The District 200 Board of Education has approved the hiring of Shalema Francois-Blue as the district’s executive director of special education, effective July 1, 2020. She replaces Dr. Gwen Walker-Qualls, who is retiring after 14 years with the district.
Mrs. Francois-Blue has served diverse learners in public education for more than 20 years, dedicating her career to empowering and supporting educators, families, and communities to bring out the true gifts of every student. In her most recent role as a director of special education in Lake County, she serves roughly 3,500 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Of those students, 16% have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), the document for every student receiving special education services that specifies the child’s needs and the school’s obligations to meet those needs. At OPRF, 17% of students have IEPs.
Mrs. Francois-Blue’s transformative leadership in special education has been cultivated by experiences as an educator and administrator. She began her career in Minneapolis Public Schools as a gifted education teacher and coordinator. Influenced by her experience shadowing her mother at work, who retired from special education, Mrs. Francois-Blue went on to become a special education teacher, later transitioning to administration, including five years as special services supervisor at Evanston/Skokie School District 65.
“Shalema’s passion for special education really stood out,” said District 200 Superintendent Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, who spent much of her own career as a special education teacher. “She is absolutely committed to not just her students but also her staff being heard and treated fairly. We have some great things happening in special education, and I really look forward to seeing her build on those.”
Ms. Francois-Blue also is a proud previous resident of Oak Park. She holds a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Minnesota and a master’s in Special Education from Minnesota State University. She has a depth of knowledge and experience in trauma-informed care in education, restorative practices, and racial equity.