CRYSTAL LAKE – Superintendent Jill Hawk plans to retire at the end of the month after seven years at the helm of Community High School District 155.
As the leader of one of the county’s largest school districts, Hawk was responsible for educating 7,000 high school students, managing an annual budget of $90 million, and overseeing more than 700 employees. She helped overhaul the district’s special education programs, align the curriculum at the district’s four high schools, boost student test scores and raise attendance and graduation rates.
Hawk certainly wasn’t confined to the office. She spent time at the district’s schools in Cary and Crystal Lake, organizing student and staff advisory committees and working with principals. And often she could be found on the sidelines of high school sporting events.
“As superintendent, she was the epitome of ‘all-in,’ ” school board President Ted Wagner said.
Hawk, 57, joined the district as curriculum director in 2002 and was promoted to superintendent in 2005. In retirement, Hawk said she plans to spend time with her family, including eight grandchildren, and volunteer with Teachers Without Borders.
As curriculum director, Hawk helped align what students learned at all of the district’s high schools. At the time, teachers had a great deal of autonomy, but there wasn’t enough consistency in what was taught, she said.
“We had a responsibility to be clear about what we wanted our students to learn,” Hawk said. “We had to make sure they were prepared.”
Hawk was instrumental in restructuring special education programs and the purchase of the Haber Oaks campus from neighboring Cary District 26. The Haber Oaks campus is home to the Annex and Academy programs. The Academy program serves special education students and the Annex program helps juniors and seniors who are behind on credits catch up so they can get a high school diploma.
As superintendent, Hawk worked to make sure more students had the opportunity to take advanced placement and dual-credit courses.
In the 2002-03 school year, 420 students took 692 advanced placement exams, which, if passed, earned them college credit. By the 2010-11 school year, 756 students took 1,355 advanced placement exams. School officials estimate those college credits saved families about $1.5 million in tuition costs.
District 155 students also have succeed outside the classroom, winning state titles in sporting and academic competitions. Although she’s not directly involved in those achievements, Hawk said they show the district is “well-rounded.”
“I’m really proud of our extra curricular programs,” she said.
In the past 10 years, Hawk has faced her share of challenges. Among them: contentious contract negotiations with bus drivers, declining state funding, school boundary changes, student pranks, various threats to school safety, allegations of student hazing, and the arrest and later conviction of a veteran athletic director.
Through it all, Hawk said she has tried to remain focused on improving the district’s schools. She said she was grateful for the support she received from the school board and the community.
“The quality of our schools mirrors the investment of our community,” Hawk said.
Hawk has helped bring talented teachers and administrators to the district and helped drive student achievement, school board member Karen Whitman said.
“She’s created a great atmosphere for students and for learning,” Whitman said.
Wagner said Hawk was able to understand the needs and the students and “use that to really move the staff and the district forward.”
At a meeting earlier this month, the school board gave Hawk a rocking chair and a plaque that praised her for “inspiring the district’s students to greatness, empowering its faculty and staff to surpass expectations, and nurturing a sense of community that goes beyond the classroom walls.”