Tara Kristoff

Tara Kristoff is used to stepping into tough situations. 

Nearly eight years ago Kristoff replaced Jeannie Kustok, a beloved teacher of gifted students at Central School in Riverside, after Kustok was killed by her husband.

Now Kristoff will step into another tight spot, replacing a popular principal at Lincoln School in Brookfield. 

On June 11, the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education voted 5 to 0 to hire the 47-year-old Kristoff to replace Theresa Silva as principal of Lincoln School in Brookfield.

Silva, who was popular with teachers and parents at Lincoln, resigned this spring after just one year for reasons that were never explained. Apparently, Silva lacked the necessary support on the school board to be rehired, and she resigned shortly before the board was to vote on renewing her contract.

For the past year, Kristoff has worked for the South Cook Intermediate Service Center, one of the regional offices of the Illinois State Board of Education, where she specialized in professional development in science instruction. 

Kristoff has also done extensive consulting work in developing science curriculums and training teachers and has led some professional development sessions for District 103 teachers.

She said that she is not fazed by replacing a popular principal.

“My role is to build on the great work that she did and keep moving forward,” Kristoff said. “I just hope that they can see that I also bring something to the table to help make Lincoln School a great school.”

Kristoff was one of 11 applicants interviewed by a committee consisting of three Lincoln School parents, two teachers and District 103 Director of Curriculum and Instruction Darek Naglak. 

Kristoff impressed Lincoln School parent Theresa Schubert, a member of the interview committee.

“She was one of the only candidates that looked us in our face, came and shook everyone’s hand, introduced herself to us each individually,” Schubert said. “She spoke to us, not so much above us or at us.”

Prior to working for the South Cook Intermediate Center, Kristoff served for three years as the director of curriculum for Cook County School District 104, a five-school district based in Summit.

This will be Kristoff’s first job as a principal. She said that she has missed being around students in her last two jobs.

“I’m really excited at the opportunity to really shape a building,” Kristoff said.

Kristoff has a background in science and STEM, and her role in developing curriculum aligned to the state’s new science standards made her an attractive candidate for District 103 officials, who are focused on improving academic performance.

She also has extensive experience working with bilingual students in Summit.

Before going to Summit District 104, Kristoff was the QUEST teacher for advanced learners at Central School.

Former Central School Principal Janice Limperis said that Kristoff was a superb teacher who did a great job in a difficult situation replacing Kustok.

“The things she did in plans for the kids were really spectacular. She just has boundless energy,” Limperis said. “I can only say great things about her. I think she’ll be a spectacular principal.”

Kristoff has an unusual background for an educator. She began her career as a lawyer. She grew up in Orland Park and graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago with a double major in English and political science and a minor in biology. 

After graduating she went to law school at Ohio State University and then returned to the Chicago area to practice law for five years, representing insurance companies.

But she had been thinking about becoming a teacher ever since taking some secondary education courses for her English major during her senior year at UIC. After having her first child in 2001, Kristoff stopped working as a lawyer, enrolled in a teaching program at Dominican University and earned her master’s degree and teaching certification in 2006.

Kristoff began her career in education teaching seventh and eighth grade at St. Alphonsus St. Patrick School in Lemont. She also taught fifth-grade English, language arts and science at the William B. Orenic Intermediate Center in Plainfield before moving on to teach science at Mokena Junior High School from 2008 to 2010.

Kristoff said that the skills she developed as a lawyer have helped her as an educator.

“The skills that I learned as an attorney carry over so readily,” Kristoff said. “One of the most important ones is being articulate, being able to communicate your point succinctly and learning how to do conflict resolution. Those skills would be invaluable in any field, but they’re particularly invaluable in education.”

Kristoff, who is studying for doctorate in education and has received her superintendent’s endorsement, said that she hopes to stay at Lincoln School for a long time.

“My goal is definitely to make Lincoln School my home,” Kristoff said.

Kristoff received a one-year contract and will be paid $91,000 for the next school year. She doesn’t officially start at Lincoln until August.