Winnetka Public Schools are in search of a new leader amid the pending resignation of Dr. Trisha Kocanda.
Kocanda was confirmed as the superintendent of Fremont School District 79 in Mundelein on Wednesday, April 13, and announced the news in an email to Winnetka District 36 families that same night.
“I am pursuing this opportunity after much careful, heartfelt consideration,” Kocanda wrote. “I would like to express my deep appreciation for the enduring relationships we have built over the past 12 years. With these strong connections, we have been able to ensure students remain at the center of our decision-making.”
Kocanda was not immediately available for further comment.
Kocanda reportedly will remain D36 superintendent through July 1. The D36 Board of Education expressed surprise at the change in an email to district residents sent around the same time as Kocanda’s.
The message said board members found out about Kocanda’s resignation on Tuesday, April 12, and they “anticipate” discussing next steps at the board of education’s next meeting on April 26.
In an email to The Record, incoming School Board President Emily Rose highlighted a number of achievements as part of Kocanda’s legacy.
“As a board, we appreciate Dr. Kocanda’s eight years of service as the leader of The Winnetka Public Schools, including her steadfast efforts leading the district through the pandemic over the past two years,” Rose wrote. “In partnership with our staff, students, board and community Dr. Kocanda collaboratively led our most recent strategic planning process (and) anchored in our portrait of a graduate, which articulates the key attributes we strive for each student to possess upon leaving the Winnetka Public Schools.”
Kocanda came to Winnetka D36 in 2010 and ascended to superintendent prior to the 2014-2015 school year. Her contract was renewed for four years in 2019. Prior to her local service, Kocanda was a teacher for Arlington Heights District 25 (1999-2005) and an administrator for North Shore D112 (2005-2010).
In 2018, Kocanda completed the 18-month National Superintendent Certification Program.
Kate Hughes, communications coordinator for D36, has worked closely with Kocanda for seven years and said the district is losing a special leader.
“It has been an absolute joy working with her,” Hughes said. “She is just devoted to excellence in every area of her work. She made us all better and made the district better. … Her vision and devotion to making the district better on behalf of all the children and the community members has been inspiring to say the least.”
Hughes highlighted Kocanda’s efforts through the challenging and unstable COVID-19 pandemic era, as well as her dedication to redistricting, a comprehensive plan and a master-facilities plan.
Asst. Superintendent Kelly Tess told The Record via email that Kocanda’s impact — in both academic and social-emotional learning — will be felt in Winnetka Public Schools for years to come.
“Her influence will continue to be seen as we carry on a balanced dedication to the academic, social and emotional well-being of our students and staff,” Tess wrote. “It is the lasting impact of her leadership that will allow us to move forward with confidence and continued commitment to the good work ahead.”
Fremont School District 79 has a larger enrollment (2,200) than Winnetka D36 (1,600), but operates fewer schools —four compared to five, respectively. D79’s offices are located in Mundelein, about 25 miles northwest of Winnetka, and the district serves six communities: Mundelein, Wauconda, Hawthorn Woods, Grayslake, Round Lake, Long Grove and Libertyville.
According to a statement from D79, Kocanda was chosen from 29 candidates and six finalists. She will take over for interim Superintendent Dr. Pam Motsenbocker, who held the position briefly following the March 31 resignation of five-year superintendent Dr. Bill Robertson.
“It is an absolute honor to be named the next Superintendent of Fremont School District 79,” Kocanda said in a statement released by D79. “I look forward to working alongside our staff, students, and community to ensure that every child benefits from an exemplary education. FSD79 is recognized as a high-performing district for its commitment to personalized learning, quality educators, financial stewardship, and modernized facilities. Together, we will continue on the successful journey to take our schools to the next level and reach our vision of ‘preparing today’s child for tomorrow’s world.’”
The Record was unable to obtain her approved contract with Freemont D79 by press time. Robertson earned a $210,000 base salary in the 2021-22 school year, according to D79 documents. According to D36’s compensation report, Kocanda carried a $250,750 in base salary with benefits worth about $100,000 for the 2021-22 school year.
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