Portrait of a progressive leader: Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat
Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Ph.D. ’06, is many things. She is a superintendent, an educator, an innovator, a wife, a mother, and a nature lover. Her life is an inspiration for educators and teachers alike.
Hailing from Dominica, West Indies, and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Desmoulin-Kherat earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bradley University in Peoria. She went on to earn her education doctorate (Ed.D.) in P-12 administration from the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations at Illinois State University. During her progressive career, Desmoulin-Kherat served at all levels for Peoria Public Schools before being recruited to be the transformation officer for Springfield Public Schools. She later accepted a position as associate superintendent of schools in Danville, where she served for two years.
Desmoulin-Kherat returned to Peoria in 2015 to serve as the district’s superintendent. She is delighted to be back where her academic and professional careers started in 1983. She characterizes her career so far as an exciting journey with intense and rewarding work.
Propelled by her passion to reimagine schools, Desmoulin-Kherat focuses on uniting the entire community behind the work of Peoria Public Schools. This is apparent through the multiple partnerships she has helped to establish, including the district’s work with Align Peoria, Inc. The collective impact of the community is realized through Align Peoria by bringing in businesses and stakeholders from five areas, including government, education, business, social service agencies, and the faith-based community. Together, they help the district to realize its vision and implement its strategic plan. One of her other goals involves helping students find their interests and assisting them on a path to explore them further. She is also working with faculty and staff to redefine what college and career readiness mean for students’ learning.
Desmoulin-Kherat strives to impart a hard-working attitude that she believes is vital to being a successful leader. Her approach emphasizes innovation, a transformative and responsive leadership style, love for everyone, relationship building, the importance of caring and passionate work, giving second chances, and enacting social justice and equity. Amidst a wide variety of challenges, including reduced interest in the education field, intense work, accountability, certification, and budget and staffing restraints, Desmoulin-Kherat works with a sense of urgency to bring all stakeholders on board to implement novel ideas and innovative teaching approaches.
Currently, it is estimated that the teacher shortage in Illinois will be 20,000 by 2020. In addition, budget cuts and funding issues have motivated her to work on evidence-based funding. With the district receiving only 68 percent of its funding need, Desmoulin-Kherat recognizes a team effort is required to bypass the funding constraint and serve her urban community of students to the best of her ability. Her tireless work extends to finding qualified teachers to staff classrooms and to avoid letting the shortage deter the learning capabilities of Peoria students.
Desmoulin-Kherat attributes her success and accomplishments to many mentors, including her mother, along with Frank Campbell, Barbara Pendelton, Thom Simpson, Cheryl Sanfilip, Laraine Bryson, Rita Ali, Linda Lyman, Amee Adkins (her dissertation chair), and all of her professors and teachers, especially those from her time at Illinois State.
With high-quality training, progressive experiences, and discussions with tremendous focus on equity and social justice, Desmoulin-Kherat enjoyed every moment of her time at Illinois State. She recalls her dissertation as an amazing experience, and although it was challenging, she felt driven and motivated to work hard every day. She said the fun part was how deep and focused her study developed as she researched meaningful leadership for the success of all children, particularly African-American students. This motivation was fueled in part by her fellow students in the cohort-model program. She collaborated with a group of 15-20 educators who met at Richwoods High School to learn and grow as leaders. She is appreciative of the high-quality, creative course delivery and recommends it to aspiring P-12 educational leaders who want a program capable of providing rigorous transformation while accommodating the demands of students’ professional and family lives.
Desmoulin-Kherat also highly recommends the EAF department’s Ed.D. program because it exposes students to a variety of perspectives. With caring professors, she had the opportunity to engage in many meaningful conversations about the overarching themes of the program: equity and social justice. These are two pervasive themes for progress in her own community and district. Currently, two Illinois State staff members are working at her district through the Urban Teacher Initiative program in Peoria. She calls Illinois State’s Urban Teacher Initiative an impressive program that she believes should be modeled for other districts at a national level.