New Ottawa Elementary School District Superintendent Michelle Lee wants to put children at the forefront of everything the district does.
Lee said she wants to return to basics where the district’s schools aren’t as worried about external issues, such as the pandemic.
“Ottawa Elementary has a lot to offer but we have to get back to basics and why we’re here, not worrying about the pandemic,” Lee said. “I’m not saying we won’t be focusing on safety things and making sure kids wash their hands and things are clean, but we want to get back to educating first.”
Lee succeeds Cleve Threadgill as top administrator in the district. Threadgill retired after 11 years as the district’s superintendent.
Lee was born and raised in a rural community outside of Macomb, where she was raised on a farm around horses and hay. From there, she attended school at a small kindergarten through 12th grade school that closed years later.
She completed both her undergraduate and doctorates at Western Illinois University before starting her teaching career in Wichita, Kansas. She returned to Illinois as a reading specialist in Havana and Astoria for nine years before going into administration. She’s worked in administration for 24 years now, making 34 years total in education.
Ottawa will be a change for her coming from a smaller district: Lee held a dual role where she was superintendent over two different districts performing the tasks of a transportation director, food service director and curriculum director.
Ottawa Elementary hosted its new staff orientation Thursday morning and will start the year with two teacher institutes on Aug. 29 and 30, which Lee said is later than usual because of construction installing geothermal air conditioning at McKinley and Jefferson schools.
Lee inherited the building projects from Threadgill, who retired in June. It’s now up to Lee to move forward with other necessary improvements to the buildings, including Lincoln Elementary School where talks about adding air conditioning have grown complicated because of the building’s age.
“It’s like anybody that has an old house can tell you, any time you get in and do anything it creates a ripple effect,” Lee said.
Lee said the board will receive more information on the future of air conditioning at Lincoln at the next meeting and more going forward once the district can form a committee to create more long-term planning for the district.
“I want to do some long-range planning with finding out how we’re going to pay for these things once we figure out what’s needed,” Lee said. “We’ve got other things out there. Shepherd needs a new roof. We have two houses sitting over by Jefferson that we own and we need to find out what we’re going to do with those.”
While being a new superintendent has its challenges, Lee said she’s looking forward to the start of the year.
“I want to get to know the community, the parents and of course the students,” Lee said. “You know, learning what Ottawa Elementary is all about. I want to be visible and out and about in the community and build cohesive partnerships with different organizations, clubs and groups to work to make Ottawa the place to be.”
The official first day of school this year will be Wednesday, Aug. 31.