OPUSD Assistant Superintendent Heilbron retires

Heilbron: “[Oak Park] is the most extraordinary place to work”

Dr. Leslie Heilbron  has decided to retire after 16 years of serving as an administrator at OPUSD.

Photo courtesy of OPUSD

Dr. Leslie Heilbron has decided to retire after 16 years of serving as an administrator at OPUSD.

After sixteen years as an administrator in the Oak Park Unified School District, Dr. Leslie Heilbron is retiring at the end of June this year.

Heilbron spent six years as the principal of Oak Hills Elementary School, where she governed a world of handball courts and happy-faced suns. The following decade, she ensured the staff of OPUSD would lead with similar deft as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Employment.

“Honestly, [the time I have spent in this district] has flown by,” Heilbron said.

Heilbron’s career plans always didn’t include being an administrator. In fact, Heilbron was initially a teacher for over 20 years in both New York and California. Yet one day, she decided to make a change. She proceeded to attend graduate school, where she received a MA in Administration and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

From there, she applied to be the principal at Oak Hills Elementary School. To her surprise, she was accepted.

“To get a job as an administrator in Oak Park was so unbelievable,” Heilbron said. “And here I had come in, right out of the classroom — I had no experience. But [OPUSD Superintendent] Tony Knight took a chance on me.”

“Leslie has been my right hand for many years,” Knight wrote in a letter to OPUSD staff. “she has a long and distinguished record of making thoughtful decisions that have greatly benefited the students and staff of Oak Park USD.”

Heilbron describes her years at OHES as “a dream come true.” She was especially passionate about connecting with her students at the school.

“My husband teases me and says, ‘You can remember every detail about every child you’ve ever worked with, but you can’t remember to send in your credit card payment on the same day every month.’” Heilbron chuckles. “And it’s true!”

When Heilbron was offered her role at the district office, she was excited to take on the position.

“The idea intrigued me. [I would] have an impact in a different way on a different level,” Heilbron said.

Some of Heilbron’s fondest memories at the district office involve her fellow administrators. She believes OPUSD’s welcoming nature is what makes it so special.

“It’s the most extraordinary place to work,” Heilbron said. “I’m surrounded by the most incredible support staff.”

Heilbron is retiring primarily so she can spend more time with her children and grandchildren. Yet leaving her job at the district office was difficult.

“I never thought I would work this long, but I never knew how much I would love the district that I work for and the people that I work with,” Heilbron said.

Director of Student Support and School Safety Stewart McGugan will succeed Heilbron next school year.

“OPUSD is a unique district and I am proud to carry on their traditions and philosophies,” McGugan wrote to the Talon. “I know there will be a learning curve and I am a little nervous for that, but the challenge is something I am ready and eager to take on.”

Mcgugan has known Heilbron since she was the principal of OHES, and the two have become close friends.

“Dr. Heilbron has always been the light in the room that shines on everybody. I always called her my ‘work mom’ because she always looked out for me,” McGugan wrote. “All staff members adore her…She has a special ability to make everyone feel special. ”

In her retirement, Heilbron is excited to experience a new kind of lifestyle. With her new time, Heilbron plans to connect with her loved ones, read more books, and to volunteer for organizations that support families experiencing food insecurity.

“My focus has been so work-oriented, so I’m looking forward to refocusing and living a slower pace of life,” Heilbron said.

Heilbron’s final days in the district office were cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It was difficult when I realized that I wasn’t going back to work,” Heilbron said. “[But] I do believe that there’s a plan, and while I’m not sure what this is, I’m going for the ride.”