John Harper

Retiring Plainfield school district Superintendent John Harper will be returning to his alma mater when he takes over as principal at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox on July 1. (Plainfield Community Consolidated / March 25, 2014)

Retiring Plainfield school district Superintendent John Harper will be returning to his alma mater when he takes over as principal at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox on July 1.

The 1977 graduate of Providence Catholic recently was selected to replace outgoing Principal Don Sebestyen, who is retiring after 14 years as principal at Providence. Harper is retiring from Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 after 33 years, the last 12 as the district's superintendent.

In a news release announcing his appointment, Harper said being named principal at Providence was a "tremendous honor" and brought a sense of "coming home."

"I embrace the opportunity to return to a school setting and the chance to work more closely with staff, as well as the students and their families," Harper, 54, said in the release. "For me, my return to Providence Catholic signals the 'circle of life.'"

Harper, who makes $269,716 as Plainfield's superintendent, retires June 30 and will be eligible for his pension through the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System. Information about Harper's pension was not available this week, according to a spokesman for the system. Providence Catholic also declined to provide details on Harper's salary.

Rev. Richard McGrath, president at Providence Catholic High School, noted Harper was selected after an "extensive" search.

"We're very happy to have him and we think he's a superb choice for the position," McGrath said.

Harper has two children who are freshmen at Providence Catholic and a third who is currently in eighth grade and will be attending Providence next year, McGrath said.

McGrath said that while he encouraged Harper to take the first year to "observe" how things work, there are a few projects Harper will take on immediately, including a student-improvement plan that is required as the school goes through the process of renewing its accreditation.

"I know he'll have plenty of fresh ideas," McGrath said.

During his 12 years as superintendent in Plainfield, Harper oversaw explosive growth in the school district. Student enrollment went from 13,990 during the 2001-02 school year to a high of 29,254 students in the 2009-10 school year. The current enrollment is 28,254. Harper also oversaw the opening of 15 new schools from 2002 to 2008.

With the economic downtown, Harper also oversaw budget cuts totaling $42 million and the elimination of 345 full-time positions within the district.

Harper holds a doctor of education and a master of science in educational leadership from Illinois State University. He also received his bachelor's degree from University of St. Francis.

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