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Jennifer Carollo Fischer: Great Expectations School Director Peter James to retire after 16 years

A few months ago, when I first began reporting on topics in education, I had the privilege of speaking with Peter James. Mr. James has been the director of Great Expectations School (GES), which opened in the fall of 2003, for the past 16 years. It is a k-8 facility that enrolls roughly 110 students and employs 26 teachers and staff. GES is a tuition-free, public charter school where the focus is to prioritize the learners’ social and emotional development. The school is designed to provide the opportunity for new ideas and visions in education to take shape.

Peter spoke with me then about the pride he had in his school, his colleagues, and the students he was preparing for successful futures.

Fast forward to the present day, and the GES family and Cook County Community have begun preparations for the retirement of its devoted and respected long-time leader. Peter took the time to speak with me again, this time reflecting upon his experiences at Great Expectations, his pride in his school community, and the plans for his upcoming retirement.

Q. How many years have you been an educator/ administrator? What led you to this career?

A. “I have been the director of GES for 16 years. Prior to that I was in the corporate world. For 22 years, I worked in the Walgreens Corporate Offices based out of Illinois. I had a very happy career, and just as there are different seasons of life, I saw the GES director position as a catalyst to do something different. My wife Amy and I were empty nesters at a young age, and we asked ourselves what’s next? It was just the right thing, at the right time. Charter schools are intended to have teacher leadership and I brought with me my background in business management. I later added on my special education teaching license, as well as a master’s degree and an administrator license. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and in the county. We had always known we would retire in Cook County.”

Q. Tell me about your time at GES, what will you never forget? What would you like to say to your colleagues and students before you go?

A. “I have been fortunate to be part of an education community that is grounded in the belief that every parent loves their children and wants the best for them, that every child wants to feel cared for and competent, and that respectful, positive relationships are essential to building a healthy society. With that foundation, we have grown from a small, outlying island to become an integral part of a countywide system of public education striving for excellence. It has been a joy to help make a shared vision for education more real and to feel that the work will continue in the hearts, minds, and hands of all those who share that dream.”

Q. What will you have more time for and planned for your retirement?

“I will be retiring early and am ready to tackle the (honey-do) list that my wife Amy and I have created together. I look forward to waking up to enjoy various projects around my house and expanding our garden. I am also excited to enjoy outdoor time and hobbies such as canoeing, camping, hiking, and biking. We will be doing a lot more traveling, as well, and are most excited to visit and spend time with our family and children.”

GES Business Manager Beth Ferry, who has worked closely with Mr. James over the past five years, added, “Most people who have worked with Pete know him to be an inspiring leader and advocate for reaching children wherever they are in their learning journey. He has been a bridge-builder for the school, seeking to improve GES and its connections to the community. He is a reminder of calm in what can sometimes feel like chaos and reminds us of the important work that education is. We will miss his optimism and dedication.”

Best wishes to you, Peter James, for many more years of continued good health, happiness, and adventure as you move into this next chapter of your journey.

Mr. James will be retiring after June 30, when his successor, Rachael Lehman, will officially begin as the new GES School Director. Please feel free to send Peter your retirement wishes at:

Published in Columns Jennifer Carollo Fischer

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