Meet Denise Herrmann, D128’s Next Superintendent

Photo courtesy of District 128

Prior to winter break at about an hour before midnight, Dr. Denise Herrmann received a phone call and discovered that she would be District 128’s fifth superintendent, beginning this July. Upon receiving this news, Dr. Herrmann said she felt “ecstatic.” 

She will be replacing Dr. Prentiss Lea, who has been the superintendent for the last 12 years.

On the other end of the phone line was Pat Groody, president of the Board of Education. Several board members encouraged him to call her the day of her interview so she would  not lose an hour of sleep, which Dr. Herrmann greatly appreciated.

Earlier that same day, the school board had conducted a three-hour interview with Dr. Herrmann, one of three finalists for the position of superintendent. The board members were impressed by Dr. Herrmann’s extensive experience in education and district leadership positions.  

“It really boiled down to the combination of her passion, her experience and her love of education,” Groody expressed. “She was a very strong candidate in a field of very strong candidates, so she was truly the best of the best.”

Currently, Dr. Herrmann holds the role of assistant superintendent for learning and teaching at St. Charles Community Unit School District in Illinois. Prior to that position, she was the superintendent for Roseville Joint Union District in California, which encompasses five comprehensive high schools, an adult school and an online school.

Dr. Herrmann said she was interested in the superintendent position at D128 due to the district’s welcoming atmosphere and strong relationships. Another reason for her attraction to the district was that the D128’s DARING mission aligned with her values.

She views the role of superintendent as multifaceted, including the responsibility of leading a group of leaders, communicating and representing the district.

Dr. Herrmann detailed that she also wants to be visible to the student body: “I hope all the students recognize me after six months and say, ‘Oh yeah, I know that person! That’s Dr. Herrmann. She’s been in my English class or she comes to my volleyball games.’”

During her interview, Dr. Herrmann disclosed her 100-day entry plan. Her first priority is to build relationships within the community, such as meeting the mayor, local representatives and the parent-teacher associations. She emphasized that she will experience a “learning curve” since every high school campus is different.

“That’s really going to be my first job: to learn about the students, the staff, the district and through taking all that in, work with the board and leadership teams [to evaluate the plan for the next three years],” Dr. Herrmann explained.

Dr. Herrmann said that she carries a strong passion to strive towards equity, especially after learning from the innovative practices in California schools.  

Since she will be the first female superintendent of D128, Dr. Herrmann explained that she might be able to provide a more novel perspective than previous male superintendents and to identify barriers to equality in the district.

Dr. Herrrmann stated that her responsibility is “to have the district be welcoming to everyone and equitable to everyone and to maybe look at it through a different lens of gender equity.”

As a former graduate student in chemistry and through her other roles, she has experience assuming typically male-dominated positions. Dr. Herrmann also recognized the importance of mentoring other female administrators and youth.

In addition, COVID-19 will alter her initial interactions with members of the community. She emphasized the vitality of seeking out a variety of voices during this pandemic.

Dr. Herrmann added, “While I see a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of us being able to return to a lot more in-person instruction, I think there are still going to be some challenges.”

The decision to make Dr. Herrmann the next superintendent wasn’t reached overnight. According to Groody, an executive search firm named Exec Connect was in charge of identifying superintendent candidates. This initiative was led by  David Clough and Linda Yonke, former superintendents at Illinois school districts.

The former superintendents conducted an initial screening of more than 30 candidates and selected eight for further consideration by the Board of Education.

Groody recalled that “it was a very thorough process. I was extremely excited that we had so many good candidates.”

The board members received feedback from stakeholder groups, which included teachers, students, staff and community members, who interviewed candidates. Input was also provided by a group of district administrators.

Although Dr. Herrmann will not officially start until July, she will be building relationships and attending some board meetings this spring.

She expressed love for high school students and admires the growth that students experience from freshman to senior year.

Dr. Herrmann wants D128 students to know: “I appreciate that students are more than brains: that you have a mind and a heart and a soul. And that I want our school district to embrace all parts of you.”