordinator.

The new administrators are:

Ms. Sara Barrick | Special Education Coordinator for Grades 7 to 12
Ms. Kyleen Coia | Assistant Principal, Elmwood Park High School
Ms. Ashley Groeneveld | Assistant Principal, Elm Middle School
Ms. Stephanie Hagins | Assistant Principal, Elmwood Elementary School
Mr. Matthew Lerner | Principal, Elmwood Elementary School
Ms. Katie Plum | Dean of Students, Elmwood Park High School
Mr. Kevin Seibel | Principal, Early Childhood Center
Ms. Rebecca Siegel | Principal, Elm Middle School
Mr. Joseph Sierra | Director, Buildings & Grounds
Ms. Pamela Stutzman | Special Education Coordinator for Grades Pre-K to 6

Some of our new administrators have been with District 401 for several years, while others are new to the community. Please scroll down to learn more about each.

Welcome to all, and good luck as the first day of school — Wednesday, Aug. 15 — fast approaches!

New D401 administrators.

PHOTO: Seated from left are Stephanie Hagins, Elmwood assistant principal; Matthew Lerner, Elmwood principal; Kevin Seibel, ECC principal; Kyleen Coia, EPHS assistant principal. Standing from left are Ashley Groeneveld, Elm assistant principal; Rebecca Siegel, Elm principal; Katie Plum, EPHS dean of students; Pamela Stutzman, D401 special education coordinator; Sara Barrick, D401 special education coordinator. Not pictured: Joseph Sierra, buildings & grounds director. Photo by Dave Porreca, D401 web/media specialist (click image for larger version).

Sara Barrick, Special Education Coordinator, D401

Sara Barrick mugshotDistrict 401's new special education coordinator for grades 7 to 12, Ms. Sara Barrick, is a native of nearby Oak Park. During her student days at Oak Park River Forest High School, she realized that becoming a psychologist would fit well with her interests and skills.

"I seemed to be a good listener, and I had a strong desire to help people, especially my friends," she recalled.

"This led me to think seriously about a career in some form of psychology, possibly child psychology, so I decided to pursue an undergrad degree in psychology."

Ms. Barrick majored in the subject at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. As a junior, she learned about the field of school psychology and quickly realized that working in education as a psychologist would be her career path.

After graduating from NIU, she earned both a master's degree in educational psychology and an educational specialist degree in school psychology from Loyola University Chicago.

Beginning in August 2008, Ms. Barrick spent 10 years in Community Consolidated School District 59 working as a school psychologist at Forest View Elementary School in Mount Prospect. In addition, she served as CCSD 59's co-lead school psychologist from August 2016 to June 2017.

During her time in CCSD 59 she earned a second master's degree, an M.A. in school leadership from Concordia University Chicago, and a director of special education endorsement, also from Concordia.

"The school psychologist role has many leadership components to it, and I found that while I loved my time working directly with kids, I also really enjoyed the leadership roles in my position," Ms. Barrick said. 

"After working for 10 years at Forest View, I was ready to continue to grow as a professional and to increase my opportunities to make a bigger impact on a school district instead of just one school."

In her new position, Ms. Barrick will serve as District 401's special education coordinator along with Ms. Pamela Stutzman.

Under the supervision of Director for Student Services Dr. Kari Smith, Ms. Barrick will oversee special education and related services, procedures and communication for Elm Middle and Elmwood Park High, as well as for students who are placed out-of-district who would attend those schools. Ms. Stutzman will have similar responsibilities for the Early Childhood Center, John Mills Elementary and Elmwood Elementary.

"The Elmwood Park position interested me right away since I am somewhat familiar with the community having grown up not too far away," Ms. Barrick said. "I was also really interested in how focused the District seems to be with SEL [social and emotional learning]."

Ms. Barrick lives in Oak Park and enjoys fitness, dance, movies, and time spent with family and friends.

Kyleen Coia, Assistant Principal, EPHS

Kyleen Coia mugshotThe new assistant principal of Elmwood Park High School, Ms. Kyleen Coia, is beginning her 12th year in education and her third year in District 401. She was previously a dean of students at EPHS from 2016 to 2018.

She arrived in Elmwood Park after working for six years in Cicero School District 99: first as a school social worker at Wilson Elementary (2010-13) and Unity Junior High (2013-14), then as a supervisor/behavior interventionist in D99's Emotional Supports Program (2014-15) and assistant principal at Unity (2015-16).

"While in college, I had an internship experience to teach middle school students through a drug awareness program, and boom! That's when I knew I wanted to work in schools," Ms. Coia said. "From there on, I began my path into becoming an educator."

A North Riverside native who graduated from Riverside Brookfield High School, Ms. Coia attended the University of Illinois at Chicago for two years before transferring to Aurora University. She graduated from Aurora with a bachelor's degree in social work. She later earned two master's degrees: one in school social work from UIC, and another in educational leadership from Concordia University Chicago.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Ms. Coia began her career in education as a school social worker for The Menta Group at Fox Tech & Trade Center, an alternative therapeutic day school in North Aurora. 

"I loved this job!" Ms. Coia recalled. "My responsibilities included helping support students who had been removed from their schools due to behavioral issues, suspension or expulsion with the goal of improving academic and behavioral success to reintegrate them back into their home schools.

"As my first job in education, it helped me to understand the importance of students learning to develop a growth mindset, to assist them in overcoming extremely challenging situations and see success on the other side of those situations. Every day was something new and exciting and really taught me to think on my feet! First jobs are always great learning experiences!"

Ms. Coia also worked at Menta's Hillside Academy, spending a total of three years with the Menta Group, a nonprofit that operates programs and schools for at-risk students in Illinois and Arizona. She then left Menta to work in Cicero.

As EPHS's new assistant principal, Ms. Coia looks forward to building upon her already strong ties to the school, which extend beyond her own experiences as a dean.

"Working at Elmwood Park has been a family connection for me, as my sister-in-law, Hilary Coia (known as the other 'Ms. Coia'), had been a special education teacher at EPHS for years prior to me accepting my position as dean," she said. "It has been fun to work with a family member and actually helps me relate to our students, since it's all in the family. My son, who is 5, has come to many performances at the high school and athletic events and enjoys supporting Tiger Pride!"

In her spare time, Ms. Coia enjoys traveling. She's been to Mexico more than 10 times (including three months in Guanajuato to study Spanish) and the Dominican Republic seven times. She's studied Spanish in Guatemala, backpacked through Europe and visited Australia in 8th grade to play Australian Rules Football

"My hope is to continue traveling the world and take my son as a little travel buddy!"

Ashley Groeneveld, Assistant Principal, Elm

Ashley Groeneveld mugshotFor the past eight years, Ms. Ashley Groeneveld has taught physical education in Illinois and Colorado public schools. Now the Norridge native and Ridgewood High School graduate will make the transition to administration as she becomes the new assistant principal of Elm Middle School.

"I have always known that one day I wanted to move into administration," Ms. Groeneveld said. "I have always inserted myself into leadership roles in my school, and I enjoy being a leader and facilitating. I want to support teachers in their classrooms, help students through anything they need and support parents through their children's middle school experience."

Ms. Groeneveld earned her bachelor's degree in education at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, majoring in physical education and minoring in health studies.

She remained in Charleston to work on a master's degree in kinesiology and sports studies. During that time she taught kindergarten physical education at Mark Twain Elementary, an early childhood school in Charleston Community Unit School District 1.

After receiving her master's degree, Ms. Groeneveld taught physical education at Spring Avenue Elementary and Ideal Elementary in LaGrange School District 105 from August 2010 to June 2012. While working in D105 she earned a second graduate degree, a master's in school leadership from Concordia University Chicago

She then moved to Colorado with her husband, whose company had an office in Denver. While in Colorado she taught physical education at Alsup Elementary School in Commerce City from August 2012 to June 2013. In addition, she served as summer school principal at Hanson Elementary School (also in Commerce City) from May to July 2013. 

"Teaching in Illinois and Colorado are similar," she recalled. "Students didn't have physical education every day, which was a bit challenging for me for planning and implementing curriculum, and then also being in Colorado there was a heavy emphasis on outdoor education."

When her husband relocated to Chicago, Ms. Groeneveld returned to Illinois, teaching physical education at The Skokie School in Winnetka Public Schools District 36 for the next five years, beginning in August 2013 until her arrival at Elm this summer.

"I have always known that one day I wanted to move into administration," she said. "I have always inserted myself into leadership roles in my school, and I enjoy being a leader and facilitating. I want to support teachers in their classrooms, help students through anything they need and support parents through their children’s middle school experience."

Although most of Ms. Groeneveld's experience has occurred at the elementary school level, she's confident she can move seamlessly into a middle school setting.

"The school I'm coming from is run primarily like a middle school, so I'm very comfortable with middle school, which makes me very excited to be at Elm," she said. "I loved the feeling of community and family I got while I was interviewing, and then just meeting a few of the staff and students before the year ended made me feel very welcome and excited to be a part of the team."

As befitting a former PE teacher, when Ms. Groeneveld is not at school she likes to run, lift weights and practice yoga. She also enjoys spending time with her family, friends and three dogs. 

Stephanie Hagins, Assistant Principal, Elmwood 

Stephanie Hagins mugshotElmwood Elementary's new assistant principal, Ms. Stephanie Hagins, is certainly no stranger to the school.

Before returning there as a special education teacher in October 2014, she attended Elmwood Elementary herself.

Ms. Hagins was an Elmwood K-6 student from 1993 to 2000, back when the school still housed kindergarten classes. She remained in District 401 for middle school and high school.

"I am very proud to say that I was born and raised in Elmwood Park," she said. "I have lived in the village for most of my life."

Thanks to Elmwood Park High School's dual credit program with Triton College, Ms. Hagins was able to graduate early from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in special education.

She later earned a master's degree from NEIU as a curriculum adaptation specialist, and she also received a special education director endorsement from National Louis University. Just a few months ago, in early May, she graduated from Concordia University Chicago with her second advanced degree, an M.A. in educational administration. 

Ms. Hagins has been a professional educator since 2010, when she began her career as a special education teacher at K.S. Kellogg Elementary, a CPS school located in the North Beverly neighborhood of Chicago. She taught there from February 2010 to September 2014, working mainly with students in grades K to 3 and 7 to 8. 

"I always knew I wanted to be an educator," Ms. Hagins said. "However, when it came time to decide which area of education, I consulted with many of my teachers at EPHS, and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go into special education. It appealed to me initially because I could work with kids of all ages in all subject areas. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made."

After almost five years at Kellogg, she returned to Elmwood as part of the school's special education team. Parents and students also know her as coordinator of District 401's Spelling Bee.

"The best part of working at Elmwood School is how inspiring my co-workers and students are," Ms. Hagins said. "The teachers are the heart and soul of Elmwood; their dedication to their students really inspires me each day."

As she leaves teaching to become assistant principal, Ms. Hagins gives credit to the school's former principal, Mr. Kevin Seibel, for mentoring her after she expressed an interest in administration. (Mr. Seibel is now the Early Childhood Center's new principal; see below.)

"This past year, I participated in a yearlong internship with Mr. Seibel," she said. "He supported me through many of my classes and helped me to feel confident going into my career in educational administration. When I found out that there would be an opening at Elmwood for next year, I was excited at the prospect of serving my community in the new role."

Ms. Hagins and her husband live in Elmwood Park with their son, who recently turned 4. She likes to spend time outdoors, including relaxing on her parents' boat in Fox Lake, Wis.

Matthew Lerner, Principal, Elmwood

Matt Lerner mugshot.Mr. Matthew Lerner, Elmwood Elementary's new principal, comes to District 401 from Rockford Public Schools, where he spent the previous six years as the leader of two elementary schools. 

He served as principal of R.K. Welsh Elementary School from August 2015 to June 2018. Before that, he led P.R. Walker Elementary School from July 2012 to June 2015.

Born in Milwaukee and raised in Hartford, Wis., Mr. Lerner graduated from Monmouth College with a bachelor's degree in history and secondary education. Earned his master's degree in educational administration from National Louis University.

After working as a substitute teacher in his home state of Wisconsin, Mr. Lerner moved to Chicago in 2004. He began teaching for Chicago Public Schools as a full-time substitute at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, a four-year high school located in the Humboldt Park area.

"I was born and raised in a small town with little diversity, so when I arrived at Roberto Clemente I was a little shell shocked," he recalled. 

"The experience was amazing as I learned a lot about Puerto Rican and Mexican cultures. It was difficult to be a substitute as many of the teachers didn't leave lesson plans for me, and so I learned many different curriculums. I had to be flexible and stern at the same time to allow for students to learn while I was in the room."

One year after arriving as a substitute, he began teaching social studies full time at Clemente, where he remained until June 2007. He then moved to North Boone High School in Poplar Grove, where he also taught social studies.

"I was RIFed from CPS due to budget reasons," Mr. Lerner said. "I started looking for a position where I could excel as an educator. I received the job offer from North Boone the same day I was told I could come back to CPS to teach. My family and I decided to make the move to North Boone.

"The community of North Boone was made up of farmers and working-class families. While the diversity was different, they were still high school kids who had the same feelings and will to learn as CPS students."

During his time at both Clemente and North Boone, Mr. Lerner served as a coach as well as a teacher. He coached football for 12 years — three at Clemente and nine at North Boone. He also coached track and JV baseball.  

Mr. Lerner made the transition to administration in September 2011, when he began a one-year stint as assistant principal of Ellis Arts Academy in Rockford. From there he went on to become one of Rockford's 32 elementary school principals, leading Walker Elementary until it closed in 2015 and then Welsh Elementary until this summer.  

"The reward as an administrator is that I get to affect the overall culture and learning in the building," said Mr. Lerner. "I enjoy working with teachers and parents to give students the best experience they can have in school. It is my goal each year that students leave with a smile and know that we as a school did the best for them!"

Now that he has become principal of Elmwood Elementary, Mr. Lerner has begun the process of getting to know his new school community — a process that began in May when he and his new assistant principal, Ms. Stephanie Hagins, held a "meet and greet" event for parents and faculty shortly before the 2017-18 school year ended.

"It is important that we are visible and open to the parents so we can gain their trust," he said. "A major upcoming event will be the first day of school, as this will be when we roll out our vision and mission for Elmwood. We would like for all parents to attend this event."

Away from school, Mr. Lerner enjoys spending time with his wife, young son and daughter, their dog, watching and playing sports, relaxing outdoors and enjoying the sun.

Katie Plum, Dean of Students, EPHS

Katie Plum mugshotThe new dean of students at Elmwood Park High School, Ms. Katie Plum, is already well acquainted with District 401 thanks to the eight years she spent working at Hester Junior High School in nearby Franklin Park.

Ms. Plum, who is fluent in Spanish, served as Hester's Transitional Program of Instruction/Transitional Bilingual Education (TPI/TBE) teacher from 2010 to 2018. In that job she worked with students in grades 6 to 8 whose home language was Spanish. The students arrived at her school as newcomers, often speaking little or no English. 

"From year to year I was able to watch them grow from not understanding any English at all to becoming fully proficient — and sometimes even honors students — once they got to high school," she said.

While at Hester, Ms. Plum also coached boys soccer for eight years, taking her teams to the conference championship game each season. Both Hester and Elm Middle School belong to the Leyden Norwood Athletic Conference, so Ms. Plum knew the strengths of District 401 when the EPHS deanship became available in the spring.    

"The fact that District 401 is a unit district with a very tight-knit community was very attractive to me when I was considering applying," she recalled. "I believe that this type of environment is positive for all members of the school community, especially students."

Ms. Plum joins Mr. Brandon Pedersen as EPHS's two deans of students. Although she has spent much of her career working with students in grades 6 to 8, she does have experience with high school students. Beginning in 2016, she taught English as a Second Language during the summer at Leyden High School in Northlake. In addition, each year at Hester she took on more supervisory roles. 

"These administrative experiences will be especially valuable as I make this transition to EPHS," Ms. Plum said. "I believe that I will be able to make strong connections with EPHS students as I work with them from their 8th-grade transition to EPHS through their high school career and through their transition to post-secondary outcomes."

Besides her bachelor's degree in secondary education from DePaul University, Ms. Plum has two master's degrees: an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from Northeastern Illinois University, and an M.A. in educational administration from Dominican University in River Forest.

She also earned an international certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language while studying in Seville, Spain, after she finished her student teaching at DePaul. Upon her return to the United States, she taught Spanish for two years at the Faith, Hope and Charity School in Winnetka before moving on to Hester.

Ms. Plum grew up in Issaquah, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. "But both of my parents are from the Chicago area, so I visited here often," she noted.

When she's not working, Ms. Plum enjoys spending time with her family, participating in extracurricular sports, snowboarding, traveling and racing motorcycles. She and her husband live in Chicago with their son and puppy.

Kevin Seibel, Principal, ECC

Kevin Seibel mugshotAlthough he grew up in South Dakota, the Early Childhood Center's new principal, Mr. Kevin Seibel, is a familiar face to longtime Elmwood Park residents and District 401 families.

A native of Vermillion, S.D., Mr. Seibel has lived in Elmwood Park for nearly 30 years. He has been with District 401 since 2006, when he became assistant principal at Elmwood Elementary School. He remained in that position until 2015, when he succeeded Ms. Sue Ponzio as Elmwood's principal.

Now he will be traveling north of the train tracks to lead the ECC, where he will be overseeing the education of the District's preschool and kindergarten students.

"I am truly energized to be working with the foundation of learners in our learning community," Mr. Seibel said. "I am eager to implement our new curricula within our K classes as we create new learning opportunities for students. I am excited to work with my new staff to build on and create a warm, safe and friendly environment for students and a welcoming environment for parents to be an active part of their child’s education."

Mr. Seibel brings to his new job a wealth of experience as an educator. Before coming to District 401, he taught science at St. Patrick High School in Chicago for 13 years. He earned his bachelor's degree at Northeastern Illinois University and his master's degree from National Louis University.

While at St. Patrick, he also served as head football coach for six years and head track coach for six years. That should come as no surprise considering Mr. Seibel's impressive background as an athlete himself. 

He had a Hall of Fame career at Vermillion High School, where he was All-State in football for two years, state qualifier in the shot put all four years (state runner-up his junior year and state champion his senior year), state qualifier in discus for three years, a state quarterfinalist in wrestling his senior year, and a basketball player for three years. And did we mention that he was the 1979 South Dakota Athlete of the Year as a senior?

After that, he headed to the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship. Originally recruited as a linebacker and placekicker, he was promoted to the varsity in his freshman season to do kickoffs. He was a four-year starter and letter winner from 1979 to 1982, when the Cornhuskers were one of the top teams in college football.

"It is hard to describe the feeling of running onto the football field as 90,000 red-clad fans erupt in one voice," Mr. Seibel said. "We were fortunate to play at least three or four games every year that were televised nationally and to travel around the country to play games, including Hawaii my senior year. The attention that Top 10 teams receive is overwhelming, and a whole lot of fun when you’re in the hunt for a national championship."

By the end of his Nebraska career, Mr. Seibel had scored 199 points (151 PATs and 16 field goals), which at the time put him in the top five of the school's career football scoring leaders. (He currently ranks 19th all time.)

Mr. Seibel then played for the Chicago Blitz in the USFL before making the transition to education.  

"After playing with the Blitz I was given an opportunity to coach football at St. Patrick High School, and I realized I wanted to work with kids not only on the athletic field but in the classroom as well," he recalled. 

"It should have been apparent to me as my grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse and both my mother and father were teachers as well."

In his spare time, Mr. Seibel enjoys golf, reading, traveling, gardening — and rooting for the Cornhuskers!

Rebecca Siegel, Principal, Elm

Rebecca Siegel mugshotThe new principal of Elm Middle School, Ms. Rebecca Siegel, has had a swift rise through the ranks.

She arrived in District 401 as Elm's assistant principal just a year ago. Now she's leading the school as it moves into an exciting era of change, marked by its 1:1 Chromebook implementation next year.

Ms. Siegel is well-prepared for her new leadership role thanks to her varied experience as an educator in Chicago. She came to Elm after serving as assistant principal for culture at Amandla Charter School, which educates students in grades 5-12. In that role she focused on the overall climate of the school, which is located in the Englewood neighborhood.

Before becoming an administrator, Ms. Siegel taught 7th-grade English Language Arts at Amandla for four years. She also taught literature and writing for a year at Gage Park High School, located on the Southwest Side of the city.

The Roselle native began her career in Chicago Public Schools as a substitute at Paul Robeson High School, also located in Englewood.

Ms. Siegel earned both of her degrees from Northeastern Illinois University — a bachelor's in secondary education and English, and a master's in education.

An important part of her leadership preparation, however, came even before she entered a college classroom — when the Lake Forest High School graduate enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps

"I was a reservist and started my tour of duty in 2000," she recalled. "I finished my active reserve status in 2006. I received my honorable discharge in 2008 after serving two years of inactive duty."

Like all individuals who enlist in the Marines, Ms. Siegel went through boot camp, a grueling 13-week period of initial training.

After she finished her training at Parris Island, S.C., Ms. Siegel became a Tactical Air Command Center Repair Specialist. Her reserve status continued until early 2003, when she was called up to active duty during the lead-up to the Iraq war, which began in March 2003.

"I was activated in January of 2003," she said. "I went to Kuwait and served in Operation Enduring Freedom until the war started, and then I was in Kuwait at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom until July of 2003. I worked in the air wing as a Tactical Air Command Repair Specialist. This job originally focused on radios and transitioned into networking and computers just before I left for Kuwait. The main responsibility was to keep our servers up, so that our Marine operators could plan flight missions with the Air Force."

Ms. Siegel looks back on her time in the Marines with pride.

"It was a lot of responsibility at a young age and put me on an early path toward seeking out leadership positions," she said. 

"The Marine Corps taught me to strive for excellence no matter how small the task. They gave me problem-solving skills and taught me perseverance. Even when you think you have nothing left to give, there is always more."

Joseph Sierra, Director, Buildings & Grounds

Joseph Sierra mugshotDistrict 401's new director for Buildings & Grounds, Mr. Joseph Sierra, spent almost 25 years in the private sector before making the transition to public schools.

From 1984 to 2009, he worked as operations manager for Sparkle Industrial Cleaning in Tinley Park.

His responsibilities ranged from front office administration and customer service to machinery maintenance and employee training. Since then, he's been applying the lessons he learned about management and facility operations to school districts in the suburban Chicago area.

"I think the most important thing I learned during my tenure with Sparkle is that hands-on experience and good staff interaction will aid in the overall goals to maintain a well-functioning business," Mr. Sierra said. 

"This was a wonderful stepping stone. However, after many years, the owner retired and closed the company. Kirby School District 140 was hiring for a supervisor at this point, and this was an exceptional transition into the public sector and into what I believe is my true calling."

Mr. Sierra worked for Kirby 140 from 2010 to 2012, overseeing seven buildings in the Tinley Park-based district.

He then became buildings and grounds director for Arbor Park School District 145 in Oak Forest, a position he held from June 2012 to October 2014.

From there Mr. Sierra took a leadership position in Mokena School District 159, where he headed the buildings and grounds department until beginning his District 401 job this summer.

"Having worked at elementary school districts, I believe that at this point in my career I find it will be challenging and rewarding to work for a community unit school district," said Mr. Sierra, explaining what attracted him to the Elmwood Park position. 

Fluent in Spanish, Mr. Sierra grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He attended the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Business Administration after graduating from Andrew High School.

"My parents spoke both Spanish and English, and my grandparents spoke predominantly Spanish," he recalled. 

"As in any field, being bilingual is always a plus; being able to communicate with Spanish speakers gives them a feeling of comfort, and it allows me to address the needs of the job and address their individual needs and concerns."

Mr. Sierra and his wife live in Tinley Park. They have a son and two daughters.

When he's not working, his main interests are spending time with his family, visiting museums, watching football, taking long walks and grilling out.

Pamela Stutzman, Special Education Coordinator, D401

Pamela Stutzman mugshotThe District's new special education coordinator for grades pre-K to 6, Ms. Pamela Stutzman, began her educational career in 2002 as a school social worker in Chicago Ridge School District 127.5.

But before that, the Lancaster, N.Y., native spent two years fulfilling a long-held ambition: She served in the Peace Corps.

"I had known since I was 18 that I wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer," Ms. Stutzman recalled. "I grew up watching the commercials about 'the toughest job you’ll ever love.' I reached out to a recruiter when I completed my associate degree but was politely encouraged to wait until I had some skills or experience to share. I held on to that application and figured that I would do Peace Corps if I didn’t get accepted into graduate school."

The first person in her family to go to college, Ms. Stutzman did indeed get into graduate school after she received her bachelor's degree in social work from the State University of New York at Buffalo

"I got accepted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so I completed my master’s degree then went into Peace Corps," she said. "I served for two years in the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa as an education volunteer. My main job was teaching special education to teachers."

Equipped with both an advanced degree specializing in school social work and practical experience gained more than 8,000 miles away, Ms. Stutzman returned to Illinois to begin her career in public education. 

After working five years as a school social worker at Finley Junior High School in Chicago Ridge for students in grades 6 to 8, Ms. Stutzman moved to Pennoyer Elementary School District 79 in Norridge. In that position from 2007 to 2015, she served as a school social worker for Pennoyer students in grades pre-K to 8.

While at Pennoyer, Ms. Stutzman completed her second advanced degree, a master's in educational administration and leadership, also from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At this point she was ready to move into administration, and an opportunity arose in Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine.

From August 2015 to July 2017, she served as District 15's building case manager for early childhood, followed by a year as assistant principal at D15's Conyers Learning Academy.

In her new position in Elmwood Park, Ms. Stutzman will serve as District 401's special education coordinator along with Ms. Sara Barrick.

Under the supervision of Director for Student Services Dr. Kari Smith, Ms. Stutzman will oversee special education and related services, procedures and communication for the Early Childhood Center, John Mills Elementary and Elmwood Elementary, as well as for students who are placed out-of-district who would attend those schools. Ms. Barrick will have similar responsibilities for Elm Middle and Elmwood Park High.

"I love knowing that the work we are doing in schools impacts students and people for a lifetime," Ms. Stutzman said. "We set the foundation for a love of learning, and we work with all families no matter their culture, religion or socio-economic status."

Outside of work, Ms. Stutzman enjoys traveling, camping, hiking, biking, reading, gardening, visiting family and spending time with friends. She and her husband also enjoy the company of their two dogs, Daisy and Jethro.

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