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Dr. Merryl Brownlow is Dist. 128’s new superintendent

Merryl Bronlow, Ed.D

Merryl Bronlow, Ed.D., is the new superintendent of School District 128 in Palos Heights. Photo by Anthony Caciopo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Officially starts July 1; already in transition

By Anthony Caciopo

The Regional News

Palos Heights School District 128 has hired a superintendent following a search that attracted candidates nationwide.

Merryl Brownlow, Ed.D. will officially take the helm July 1, but she’s already in unofficial transition mode. And she didn’t come far from home.

“When this position popped up, I wasn’t actively seeking to leave where I was,” said Dr. Brownlow, who is currently the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Riverside Elementary School Dist. 96.

She said she had feelers out, but credits a mentor for letting her know about not only the opening but about Dist. 128 in particular.

“I wasn’t as familiar with South Cook until about four years ago,” said Brownlow. Her mentor (whose identity Brownlow preferred to keep private) was “very familiar with the South Suburbs and the districts here, telling me about which ones she felt could be a good match for me in the future as I was beginning my doctoral program.”

And when the superintendent’s opportunity eventually opened, Brownlow got a call.

“She said ‘that’s the district,’” Brownlow recalled her mentor telling her.

The new superintendent has found Dist.128 a great match.

“It’s small, which is something that’s really important to me for relationship purposes,” she said. “I get to still play a large role in the curriculum instruction decision-making.”

Brownlow calls Dist. 128 “a hidden gem.”

Dist. 128 is comprised of four schools, all in Palos Heights: Indian Hill Early Learning Center, kindergarten and pre-K; Chippewa Elementary School, grades 1-3; Navajo Heights School, grades 4-5 and Independence Junior High School, grades 6-8.

Enrollment in the district is 700-plus students and increasing, said school administrators. Dist. 128 employs slightly more than 100 staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians.

The Illinois State Board of Education now ranks achievement based on 10 performance measures, including academic performance, student growth, school climate, student attendance and more.

There are four rankings determined by the Board: exemplary, commendable, underperforming and lowest-performing.

As part of the Board’s Illinois Report Card for 2017-2018, which provides a “Summative Designation” for each school, Independence Junior High received exemplary status; Navajo, commendable; Chippewa, commendable; and Indian Hill had no summative designation because of “insufficient size or data,” according to the Board.

The district’s annual budget is between $8 million to $9 million.

“The thing that this district has rolled into its superintendent’s direct responsibilities are things I’m super-familiar with,” Brownlow said. “Human resources and the teacher evaluation component; the curriculum and instruction component; and the leadership that’s expected, are ways that I like to operate in my professional and personal life.”

Brownlow originally hailed from Glenview in the north suburbs. She graduated from Glenbrook South High School and then headed off to the University of Michigan, where she earned her undergraduate degree.

“I was gone after college for 17 years,” she said of her Midwest roots, living in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

She obtained her teaching certificate at Kean University in New Jersey, her master’s at Rider University, also in New Jersey and her doctorate at National Louis University locally.

But not all of her career has been spent in education. For seven years while living on the East Coast, she worked as a retail buyer.

Brownlow returned to the Chicago area in 2005 and has held, in addition to the assistant superintendent’s position at Dist. 96, the assistant superintendent’s position at Lombard School District 44 and principal posts in River Forest and Glenview. While out east, she taught for a few years in New Jersey and spent eight years in education in Pennsylvania, five as a teacher and three as an administrator.

She and her husband, Alec Brownlow, have two adopted daughters. He is a geography professor at DePaul Univeristy.

“One of the things I love about Dist. 128 is that the community really is connected to the school,” she said. “That is something really important to me, the community/school connection.”

Brownlow said that part of her due diligence about checking out Dist. 128 were visits to Palos Heights.

“I would go to the grocery store, to the library,” she said. “I wanted to hear what people were saying about the school district. I heard people say really positive things and talking about what was happening in the schools. That’s a sign the community is very invested in what happens in the schools.”

Dist. 128’s superintendent’s role became open when Dr. Dawn Green announced her intention to retire, which will take place when Dr. Brownlow takes over. Green has served as superintendent for four years.

Last week, when The Regional News stopped by Dist. 128 headquarters for a visit, Brownlow said it was only her second of 10 transition days, with the next to come in March.

She and Dr. Green talked about some of the realities of student life in 2019.

“I think challenges in education are how quickly things change,” Brownlow said. “We’re preparing students for jobs we don’t even know,” acknowledging the pressure put on kids.

“The biggest difference is academic achievement,” said Green. “Everybody is holding people accountable—administrators, principals, teachers, children. Much more accountability, keeping your thumb on that. It’s a big change.”

“The accountability in some cases has put more pressure and anxiety on students,” Brownlow said. “It’s our job to stay focused on the whole child, to make sure kids have a global view of what’s ahead of them, while still keeping them focused on maximizing their opportunities for achievement.”

“The social/emotional component, we can never underestimate that,” said Green, noting that social media has impacted the modern learning environment.

“Social media goes viral at lightspeed,” said Brownlow. “There’s no response time for problem-solving before something can be really damaging.”

Visiting with Brownlow and Green were Dist. 128 School Board members Kristin Restivo and Amy Lyons.

“Even our pre-schoolers have programs that focus on how to handle their emotions,” said Lyons. “It’s being addressed from the get-go.”

“Social media magnifies that,” said Restivo. “Instead of someone saying something to your face in school that day, now it spreads and it feels like a hundred people are saying that about you. Sometimes it doesn’t go away.”

Lyons and Restivo recounted the selection process that brought Dr. Brownlow aboard, a months-long search with the help of an educational leadership search consulting firm that garnered 42 candidates from around the country.

“Something key in your interview is that you said you want to be in the classroom, and that you’ve covered classrooms,” said Restivo to Brownlow at last week’s chat. “That happens here.”

“We really want our staff and our parents to have a real relationship with our superintendent,” said Lyons. “Every kid should know who that is…the staff to be able to have a personal relationship, I think that is a huge advantage in our district.”

“It’s important to stay ‘boots on the ground,’” Brownlow said. “You can’t lead people if they don’t know you.”

 

 

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