SHABBONA – Indian Creek School District 425's new superintendent plans to make communication a priority as he takes the helm of the school district that serves 750 students in the southwest corner of DeKalb County.
Chad Willis, 43, replaces outgoing superintendent Pamela Rockwood. Rockwood, who led the district for a decade, is leaving to take an assistant professor job at Texas A&M University.
Willis left his position as superintendent at the larger Abingdon-Avon School District 276 near Galesburg to take the Indian Creek job. Although, Indian Creek has about 250 fewer students than Abingdon-Avon, Willis said it was an opportunity that he couldn't pass up.
"This is a phenomenal opportunity for us and we feel it's a great move professionally and personally," Willis said.
Willis said he plans to move to Shabbona with his wife, Jolene, and two children, Everett and Isaac.
Willis interviewed with the Indian Creek school board twice before its members voted 7-0 to hire him. In Abingdon-Avon, Willis had total compensation of almost $142,000 in the 2015-16 school year, according to that district's website. He said he would be paid a base salary of $130,000 under terms of a four-year contract, with includes retirement benefits and family insurance.
Even before he began in his new position, Willis said he had prepared a transition plan for the District 425 board. One priority will be learning about the community and getting to know the people in it.
"One of my goals will be to meet with the community and get to know them, what they see as strengths of the district and areas they'd like to improve upon," Willis said.
Willis leaves Abingdon-Avon at a tumultuous time that includes an ongoing investigation into grade-changing allegations and the recent arrest of the district's technology director on eavesdropping charges, according to media reports. Asked if he was conflicted about leaving Abingdon-Avon at such a time, Willis said "I really don't know how to comment on that one."
"[For] any superintendent, anything you start, you'd like to see through," he said. "But timing of things does have an impact and this is the only position I applied for since I've been in Abingdon-Avon because I believe this is a phenomenal district and opportunity for us."
Some parents said they were surprised by the board's decision to select Willis given the controversy at his last district.
"We are just ending a term with a superintendent who had her own agenda, and from what I've read, the new superintendent seems to be the same way," said Tessa Acker, a Waterman parent with two children enrolled at Indian Creek Elementary School in Shabbona. "I don't know what the board was looking for [in a new superintendent]."
Acker said she often felt in the dark about what was happening within the district and the reasoning behind decisions made by the previous administration.
Willis said communication will be a priority.
As he gets started, Willis said he will be focused on getting up to speed with the district's financial situation, looking at the curriculum, overseeing the district's two building additions.
"One of the items I have led Abingdon-Avon through is consolidation, so I think when you talk to various individuals in the community, they will tell you it went very, very well," Willis said. "I look forward to, hopefully, having that kind of transition here."
He added: "As superintendent of Indian Creek School District, I'll make decisions in the best interests of kids, try to be conservative with our finances and, hopefully, we'll build our curriculum so that way we'll be a destination district, just like we currently are, in the area."
Board President Vaughn Boehne said that the board selected Willis because of his ideas for the district and his financial acumen.
"The entire Indian Creek school board thinks that Chad Willis has excellent financial skills and technology ideas for our district," Boehne said in a statement. "These would help our district remain as financially strong as we are and move into the future with more focus on technology for our students while using our technology to become more user friendly to the public."