DECATUR – Michael Dugan has been named superintendent of the Hononegah High School district, pending board approval at its June 20 meeting.
Dugan, the assistant superintendent-secondary for Decatur School District, will begin his new position on July 1 and will sign a three-year contract. He joined the Decatur schools in July 2014 as principal of Eisenhower High School, and became assistant superintendent in July 2015. After the departure of former Superintendent Lisa Taylor in March 2016, he was named co-interim superintendent, with Bobbi Williams, where he served until Superintendent Paul Fregeau began work last year.
"I like having a smaller setting," Dugan said. "I've been looking for a high school district. I've been in unit districts my entire career. The Illinois Association of School Boards was the search firm and they called and asked me if I was interested, and the more research I did, the more I was interested."
One of the things that caught his attention, he said, was that in Hononegah, he'll be in the school building with the kids instead of a separate administration office, like he is in Decatur. His eldest son, Jack, will be a junior in the fall, while middle son Joe will be a freshman, and he's looking forward to shaking their hands as they graduate, he added. Youngest son James will be in seventh grade in a Rockton middle school. James was going to be in the Johns Hill Magnet School orchestra in the fall and Joe was going to be in the Eisenhower High School band, so it's going to be a tough transition for them, Dugan said.
"(Wife) Angie and the kids and I have been very happy in Decatur and the people of Decatur have been so friendly. It's been a wonderful place to live," Dugan said.
Hononegah's school board conducted two searches for a new superintendent and had already narrowed the field to two finalists once before, when they decided to conduct the second search that included Dugan. The district's current superintendent, Lynn Gibson, is retiring.
“You want to make sure, when you bring somebody in, that they appreciate where you've been and where you want to go, that they have a plan and a way to assess how to get there. That's what we looked for,” said Hononegah board President David Kurlinkus. “When we got to the end of the first process, we were unable to come to consensus on either finalist, so the board decided to reopen the search. It's not a knock on anybody, but you have to, as a board, be comfortable, be confident. You're entrusting a very important job to someone, which is educating our future.”
Hononegah is a high school district serving four elementary districts, situated about 18 miles north of Rockford in Winnebago County. The school is in Rockton and serves students from Rockton, Roscoe, South Beloit and an unincorporated area. While there is still a lot of farmland in the area, it's mostly surburban. Enrollment is 2,073 as of the 2017 Illinois Report Card data, with 20 percent low-income students, 86 percent white students and only 3 percent mobility, in contrast with Decatur, which has 53 percent low-income and 13 percent mobility among its 9,104 students.
“It's a very high-achieving high school,” Kurlinkus said. “In USA Today's rankings for top high schools in Illinois, we were 41 of 1,088. We have a high graduation rate, and most of our students go to some kind of education after high school, two- or four year college. We're very proud of the product we put out.”
The board was particularly keen to hire someone familiar with the strategic planning process, Kurlinkus said. The retiring superintendent is on her third five-year plan, and the board wanted to ensure that Gibson's successor would be able to carry on that tradition, as it has worked well for them, he added.
Dugan is a native of Chicago and spent his first year teaching in County Cork, Ireland, through the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. His family is Irish, and he still has family in that country. During his time in Ireland, he was able to visit the house where his grandmother was born, spend the night there and attend the church she attended.
His father was a military police officer who protected James Meredith, the first African-American to attend the University of Mississippi, and later worked for a utility company, and his mother was a teacher in Chicago, where he was born. He chose teaching, he said, because his mother, uncle and aunt were all teachers, but also because a counselor at Eastern Illinois University encouraged him.
“I had a lot of social studies and science (classes),” Dugan said in 2014. “I had a good counselor who said middle school education is a brand-new degree and you can pursue both social studies and science, and I said, 'My mother is a teacher. That's a good idea.'”
He spent the majority of his career, prior to coming to Decatur, in the Crete-Monee school district in the Chicago suburbs. He had once worked with Decatur's chief operational officer Todd Covault, who notified him when there was an opening for a principal at Eisenhower. Dugan was interested because Eisenhower's demographics are almost identical to the Crete-Monee schools, and the new building would offer a chance to rebuild school pride.
The Decatur school board approved new job descriptions for the assistant superintendents at the June 12 meeting, so finding a successor for Dugan will also mean looking for someone to fulfill one of those newly created roles, said Superintendent Paul Fregeau. He didn't want to put a timeline on the process, not knowing how long that will take, but the search will begin almost immediately.
"We'll definitely miss him," Fregeau said. "Mike served Decatur public schools very well while he was here and this is a logical next step in career, becoming a superintendent."