NORMAL -- Although he doesn't have the title of superintendent, the third candidate vying to replace retiring Superintendent Gary Niehaus says among his strengths is coming from a school district in Aurora that has faced some of the same challenges that are before McLean County Unit 5 while being nearly twice its size.
Michael Popp, who visited Normal Community West High School Friday, has been Indian Prairie School District 204's executive director of kindergarten to 12th grade teaching and learning for two years. He has also served as a high school English teacher, high school assistant principal, high school principal, director of school improvement and planning and director of leadership services, all with Indian Prairie.
"I believe there is no real transition issue when you are talking about the size of this district," said Popp, a 48-year-old Chicago native. "Working in the district that I have been in for the last 24 years will serve me very well in serving a community this size."
Indian Prairie has about 28,500 students and about the same number of buildings as Unit 5, he said.
"I've worked in so many facets in my district -- dealing with growth, which I know is an issue in this community; dealing with changing demographics, which I know is happening in (Unit 5); and helping staff and parents and community rally around and have high expectations of all students. I've gone through all of that in my district."
Popp was slated to visit Feb. 1, but inclement weather pushed his appearance to Friday.
Popp said in his current district-wide position he works closely with the superintendent and school board in defining and refining district goals.
He applied for the Unit 5 position because he wanted to move his career forward to the role of superintendent, he said.
"I went out and got the degrees to be able to do it ... and then it was finding the right district with the right mix of staff with great capacity and desire to continue to do better," he said.
"I see in the data sets that there is great growth that (Unit 5) students make, for example, from third to eighth grade in reading," Popp said. That indicates "there is a very committed group of staff and committed parents who are focused on what's best for their students," he added.
Popp said decision-making is very simple for him.
"The bottom line always is: Is this going to serve our students well?"
Popp's visit follows trips by two other finalists: O'Fallon District 90 Superintendent Todd Koehl and Dowagiac, Mich., Union Schools Superintendent Mark Daniel.
The board plans to meet in closed session 2 p.m. Sunday at the unit office, 1809 W. Hovey Ave. Because of the delay in interviewing the candidates, the board's final vote likely will not happen until next month, Vice President Meta Mickens-Baker said.