WOODSTOCK – Long before District 200 would ask for and receive a $105 million referendum to build three new schools and renovate others, district officials assembled a super task force.
About 60 people were assembled toward a simple objective: Go out into the community and gain the people’s trust.
More than two grueling years later, the district passed the referendum, which led to the building of Woodstock North High School, Prairiewood Elementary School and Creekside Middle School. It’s an end result many attribute to all that groundwork. And it’s groundwork that District 200 board President Camille Goodwin attributes to one woman: Superintendent – for a few more days – Ellyn Wrzeski.
“I think it was due in great part and probably entirely to Ellyn’s insistence on doing it in a collaborative fashion,” said Goodwin, who took over as board president this month but has been on the board for nine years. “And that’s really how she ran her superintendency from the beginning.”
Wrzeski will bring to a close her 13 years as the district’s superintendent when she officially retires June 27.
She points to the successful referendum – and preceding committee – as one of the biggest successes of her tenure. But the new schools weren’t the only changes the district saw under Wrzeski.
She ranks a new dual-language program, building renovations and reconfigurations, and strides toward localizing special education among her proudest accomplishments. But she’s quick to pass along praise.
“None of this is me,” she said, sitting back from her desk on a late spring day. “It’s a whole conglomerate of people.”
Wrzeski never would have dreamed she’d be seeing through these accomplishments in Woodstock, of all places – at least not before she got a feel for the town.
Wrzeski was superintendent for a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school district when she and her husband made the decision to move closer to their families, which lived in separate towns in Wisconsin. The couple drew a circle with a 100-mile radius on the map. The superintendent job in Woodstock – within the circle – opened up.
Wrzeski and her husband landed at Midway Airport and drove up through the snow. It wasn’t what you’d call love at first sight.
“We got here and I’m like, ‘Ugh, what are we doing?’ ” Wrzeski remembered. “In the snowstorm, we couldn’t really get our bearings.”
After meeting with the board, Wrzeski felt better. After the second interview, she was convinced. She canceled a final interview in Middleton, Wisconsin, outside Madison and nearer to Wrzeski’s parents, who have since passed away.
“I wanted a place where there was some diversity,” she said. “I wanted a place where there was a sense of community, and I really felt that when I came to Woodstock. This is a town.”
Wrzeski first announced her retirement in 2010, and planned to be out of the office by June 2012. But she quickly backtracked, pushing the date back two years.
She said this time around, she feels ready. She has plans to travel – to California, New York, Budapest and the Amazon, all by year’s end – and looks forward to having the time to read and work in her garden.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like when that phone isn’t [ringing], and I’m not getting 60 emails a day,” she said. “You say, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s going to be great.’ But then, is it really going to be great? I don’t know.”
It will be an adjustment, she said.
The same could be said for the board, which will miss its longtime leader. Mike Moan, formerly of Huntley District 158, will take over for Wrzeski at the end of the month.
“I’m going to miss her,” said board member Paul Meyer, who served as the board president until recently. “It was a great working relationship. ... We made a lot of accomplishments.”
Goodwin echoed Meyer while adding a subtle call for Wrzeski’s continued involvement.
“She’s going to be missed,” she said. “Fortunately, she’s still a member of the community. We greatly hope to see her around.”