News Local/State

Urbana School District 116 Hires New Superintendent

Jennifer Ivory-Tatum behind a desk speaking to the Urbana District 116 School Board with meeting attendees seated behind her.

Jennifer Ivory-Tatum was unanimously appointed superintendent of Urbana School District 116 at a special school board meeting held Sunday, May 19, 2019. Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Public Media

The Urbana District 116 School Board voted unanimously Sunday night to appoint Jennifer Ivory-Tatum as the new superintendent of schools. Ivory-Tatum previously worked in both Urbana and Champaign Unit 4 schools. She’s leaving her position as assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Unit 4 to take the job in Urbana.

Ivory-Tatum thanked her family, including her two sons who both attend Urbana High School, and the numerous teachers and administrators who attended Sunday’s special board meeting.

She received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“It means a lot that you guys believe I can do this work, that you guys believe in me and have faith in me and know I can lead this great district,” she said.

Board officials said she will receive a starting annual salary of $205,000.

Ivory-Tatum takes over after a difficult year for Urbana schools. The former superintendent, Don Owen, was fired by the school board last fall after the roll out of a new restorative justice program in the district faced voluminous criticism from both teachers and families. Former assistant superintendent of learning, Samuel Byndom, was charged with felony eavesdropping last November for allegedly trying to record a closed door school board meeting.

The district also faced criticism from teachers and families after Illinois Public Media reported the existence of a hiring audit of positions recently filled by people of color.

Ivory-Tatum said during Sunday’s meeting that repairing relationships is a top priority as she enters her new role. Urbana School Board president John Dimit echoed that sentiment, and added that the board is confident Ivory-Tatum will build trusting relationships with the community.

“No one can restore academic leadership and repair relationships faster than (Ivory-Tatum),” Dimit said. “The board is interested in ideas from outside the community, the best practices from outside the community, and for our district we have the confidence that (Ivory-Tatum) indeed shares that vision.”

Ivory-Tatum beat out two other finalists — an administrator from Chicago Public Schools and another from Ohio — in a national search for a new superintendent. Former Urbana superintendent, Preston Williams, has served as interim superintendent since Owen was ousted.

A meet and greet with Ivory-Tatum is planned for Tuesday, May 28 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Urbana High School.

Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines