CHAMPAIGN — Shelia Boozer calls herself a “relationship builder.”
So it was no surprise that the new Champaign superintendent, who was officially announced as the school board’s choice for the job Thursday, was already building relationships with staff and students before she was even offered the job.
“With the tours that we gave at the various campuses, she engaged,” school board President Amy Armstrong said. “She engaged with the staff, she asked thoughtful questions.”
“She even provided feedback to one of our principals already as a means of supporting a program they were discussing during the tour,” she said. “Even though she hadn’t yet been offered the position, she had been giving feedback upon interaction with a staff member.”
Boozer also solicited ideas, striking up conversations to ask people what they thought of the district during a recent visit to town.
That personality, along with her preparedness, the broad base of knowledge she has gleaned from her 23-year career in Springfield and her ideas to turn the district’s ideas regarding racial equity into action, made her a perfect fit for the job, Armstrong said.
“We just saw an energy that was engaging, and we saw it as a way to lead the district forward,” she said. “It was the energy, the passion, the data and that she spoke specifically to our student body’s needs, and she engaged.”
Her energy “was a bright light, and we see her as being able to effectively be able to communicate and engage our families and our staff, and she wasn’t afraid of the challenges that we present as a district,” she added.
Boozer currently serves as director of teaching and learning and technology in the Springfield district after working her way up from being a teacher and principal at both the elementary and high school levels.
In Champaign, one of her first orders of business will be to turn the district’s strategic plan and racism resolution into substance.
“I believe that we will be a light shining for other districts to follow suit,” Boozer said. “To me, sometimes we can say we’re against racism, and we have this policy in place, but until you actually work it, utilize that policy, implement that policy, to me, that’s a sound bite. And to me, this is an opportunity to show that this is not a sound bite, but we are going to implement and change lives.”
Boozer, who said this was the first superintendent job she interviewed for, will officially take over after Susan Zola retires June 30.
She’ll be the first Black woman to serve as the district’s superintendent.
“I think it’s significant based on what’s happening across our nation,” Armstrong said. On Wednesday, “we saw the inauguration of the first Black female vice president, and I think for our student body that is majority Black, they can look up to a Black woman that is leading this district forward. And all of our students will be able to say, ‘I can do that.’
“It’s exciting for us that what you’re seeing at the national level is showing at the local level with women in leadership, and we’re excited that in Unit 4, we’re going to have our first Black female superintendent.”