Regional Superintendent Paul Nordstrom is in his first week of retirement, but he really doesn’t believe it.
“It’s a little harder to let go than I realized,” he said while sitting in what is now his former office surrounded by photos of himself with his former students.
“It’s a weird feeling. You just can’t believe you’re already to that stage.”
Nordstrom officially retired as the Grundy/Kendall Regional Superintendent of Schools Feb. 28, after about 32 years in education.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Mehochko was officially sworn in as the superintendent of schools Wednesday. This followed a meeting between the Grundy and Kendall county board chairmen, where Mehochko was voted on to fill the position.
“It’s been a valuable learning experience,” said Mehochko of his six years working under Nordstrom.
“It’s been very enjoyable. We are certainly two different personalities, which is the perfect definition of opposites working well together,” he continued. “He thinks through the process a lot more than I’m used to doing, which helped me to slow down.”
The regional offices handle many responsibilities, including substitutes, alternative schools, teacher certifications, GED testing, teacher training and development, bus driver training, life-safety inspections, construction work permits, and just being there for the public and school districts to answer questions and as a liaison with the State Board of Education.
“He always had a student-centered approach to leadership and what was best for the kids,” said Superintendent Dr. Pat Halloran of Morris Community High School.
Nordstrom was a teacher for 20 years before moving up to an administrator’s role. He started his career at Lisbon Grade School, teaching third and fourth grades in 1980. After five years, he was moved to just fourth grade and, by 1999, he was a teacher in the morning and Lisbon’s superintendent in the afternoon.
Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Middle School teacher Pam Siedentop and Nordstrom started their careers together at Lisbon.
“Of course your first year of teaching is a little scary and we both hit it off great,” said Siedentop. “He impressed me from the very beginning. He was so good with kids and the kids always loved him.”
When Nordstrom moved on to become the regional superintendent, she said he continued to be someone she could go to if she had questions or needed help.
“He was always very motivating and positive,” said Siedentop.
Nordstrom was at Lisbon Grade School for 24 years before he started as the assistant regional superintendent in 2004. In 2006, he ran for election unopposed to become the regional superintendent and took office July 1, 2007. He later ran again unopposed.
“I definitely missed teaching. I loved teaching. Some of my greatest thrills, even today, is walking around town and running into an ex-student. They’re still on my walls, a lot of them,” said Nordstrom.
He switched from teaching to administration because it was time for a change, he said.
Doing the same thing every day got old and he was ready for new experiences.
A recent tough time in his career as the regional leader was in 2011, when superintendents and their assistants went about six months without being paid after their salaries were cut from the state budget. Nordstrom and Mehochko continued to work unpaid.
Nordstrom could have retired then, as a state employee he was eligible for retirement two years ago.
“But I thought I was young and there were projects I wanted to do. One was getting the alternative school moved,” he said.
At the beginning of the year, Premier Academy did just that. It moved from its location in a strip mall on Illinois 47 to a location off U.S. 6 and Ashley Road, in buildings that used to belong to a Baptist church that had a high school academy.
Once that was complete, Nordstrom felt it was time to retire. With the Illinois pension concerns, he had been advised by many to get into the retirement system now, while he still could.
But guiding young minds will always stay with him, he said.
“One of the greatest rewards is seeing our students turn into good people,” he said. “If there is one thing I could change in education, I would focus a little less on test scores and focus more on developing good people, because that’s what we’re really proud of.”
After 32 years of putting students first, it’s time to think of himself.
Nordstrom said he plans to take some time to work on getting himself into better shape and health. But once the warm months pass, he thinks he’ll be back in the schools.
“I want to help however I can,” he said.
He lives in Morris and doesn’t intend on leaving the town he loves. He wants to continue to run into his former students, and to see the people he has worked with through the years.
“I totally appreciate everybody at the (Grundy) county building and everybody I worked with in Grundy County and Kendall County,” said Nordstrom. “The superintendents in our two counties have always treated me as well as anybody would expect to be treated.”
“If we ever needed something, in either county, everyone always stepped up to help.”
Superintendent Mehochko said the process of hiring a new assistant superintendent will begin in April, and he or she will start July 1.