Stephanie Daly may have only been in her new job since July 1, but District 401's Director for Student Services has a clear vision of what she wants to accomplish with her department.
As head of Student Services, she oversees the District's special education teachers, paraprofessionals and certified specialists in fields ranging from social work to speech-language pathology.
"I want to make sure that everyone feels like we're a team, that we have a community of warmth and support, and we're all doing what is best for kids," Ms. Daly said. "Kids are at the forefront of everything we do."
Ms. Daly, who grew grew up in Fairfield, Iowa, has spent her entire two-decade career as an educator in Illinois public schools.
She began in 2002 as a special education resource teacher at Barlett Elementary School. A year later, she moved to Norton Creek Elementary School in St. Charles School District 303.
In all, she worked for five years at Norton Creek, one as a special ed teacher and the others as a 4th-grade general education teacher.
In 2008, Ms. Daly moved to Glen Grove Elementary School in Glenview School District 34, where she taught 4th- and 5th-grade general education. But throughout her general education years at both Norton Creek and Glen Grove, she worked closely with the special education students in her classes.
After 11 years in the classroom, Ms. Daly moved into administration as assistant principal of Attea Middle School, also in Glenview District 34.
A year later, finding herself missing the environment of elementary school but passionate about making a difference as an administrator, she became assistant principal of not one but two elementary schools in Park Ridge School District 64: Carpenter and Franklin.
In 2014, Ms. Daly was hired as principal of Washington Elementary School, also in Park Ridge District 64. It didn't take long for her to make a lasting impression there. Under her leadership, Washington was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2018.
Ms. Daly then became principal of Virginia Lake Elementary School in Palatine for two years, followed in 2021-22 as head of special education for Marquardt School District 15 in Glendale Heights.
A graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, she double-majored in elementary and special education. Ms. Daly also earned a master's degree in educational leadership from Roosevelt University, and she's currently working on her doctorate in the same field at National Louis University.
Her husband, Andrew, is a business owner and former special education teacher himself. They have three children: Clara, 12; William, 10; and Maeve, 6.
To learn more about the District's new head of student services, we spoke with Ms. Daly shortly after she began her new job. The conversation is located below. Welcome to District 401, Ms. Daly!
Q&A with Stephanie Daly
NOTE: The following Q&A was conducted on July 5, 2022, by Dave Porreca, D401 communications & social media specialist. The interview was done in person, and the transcript has been edited and condensed.
What motivated you to take this position?
So my dream has always been to be the [student services] director of a district, and Elmwood Park is a place where I know they really value their staff and their students and the community at large. And I wanted a place that I could call home and really partner with the families and the staff to do what was best for kids. I'm excited to be here and just to help students become their best on their educational journeys.
Why did you want to become an educator?
I have always loved and been around kids. Even in high school, I would always volunteer at the elementary schools, go back and help during those high school hours. And then in college, I was working as a camp counselor and running the preschool programs — always nannying or babysitting, always around kids and just having that love and passion to always want to help them and do what was best for them. And then in college that’s when I found my passion for special ed and wanting to help level the playing field for all students.
What attracted you to special education?
I've always had that love and passion for kids, and I’ve wanted to make a difference with students who weren't given the same opportunity as others who found that things came easy to them. I just love to see smiles on students when they get something, or when they overcome a challenge and when they know somebody can believe in them.
Looking back on your days as a classroom teacher, what were some of the highlights? What did you really like about being a teacher?
Building those connections with my students; they were like a family to me. To this day, I'm still in touch with a lot of them. They're getting married now, so it makes me feel so old. But just building those relationships with them as human beings and helping them hit those milestones in their life, and then just helping them solve the day-to-day problems and overcome some of their challenges that they thought were huge when they were just little bumps on the road, and being their cheerleader — being the person that they knew they could confide in and go to when their days were tough.
I have a story I like to tell. I used to give sticky notes to the kids with little positive, inspirational comments. I have a kid, he’s graduated college now, but he saved that sticky note he got as a 4th grader and took it to college with him.
A story like that really shows the impact you made as a classroom teacher. What led you to become an administrator?
Wanting to make a bigger impact. I had an inspirational principal. She's retired now, but she really pushed me out of the classroom to go use my degree to be an administrator because I was always team leader of my teaching colleagues. I was also a district leader on teacher committees. But she really pushed me to use my knowledge and expertise to go make a greater impact to coach teachers and help them build their capacity to make a bigger impact on students’ lives. And that's why I decided in 2012 to embark on that next adventure to make a greater impact.
And so for you as an administrator, what are the high points of your job?
Hiring the young teachers who are go-getters, the young teachers who went into education to impact students and seeing the passion in their eyes to want to do the best for kids and not getting bogged down in the tough times of education as they are today, and really seeing them shine with their craft and seeing them reach their fullest potential and doing whatever it would take to do what was best for their kids.
I'm going to add something that was a highlight of my principal career at Washington Elementary School: winning the National Blue Ribbon. We had a big assembly with the students, and we had a big party with the staff, and that was a whole school celebration. And we really celebrated together because it took the students owning their own data and their own hard work to make that happen. And the teachers of Washington School believed in themselves to look at their own student data and felt their capacity to do the hard work. And I was just honored to be their leader. That was teamwork.
For people in the Elmwood Park community who may not be sure what the student services director does, what are the main things that you're responsible for?
So my job is to make sure that the special education students continue to grow and meet their IEP minutes. My job is also to make sure everything is legal and in compliance. I also need to make sure that the student services staff is supported and meeting students where they're at and to the fullest of their capacity.
My job description is really long. I think just to know that this department does whatever it takes to meet the students where they're at and to help them grow in their least restrictive environments, no matter their abilities or disabilities. And we do it with a smile.
As Director for Student Services, what are your goals and vision as you guide the department?
I want to make sure that everyone feels like we're a team, that we have a community of warmth and support, and we're all doing what is best for kids. Kids are at the forefront of everything we do. So when I think of a year down the road, or five years down the road, or nine years down the road, when I'm still sitting at his desk, kids come first and the day-to-day happens. People get busy, but it's always all about the kids. Even when we sit in an IEP meeting and there's tough questions that need to be answered, it's always the kids. And you'll see me in the classroom. I'm very hands on. I plan to be supporting the principals as much as I can. The students will know me. So when you're not finding me here, you're going to have to ask the [office] what school I'm at because I'm going to be in the classrooms with the kiddos.