Champaign school board names superintendent finalists
CHAMPAIGN — One of Unit 4’s assistant superintendents is among the three finalists competing to replace retiring Superintendent Judy Wiegand.
A 27-year employee of Champaign schools, Susan Zola is the assistant superintendent for achievement, curriculum and instruction. She received her doctorate in education from the University of Illinois in 1997 and has served in several administrative roles in the district.
The other two candidates: Paul Fregeau, assistant superintendent in the North Kansas City (Mo.) school district, and Michael Popp, interim superintendent for Flossmoor schools and an adjunct professor at Aurora University, where he teaches education and law.
All three candidates have doctoral degrees in education and experience working in administrative roles in public school districts.
The board unveiled the three finalists at Monday night’s meeting following a preliminary round of interviews it conducted Friday and Saturday at the I Hotel.
Leading up to final interviews Jan. 18, President Chris Kloeppel said, the board will host each of the candidates for a site visit. Final interviews will include representation from the board, faculty, staff and community, he said.
Zola received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in reading from Eastern Illinois University in 1984 and her master’s in educational administration from the same school in 1990. She earned her doctorate in education seven years later from the UI and a superintendent license in 1995.
She began her career as a second-grade teacher at Queen of All Saints School in Chicago in 1984 and worked as a first grade and reading recovery teacher at Urbana schools from 1985 to 1990. Zola began her career with Unit 4 as principal at Dr. Howard Elementary, where she stayed until 1997.
She worked in Unit 4 administration from 1997 to 2003, serving as the director of Title One and literacy, director of schools of choice and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. She then served as principal of Jefferson Middle School from 2003 to 2012 before moving into her current role.
While Fregeau is currently working as an assistant superintendent in the North Kansas City district, where he’s been since 2007, he was the head of the Cass-Midway school district in Cleveland, Mo., from 2004 to 2007. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1984 and his master’s in secondary education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis 10 years later. He was awarded a Ph.D. in education from Saint Louis University in 2006.
He began his education career at Quincy Public Schools in 1991 as a world geography and U.S. History teacher at Quincy Junior High. From 1995 to 2000, he taught similar classes at Monroe City High School and served as the principal of Mountain Grove High School from 2000 to 2004.
Popp has been working in his current roles as an interim superintendent and adjunct professor for just a few months, after leaving his post as the superintendent of the Aurora East school district in June after two years.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in special studies from Iowa’s Cornell College in 1988. Popp received both his master’s in educational leadership (1995) and his Ph.D. in education (2004) from Aurora University. He worked as an English teacher at St. Rita High School in Chicago from 1988 to 1990 and has spent the majority of the rest of his teaching career in the Indian Prairie school district.
He served as an English teacher, dean of students and assistant principal at Waubonsie Valley High School from 1990 to 1997 and as the assistant principal, associate principal and principal of Neuqua Valley High School from 1997 to 2008. From 2008 to 2014, he worked in central administration, serving as the director of school improvement and planning, director of leadership services and executive director of teaching and learning.
Kloeppel said the board hopes to announce which of the three will replace Wiegand on Jan. 23.
Wiegand, herself a longtime Unit 4 administrator, began her tenure in the top job in 2012 and has worked with four school board presidents in the ensuing five years. She has been at the helm as two of the district's facilities referendums were rejected by voters but a third attempt, developed by a radically different board with a focus on keeping Central High School in its current location, found success.
Her successor will work with the board to carry out the voter-approved $183.4 million facilities package, which includes work on six buildings.
The school board hired the Illinois Association of School Boards this fall, at a cost of $22,400, to conduct a national search for Wiegand’s replacement.