Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Stephen Berry retired from the helm of District 214.
But even in retirement, Berry returns to the District every year to recognize students and all they have accomplished.
Berry, who worked in District 214 for 30 years, attends the Board awards program each May. At that meeting, graduating seniors who are National Merit Finalists receive an award named after Berry that recognizes their dedication to study and sacrifice of free time, and acknowledges their future academic and leadership potential.
“I guess in retirement I enjoy the opportunity to come back and see what young people are doing and the skills and talents they put to work and are recognized for,” he says.
A Michigan native, Berry started his career in education in his home state, where he taught biology for eight years. He came to Wheeling High School in 1964 as a science teacher.
“When I came here from Michigan, I felt I had joined a very progressive, forward-thinking group of educators working in very supportive communities. It was very encouraging to me,” Berry says. “It was a great opportunity to make a difference in education. I wanted my kids to go to District 214 schools.”
One son graduated from Prospect High School and is now an attorney, Berry said. Another son graduated from Wheeling and is an engineer.
Berry held various roles in District 214, including director of the Instructional Resource Center, assistant to the superintendent for public and personnel relations, and Wheeling’s associate principal for instruction.
In 1982, he was named principal of Elk Grove High School. Becoming a principal, he says, had been a longtime career goal.
Three years later, Berry was asked to become deputy superintendent and then acting superintendent. In January 1986, he was named superintendent.
At the time, District 214 was reeling from major change. Arlington High School had recently closed due to declining enrollment. Forest View High School was scheduled to close in 1986.
“It was a big challenge to get all of that back on track. The morale of the staff was low because they, too, were being moved around to schools where they never expected to be,” he says. “So, we focused on learning and curriculum development … and we focused on the kids.”
Berry stayed as the leader of District 214 for nine years. During that time, he said he worked with dedicated Boards of Education.
“We had a lot of harmony,” he says. “It was an opportunity to help the District, with my colleagues backing me, to get it back to the path that we followed in the past.”
In his last year as superintendent, Berry said his staff wanted to do more to recognize students who were named National Merit Finalists. They asked the Board of Education to give a special award to those students, and the Board approved. It was then that his name was placed on the award, called the Stephen D. Berry Award of Excellence.
After retirement, Berry served as a consultant for a few years and then served as interim superintendent for five school districts. His leadership resulted in $400 million for new and improved school facilities. In total, he has been an educator for 50 years.
Today, Berry remains in the Arlington Heights area. Since fully retiring, he has enjoyed playing tennis and golf with other retired colleagues and coaches. “They are better than me but it is fun anyway,” Berry jokes. He has seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, and spends parts of winters in Arizona and summers in the Galena area. He also chaired the search committee that recommended Dr. David R. Schuler – District 214’s current superintendent – take the leadership position in 2005.
“He has done a great job since he’s been superintendent. He’s provided tremendous leadership and progress and he’s brought a lot of creative ideas,” Berry said of Dr. Schuler. “He and I get together every year or two and have a nice round of talking.”
Looking back, Berry says he is grateful for all of the help he had from so many people during his tenure as District 214’s fourth superintendent.
“I had a lot of help from many good people, excellent principals, outstanding central office staff and smart teachers who were wanting to improve things as quickly as we could,” Berry says. “I couldn’t have done it without all of that support.”