Darien, IL – During its committee of the whole meeting on May 12, the District 86 Board of Education approved the appointment of Dr. Kari Smith as the new assistant superintendent of student services. Dr. Smith will be replacing Brad Verthein, who is leaving District 86 to become the director of student services for Batavia Public School District 101. 

"I want to thank Brad for his dedicated service during the past eight years, and wish him continued success in District 101," said District 86 Superintendent Tammy Prentiss. "I also want to congratulate Dr. Kari Smith on her appointment as the new assistant superintendent of student services. Dr. Smith is an accomplished educator and outstanding leader with a strong background in special education and a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area of social and emotional learning. I am excited to have her join our team, and look forward to working alongside her to advance our district’s mission and vision and help our students down the path toward their ideal future.”

Dr. Smith has spent more than 20 years collaborating with teachers, support staff, and families to nurture the social and emotional health of students, and help learners with special needs thrive both in and out of the classroom. She began her career in education in Oak Park, where she served as a social worker (11 years) and special education coordinator (five years) for Oak Park Elementary School District 97. In 2015, Dr. Smith was hired as the director of special services for Lombard Elementary District 44. During her two years in that position, she oversaw the implementation and administration of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans, led the work of the district’s Social-Emotional Learning Committee and served as the district’s McKinney-Vento liaison. 

For the past five years, Dr. Smith has been the head of student services (three years as the director and two years as the assistant superintendent) for Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401. Her accomplishments in this role have included:

  • Developing a comprehensive plan for the district to withdraw from the Leyden Area Special Education Cooperative.
  • Expanding the district's student services and partnerships in order to better support students and their families.
  • Creating a special education advisory committee composed of staff and parents/guardians.
  • Establishing a transition program for young adults (ages 18-22) with special needs.
  • Expanding the district’s extended school year program for students with IEPs. 

Dr. Smith has served on the board of directors for the School Social Work Association of America, is a past president and former board member for the Illinois Association of School Social Workers, and is a member of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education and the Council for Exceptional Children. She has also served as a consulting editor and peer reviewer for the School Social Work Journal, and has co-authored multiple chapters in books about school social work practices.

Dr. Smith holds a bachelor's degree in social work from Arizona State University, a master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a master’s degree in school leadership from Concordia University and a doctorate in special education from the University of Illinois Chicago. She is currently working toward her superintendent endorsement from Loyola University Chicago. 

“I want to thank the board of education and Superintendent Prentiss for selecting me to serve as the new assistant superintendent of student services for District 86,” said Dr. Smith. “While I have taken on a variety of roles and responsibilities during my career, my focus has always been on providing students with access to supportive learning environments that meet their needs, aid their growth and development, and help them feel more connected to their school, their teachers and each other. I am excited about the myriad parallels that exist between this focus and the amazing work District 86 is doing in the areas of SEL, equity and transition programming. I am also looking forward to partnering with my new colleagues to build on the success of this work and help every student we serve excel in school and in life.”

Dr. Smith received a two-year contract with a starting base salary of $176,000. Her first day with the district will be July 1, 2022.