The Urbana School District may have a new superintendent, but the superintendent is hardly new to Urbana. 47-year-old Don Owen began working in Urbana schools in 1989, when he and his wife moved to the area so she could attend graduate school. They never left. A Minnesota native, Owen has two degrees from the University of Illinois, including a recently finished doctoral degree in Educational Organization and Leadership. Owen and his wife, Meg DeLand-Owen, a speech language pathologist at King Elementary in Urbana and Urbana Middle School, have two children who both attend Urbana schools. Their daughter is in middle school and their son will enter Urbana High School this fall.
See why we think Don Owen is a Chambana dad to know.
Q: It’s been less than 11 days (officially), but how does it feel to be the superintendent of the Urbana school district?
It is an honor and a privilege to be asked to lead Urbana School District #116. I am excited about the future of the district, and I look forward to working with students, teachers, administrators and families to provide the best educational experiences for all students. Our mission is to provide comprehensive educational programs that help students achieve their own personal greatness by engaging each student, every family, and the entire community. That is what I love about Urbana and my new role.
Q: What are your major priorities as you start the first year of your administration?
The Urbana School District Strategic Plan is our template for continuous improvement. My personal focus this year will include the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment; engaging students and families; and prioritizing the use of existing resources while pursing additional revenues and partnerships throughout the community.
The district will also be celebrating the opening of the new Urbana Early Childhood School on Washington Street next to Prairie School. This is the first new school Urbana has built in over 40 years, and we are very excited to see the reaction of the young students and families.
Q: I know a lot of parents who are concerned about overcrowding at Leal and how it will impact their family. How is the process to address this problem proceeding, and what further challenges do you anticipate in this regard?
We had several conversations about the Leal enrollment issue at Board of Education meetings in April and May. My biggest concern is to provide the best possible education to all of our students, and in order to do that, we need to address over-crowding at Leal. On June 4, the Board of Education approved three solutions that we are in the process of implementing.
All three of the solutions allow existing Leal students to remain at Leal, so I hope that eases many concerns. The first step we are implementing is redrawing a portion of the Leal boundaries (a triangular area bounded by Cunningham Avenue, Perkins Road, and I-74) and moving that area to Prairie Elementary. Again, all students from that area currently attending Leal will be allowed to continue at Leal. The second step is to implement enrollment caps based on the class size limits defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If a student enrolls that pushes a class over the class-size limit, we will allow them to petition to another school in the district that has space. Finally, we are also in the process of preparing to call together a committee to recommend longer-term solutions by studying Leal’s boundaries and projected enrollments. That committee will be assembled and begin work at the end of the summer, and make recommendations to the Board of Education in December.
We will know more after our Centralized Registration on July 30, July 31, and August 1. None of these solutions requires Leal parents (current or potential) to do anything differently. Information about Centralized Registration is on the district website: http://www.usd116.org
Q: You are known for wearing bow ties – is there a story behind that and if yes, what is it?
Bow ties are cool! Actually, the bow ties are relatively recent. I have always had a lot of neckties, so this is just an extension of my collection. My father-in-law, Gerald DeLand, gave my son and I bow ties for Christmas this year along with a copy of a short story that he wrote called “The Bow Tie.” It took me three attempts with a YouTube coach to tie it well (my son is better than I am), but I liked the look and it reminded me of a photograph of my dad from many years ago.
Q: You have kids in the district. Does that help you in your day-to-day work and if so, how?
I am really happy that my own children attend Urbana schools. One main way that it helps me in my day-to-day work is that I get to see school communications and teacher feedback about learning from a parental point of view. Because those are both big priorities, it is helpful for me to have that opportunity. I also get to see teachers’ passion and innovation through my children’s’ eyes, and that is always informative.
Q: How do you sell Urbana schools to outsiders/newcomers?
The easiest way to “sell” Urbana schools is to have parents or families visit when school is in session. By seeing our students and teachers in action, they get to see the creative an innovative teaching and learning happening first hand. I am proud of all of our schools and extend an open invitation to anyone considering a move to Urbana to make an appointment to visit a school, talk to the educators, and see the strength of our diverse community of learners.
Q: What do you like to do with your family when you’re not wearing your Superintendent “hat”?
My kids are at the age when much of their lives center on school and school activities. We attend a lot of school music, drama, and athletic events together. We also enjoy walking, running, biking, and an occasional trip to visit family and friends.
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