UPDATE: Owen 'shocked and surprised' by ouster as Urbana superintendent

UPDATE: Owen 'shocked and surprised' by ouster as Urbana superintendent

URBANA — Next year, Don Owen will be out as Urbana schools superintendent, and in the meantime, the man he succeeded will be temporarily assuming some of his duties.

Owen said the announcement Friday that he and two other assistant superintendents will be replaced with interim appointments "shocked and surprised" him, as the board had not provided a written explanation.

"I planned to retire from USD 116," Owen said, adding that he has spent nearly 30 years in the district. "I served with honesty and integrity and was fiscally responsible. I'm proud of the work we did."

In a release early Friday evening, the board announced a slew of administrative changes — one day after Assistant Superintendent Samuel Byndom was arraigned on criminal charges for allegedly trying to secretly record a closed school board session.

In that same session, late last month on a Sunday, the board discussed the employment of Owen and Byndom. Owen's contract was to expire after the 2018-19 school year.

Now, he, Byndom and Assistant Superintendent Katherine Barbour are all to be replaced, contingent on approval by the school board Tuesday night.

Under the changes outlined Friday, Preston Williams would come out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent. In a 26-year career in the district, Williams held numerous positions, including superintendent. He retired in 2013 and had an elementary school renamed in his honor two years later.

The administrative changes come after a tumultuous start to this school year, which began with the district quickly transitioning to a method of student behavior management that relied heavily on restorative practices and eliminated deans from the middle and high schools.

Some teachers, parents and community members decried the speed of the transition and pointed to an increase of violence at both schools this fall as evidence that the district moved too quickly.

Owen said that some of his work as superintendent has been to dismantle systems that create inequitable results for students of color, which is what administrators said prompted discussions of the disciplinary change earlier this year.

"It's not popular work, but it's work for our students," Owen said.

Owen, Urbana's superintendent since 2013, and Barbour will remain with the district for the 2018-19 academic year, officials said in the statement.

But Jean Korder will serve as interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. And Gayle Jefferies, who retired after 27 years with Urbana in a number of administrative roles, will assume Barbour's title — assistant superintendent for human resources and professional development — on an interim basis.

"These changes in central office administration will in no way lessen the school board's unwavering commitment to achieving academic success for all of its students," officials said in Friday's statement. "Dr. Williams and the incoming administrative team support continuing the work begun by Dr. Owen that is grounded in that commitment.

"Dr. Williams, Ms. Korder and Ms. Jeffries all have proven records of working collaboratively and effectively with those within the district and the community."

School board members won't comment on the moves before Tuesday night's vote, the district said.

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