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First day of school a new beginning for many in D204

The halls Waubonsie Valley far outnumber halls Monroe Middle School Wheatwhere new principal JasStipp was before taking Principal job Waubonsi.

The halls of Waubonsie Valley far outnumber the halls of Monroe Middle School in Wheaton where new principal Jason Stipp was before taking the Principal job at Waubonsi. "We'll figure it out together," he told freshman Jack Wujec as they looked for his first period class on Thursday, August 22, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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By the numbers


Total number of schools in School District 204


Number of square miles
District 204 spans,
including portions of
Naperville, Aurora and Bolingbrook


Number of bus routes
in the district


Number of employees in D204


Approximate number of
students enrolled for
this school year

Information provided by Indian Prairie School District 204

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Updated: September 25, 2012 10:36AM

The first day of school isn’t just a big day for new students. It is also a life-changing day for many school employees.

When the doors opened for school Thursday in School District 204, 73 employees were experiencing their first day in their new jobs. Here are a few of their stories:

Jason Stipp of
Waubonsie Valley

“If you don’t like the first day, you’re not going to like any day.” said new Waubonsie Valley High School Principal Jason Stipp as he greeted students on the first day of school Thursday.

Stipp took over the leadership at Waubonsie when Kristine Marchiando retired in June.

“It’s a huge day of excitement,” Stipp said. “When we get the students in the building, that’s when the real things happen, that’s when the energy picks up, and that’s what drives us. The students are why we all got into this (field) and why we love this.”

Stipp is looking forward to leading the Warriors after spending most of his 15-year career in Wheaton Warrenville Community School District 200. A resident of Naperville and a District 204 parent, he is looking to build relationships with the Waubonsie community.

“One of the biggest hurdles for me is not knowing the community and kids right now because I was in Wheaton for 12 years,” he said. “I look forward to being out and about, in the classrooms seeing what the kids are learning. I feel very fortunate for this opportunity, to be part of such a special school and a special district.”

Stipp’s work, though, began long before Thursday. In early summer, he was meeting with faculty and instructional leaders “to get an idea of the culture and a feel for the community.” But Thursday was the day he had been waiting for.

“There is nothing like the opening of school and the energy and excitement the kids bring in,” he said.

Ryan Loats of
Welch Elementary

While Stipp is new to the district, Ryan Loats is anything but a newcomer.

A former District 204 student, Loats returned to the classroom Thursday as a teacher.

The 2001 graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School began his career as a special education teacher at Welch Elementary School in south Naperville Thursday.

“When I was a student here, who would have thought I would be teaching here some day?” said Loats, 28. “I have been around here my whole life and now I will be teaching here. I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Superintendent Kathy Birkett was Loats’ principal when he attended Steck Elementary School. Birkett said her former student stood out for many reasons, but especially for his friendship with a student who had special needs named Trevor Castle. “I remember Ryan very well,” Birkett said. “Ryan was one that cared about Trevor, connected with him and included him in things outside of the school. When I saw that he went into special education and became an educator, it did not surprise me.”

Loats went on to Waubonsie Valley where he became a peer partner, assisting students with special needs during physical education classes. Nancy Loats said her son has always had a “heart that understands,” even as a young child.

“I am really proud that he went through a (school) system that enabled him to come out and do great things,” said his mom, who lives in Aurora. “Ryan was lucky to know what he wanted to do and had the opportunity to pursue something he truly enjoys.”

In 2007, he graduated from Western Illinois University and spent five years at Little Friends’ Krejci Academy in Naperville before being hired by District 204 this summer.

“When he was interested in getting into public education, I was extremely interested in him,” Birkett said. “If there is anything that I want in our educators, and that we value in 204, is that student-focus and that heart. Ryan has a heart of an educator and you see that. He makes those connections with the kids and he did that when he was a kid himself.”

Loats said his education and work experience prepared him for his new endeavor.

“For me, it’s about the kids,” Loats said. “I hope they are going to make progress all year long, and I hope to have an impact on their lives in a positive way.”

Cara Knutson of
Brooks Elementary

Cara Knutson on Thursday started a new career as a music teacher at Brooks Elementary School in the district.

A 1999 graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in music education, the Naperville mother of three is coming back into the workforce after working at home for the past several years.

“I am really proud and excited to be part of the music team within District 204,” Knutson said. “To be part of something of that high caliber is really wonderful. It is a music program that has depth to it.”

Knutson said as a music teacher, she’ll have the opportunity to work with students in each grade, along with leading the school’s fourth- and fifth-grade student choir.

“I am really looking forward to bringing music to the children and influencing their lives,” she said. “I am excited to see the growth from year to year, create a bond and watch the children as they develop.”

Along with her first day on the job, it was the first day of school for her three children.

“There are a lot of changes for us this year and I am really excited,” Knutson said. “I am looking forward to working with the students, doing some new and creative things that will get them ready for the new school year and music.”

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