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New Polo superintendent tackles pandemic challenges head on

Kelly Mandrell, new superintendent of Polo schools, has kept busy during her first couple of weeks on the job. Her district, like others here and nationwide, is devising ways to safely return students to school in the fall.
Kelly Mandrell, new superintendent of Polo schools, has kept busy during her first couple of weeks on the job. Her district, like others here and nationwide, is devising ways to safely return students to school in the fall.

POLO – For new Polo schools Superintendent Kelly Mandrell, the COVID-19 challenges are mounting, and she has spent the first couple of weeks in her new position trying to figure it all out and get her district ready for learning, in whatever capacity it turns out to be.

At the moment, does she know what school will be like?

"Not yet," Mandrell said. "A lot of people are working toward their plans, and there's a couple of ideas."

Tackling the major issue has taken up lots of desk and computer time for Mandrell and other superintendents in the area. As many as two or three webinars a day are devoted to preparing the district for the coming year, and with each webinar comes a slew of amended plans.

"As with any new job, you're always learning," Mandrell said. "You're just constantly learning and finding out about the community as well as the way the school works."

Because of the time devoted to these sessions, she hasn't met everyone she needs to within the district yet, but will soon, she said.

"With the guidelines constantly changing, this is kind of what I need to be doing right now. I've started making appointments with people, so that's a good thing."

During her first week, Mandrell put out a survey to parents of the district's students seeking their feedback about school procedures – social distancing, face masks and learning methods – that may come in the fall.

The responses, Mandrell said, have been "good" and should help her put together a plan for learning by next week. Once that plan is out, another survey is planned based on that plan.

Don't expect things to be set in stone, she said.

"As we put out our plan, we also know that our plan is going to update," Mandrell said. "With any school year, there are going to be some ups and downs, and this is just kind of the bigger one that's one that we have to really work on and figure out a little quicker."

Mandrell is one of four new superintendents in the region, and the more experienced school heads have been quite the help for her and the other rookies, she said.

"It makes you feel very welcome."

Mandrell was principal at Pearl City Junior-Senior High School for 7 years. Prior to that, she was a counselor at Forreston schools and taught kindergarten at Stillman Valley and Rochelle schools for 1 year each.

Staying home to serve her community was a prime factor in seeking the position, she said. Her husband, Jon, is vice president of academics and student services at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, and before that was Polo's police chief. They have two daughters, Laynie and Macie.

Each of the district's three principals – Andy Faivre at the high school, Mark Downey at the middle school and Melydi Huyett at the elementary school – are back this year, and that has helped the transition process, Mandrell said.

Mandrell's predecessor, Chris Rademacher, had been in education for 31 years, and was superintendent at Polo for 17. He is the reigning Polo Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, in honor of his personal fundraising efforts for the community, which has tallied more than $26,000 during his two decades in town.

Now, Polo's new schools chief looks to be just as impactful.

"I'm enjoying it," she said. "It's a great district to work for, and I'm privileged to work with the great team that I have here within the school district and the great community Polo is.

"We want to keep everyone who is part of this district safe, and that's our main goal as a district."

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