Elect Genevra Walters – a leader for a united & prosperous community

Walters named Illinois 2024 Superintendent of the Year

The title of 2024 Illinois Superintendent of the Year was given to a well-known leader in the Kankakee County community.

Genevra Walters, superintendent of Kankakee School District 111, was given the honor by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

The award was presented Sunday at a Chicago conference co-sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and IASA.

Nominees are judged on the criteria of academic achievement, preparing students for the future, social-emotional support, teaching and instruction, and leadership.

An independent panel commissioned by IASA selected Walters for Illinois Superintendent of the Year based on “innovative approaches the district has taken to best serve a diverse student population,” according to an IASA news release.

Brent Clark, executive director of IASA, described Walters as an innovator who is never satisfied with the status quo.

“Dr. Walters recognized early on that the traditional approach to schooling would not meet the needs of students in Kankakee [School District 111],” Clark said in the release.

“She has continuously thought outside the box and brought in programs and services focused on lifting up the whole child and setting them on a path to succeed as an adult. Her relentless passion to innovate and reach underserved students makes her deserving of being named Illinois Superintendent of the Year.”

Walters has been an educator for 31 years and the superintendent in Kankakee for almost 10 years. She will be retiring as superintendent after the current school year.

“As an educational leader, it is a great honor to serve the community where I was born, raised and currently reside,” Walters said in the release. “Education is the foundation of a prosperous life filled with endless opportunities that can span generations.”

“Although the role of superintendents has become progressively more challenging recently, the significance of our work is crucial,” she continued. “As we move forward post-COVID, we must consider the future of not only Illinois but also the entire country.”

Upon retirement from the education sector, Walters hopes to shift into the political realm. Walters, 54, announced her plans in September to seek the Democratic Party nomination for the 79th Illinois House District, which includes much of Kankakee County as well as portions of Will, Cook and Grundy counties.

The House seat is presently occupied by Bourbonnais resident Jackie Haas. In her second two-year term as the 79th District representative, Haas will be seeking re-election.

ACHIEVEMENTS RECOGNIZED

The IASA highlighted several achievements which contributed to the naming of Walters for Superintendent of the Year, including her development of the Youth Empowerment Program.

Walters’ emphasis on securing grant funding, community outreach and developing partnerships was identified as crucial to her success.

The Youth Empowerment Program, funded by the R3 Grant through the Illinois Criminal Information Authority, serves over 800 students in grades sixth through 12th.

The YEP encompasses numerous programs and partnerships that aim to empower youth through mentorship, education and innovative services. Key partners are the Kankakee County State’s Attorney, city of Kankakee, City Life Center and Hippocrates Health Clinic.

Walters’ leadership was also credited for positive changes in the district, including the shift to competency-based learning, an emphasis on career exploration and grade-level instruction, various community outreach initiatives and extensive facilities renovations.

District 111 was among 10 districts chosen in 2017 to participate in the state’s pilot program for competency-based learning; since then, the district’s “Learning Anywhere, Anytime” model of asynchronous learning has been implemented.

The model has been credited with helping to increase the four-year graduation rate and the number of students attending Kankakee Community College and the Kankakee Area Career Center.

The district partnered with Defined Learning Projects to implement lesson plans that are centered around real-world examples. Beginning at kindergarten, each grade level has a focus area tied to different careers.

In addition, the district partnered with The New Teacher Project in 2019 to evaluate the amount of instruction provided across the district at grade level; the partnership boosted access to grade level assignments/instruction to 78%, up from 30%.

Throughout her tenure, Walters has fostered community outreach efforts that have targeted food insecurity, technology access, violence prevention, mental health and clothing for students and families in need.

The district has also undergone massive renovations to facilities, including a transformation of Kankakee High School. The district is in the process of building a fieldhouse/ community center that will include learning spaces and offices for JROTC, childcare and the YEP. In addition, the space will feature four basketball courts and a 200-meter track.

Furthermore, renovations to a new space for students with disabilities transitioning to adulthood will be complete in 2024. The building will feature a simulated living room, bedroom, kitchen, laundry room, manufacturing area of Kankakee gear and community store.

APPRECIATION FROM THE SCHOOL BOARD

Kankakee School Board President Chris Bohlen said in the release that the entire board is proud of Walters and wishes to congratulate her for earning this “well deserved acknowledgement.”

“During her tenure, we have restored fiscal integrity, rebuilt our high school, established and upgraded a transition center and assumed operation of our transportation system, all because of her leadership,” Bohlen said. “But, of more significance, our students are offered opportunities for learning that did not exist before her return to Kankakee.

“Dr. Walters has the battle scars to show that change is difficult and not always welcomed. But Dr. Walters’ tenure with our district has shown that change can bring profound results as we work to assure our students become competent adults.”

This article and image are sourced directly from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Tiffany Blanchette – Kankakee Daily Journal