Interview with Superintendent Dan Cates

Michael Smith, News Editor

Dr. Daniel Cates is the seventh superintendent of District 211.
Dr. Daniel Cates is the seventh superintendent of District 211.

Ushering in a new era of leadership, Dr. Daniel Cates was appointed superintendent of District 211 on  July 1, 2014. The Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of Dr. Cates to replace now retired superintendent, Nancy Robb. Dr. Cates has played an active role in the district for over 34 years beginning  with his days as a school psychologist when he was first hired  in 1992. Some of his noteworthy accomplishments include serving as the Director of Special Education from 2001 to 2008, helping establish the District’s second alternative school, expanding special services available to students, and most recently, introducing D211’s One-to-One program

Q: Being the Superintendent of Illinois’s largest high school district with over 12,000 students, how hectic is your day to day?

A: It can be very hectic, but also very rewarding how each day brings me something new.

Q: Now, you started of in the district as a school psychologist, correct? Did you imagine at that time that you eventually would become Superintendent?

A: It never came across my mind.

Q: You played a pivotal role in leading the expansion of special services available to students within District 211, what are your goals for the years to come with regard to special services?

A: I believe that special services are vastly important, and we must work to allow students that require special services the tools that can make them succeed once they leave us.

Q: District 211 is well regarded for its multitude of specialized courses like Project Lead The Way to Certified Nursing to Practices in Entrepreneurship. What do you find to be the importance of specialized courses?

A: The importance of specialized courses is that they offer students ways to branch out into different career pathways. Specialized courses like those you listed earlier on provide wonderful opportunities for students to have hands-on opportunities to learn about the jobs they might have in the future.

Q: On a more controversial topic, you have been a significant force in District’s implementation of the One-to-One program. How do you respond to criticism by some teachers and students that the distraction from the iPad’s outweigh their educational benefits?

(Superintendent Cates gave a remarkable four minute response to this question that addressed nearly every concern with the iPads. It was both thoughtful and comprehensive, something I cannot replicate. But I’ll try.)

A: I have the most respect for teachers and students who come with concerns about iPads and that was a big thing we learned about last year when we had an extensive amount of students using our One-to-One program. I have recently got a letter from a very kind teacher pointing out some steps we could take to try to enhance the One-to-One experience. We realize that the main distraction for students is the ability to switch between apps when a teacher is talking when the students are supposed to be focused only on one app. We have tried to fix that using Casper, and while it has run a few problems, overall it has worked well in preventing students from going on other apps while during instruction. I also want to point out that distractions were a problem before we had iPads. Whether it be with cell phones or other books and such items, distractions did not begin with the introduction of the iPads.

Q: D211 schools have scored fairly well in energy performance ratings, an average of 77 out of 100, with three high schools earning the EPA’s Energy Star award. Looking towards the future, what are your goals to make D211 even more environmental friendly?

A: Well, we have definitely been working towards making evermore efficient lighting in our schools. We believe that we actually had four Energy Star award candidate schools, but one was snubbed. Either way, we will continuous work to make our schools a better place for the world in which our students and their future children. And, that is why we also strongly encourage our students when they have ideas about how to make our schools even more environmentally friendly.

Q: Finally, which D211 school is your personal favorite? (The interviewer proceded to wink and mouthed “Palatine”)

A: Wow, that is a good question! I have to say, whatever school I am in at that specific moment. I have had the opportunity to sit down and many of the lunchrooms of our schools and to truly meet with the students, who are the lifeblood of our schools.

As a side note, due to a small technical difficulty I was unable to record the entire conversation. Truth be told, Dr. Daniel Cates’s answers were a lot longer, more thought out, and a lot better sounding. He was very intellectual in his reasoning and explanations, and he’s very passionate about what he talks about.