Remembering Dr. Mark McDonald

Remembering Dr. Mark McDonald

Dr. Mark McDonald, former superintendent of District 99, passed away unexpectedly on March 30, 2022 after suffering a heart attack.

Mark had over 42 years experience in education. Before serving as superintendent of schools at District 99, he was a classroom teacher, coach, building administrator and district administrator. Mark began serving as superintendent of District 99 in 2008 until he retired in 2016. Before becoming superintendent, he was principal of South High from 2003 to 2008. 

Mark made significant and positive contributions during his tenure at District 99 that have made a lasting impact. He led the creation of the 2011 strategic plan, which set into motion the multi-million dollar renovations of both North High and South High. His bar for excellence in academics was high; he advocated for enrolling more students in challenging courses as well as increasing support for those who needed it most. Under his leadership also came an increased focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum opportunities. He was a visionary, and supported the investment of purchasing laptops for all students, a program that continues today. 

Mark knew that student success depended on teacher success. He was a champion of hiring quality teachers and then providing them with meaningful professional development. He had a strong rapport with all staff, and could be seen roaming the hallways at both schools and greeting everyone by name. Staff looked forward to his annual opening school year speeches. They were a rare time when Mark, who by nature had a serious demeanor, would share personal and funny stories about himself.

Mark knew that a strong support system was essential to the district’s work, and understood that communication was vital to building trust. Mark not only valued staff, but also everyone who is part of the community. He regularly attended meetings of the Downers Grove Rotary Club, Lions Club, Chamber630 and Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation, working closely with business leaders and village officials to build strong relationships. He served as ex-officio of the District 99 Education Foundation. He also respected families and their importance to student growth. Every graduation, he would ask the graduates to stand, look up in the stands, and applaud their parents and others who were at the ceremony for supporting them. 

His philosophy was that the actions of District 99 should always be driven by the primary mission that students come first. In all of his roles, he was an ardent champion of students. He lit up whenever he was around them. In every position he held, he kept students at the forefront of every conversation he held and decision that he made. 

Mark was an outstanding educator, colleague and friend who has touched the lives of many people. His legacy and life will always be remembered. 


Photo Memories of Mark

Share Your Memories of Dr. Mark McDonald - we will share them below

Service Details: 
Friday, April 8, 2022
Visitation begins at 3 p.m.
Memorial Service from 6-7 p.m.
Dunn Family Funeral Home, 1801 Douglas Rd, Oswego, IL 60543.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider making a donation to Moose Charities.


Memories of Mark...

Carol Wilson
Dr. McDonald was a wonderful mentor to me during his tenure at District 129. He was professional in every aspect of his day to day activities. He encouraged not only excellence in his staff but also collegiality among staff and administration. He was one of the best listeners I have ever encountered. He never expected more from his staff than he was willing to give himself. He will be deeply missed by all whose life was made better for knowing him. 

Julia Kennedy Beckman
I had the honor of being on the District 99 Board of Education during Dr. McDonald's tenure as DGS Principal and D99 Superintendent.  Through it all, he served with dignity and humility, always putting the students, staff and community first.  He was a role model for all of us in being a servant leader.  The Board and he had a great partnership.  We also appreciated his dry sense of humor!  I am so saddened by his sudden death, but know he lived a full and generous life.  

Debbie Dipert    
Dr. McDonald visited the art department regularly.  He always greeted me by name, with a firm handshake and a tender caring that made me feel like we (staff and students) were greatly appreciated.  He was a fine mentor and leader to all who had the pleasure to work with him.  

Scott Kasik
I am grateful to Mark for hiring me as Principal of North High School.  His focus was always on doing what was best for kids.  We both began our careers teaching in alternative school settings, which helped to shape our view of education.  Mark and I retired the same year, and during our retirements we would regularly meet for breakfast.  I appreciated having Mark as a colleague and supervisor and came to appreciate him more as a friend.  I will miss our breakfasts together.

Kathleen Brant
I am saddened to learn of Mark's passing.  It was a pleasure to work with Mark as he was a great supporter of staff and students, professional and kind.  

Christina Stevens 
Dr. McDonald was an amazing principle! His funny yet serious demeanor is unforgettable. I am forever grateful to him for giving me my first teaching job ever when he hired me at West Aurora High School almost 25 years ago. 

Jay Tiede
Mark was a great educator snd s wonderful colleague. I enjoyed working with him  for many years.  He will he missed RIP. 

Janice Schwarze 
I always loved it when something funny happened, and Mark tried not to laugh. In particular, I remember when the entire South High Leadership Team wore pink to one of our meetings - including Vince with pink socks. The look on Mark's face was priceless. 

Mark was one of the most upstanding people I know. He always strove to do the right thing, he truly cared about students and staff, and he was a hard worker. Mark took responsibility for his decisions and supported others as they made decisions. He was an excellent boss, friend, and role model, and he had an incredibly positive impact on me personally and professionally. He will be deeply missed.

Ann Sassano
Mark made me feel special. He always addressed me by Mrs. Sassano and asked about my children by name. When he offered me the position as Special Services Chair we met at Panera Bread- it was a special meeting. I was thrilled to be given this opportunity and I genuinely felt that he was excited too. He expressed confidence in me and I truly felt it.  If there was a problem he needed to discuss he often left a note on my chair letting me know the level of concern- " please see me, it's just a two alarm not a five"  I know he gave these special courtesies to most everyone but it never felt contrived or insincere. He truly valued our school culture, the students, the work, and the people.  Plus he had a wicked sense of humor. His legacy will be remembered with much fondness and he will greatly missed.

Jill Browning
Mark was one of a kind. My final email to him while he was superintendent summarizes my feelings best:

"Thank you for hiring me five and a half years ago. The days have run the gamut of being fun, frustrating, tense, long, hot and cold. Through it all, I have valued your wise leadership and calm, thoughtful approach to issues. Above all, I will remember your love for children and always wanting to do what is best for them. I am glad mine were under your leadership for at least two years!"

You will be missed!

Joseph Neukirch
Dr. McDonald was my high school principal at West Aurora and he had a huge impact on all of us.  He knew every student my name, walked the hallways everyday, and engaged every Blackhawk in a positive way.  I would occasionally bump into him after he left West and it was as if I was still teenager standing in the hallway.  He was my inspiration to enter education and to one day become an administrator.  He will always stand as an example for us all to follow.  Rest In Peace my friend.  

Joe Neukirch 2000’ Once a Blackhawk. Always a Blackhawk.

Mike DellaMaria
Who can forget Mark's opening day monologues? I say monologues because they were so precisely written and imbued with so much humor.  I asked him several times to please share his joke writing team.  He just smiled and said, ""thanks, Mike.""  One I remember had him listing his admin team as his metaphorical offensive line.  That was telling because Mark always made you feel like you were playing on his team, and you were his MVP.  After one address, I overheard a colleague say, ""Damn, I would run through a brick wall for that guy!""  That is one successful leadership style. Another time, I was at an early morning meeting at North High, then starting my day at South.  I entered the building through the gym doors to find Mark greeting students.  I felt impelled to tell him why I was running a little late.  He looked at me with feigned shock, ""Why Mike, of all the people who work for me, you are the one I know is always where he needs to be.""  I know he said similar things to all our teammates, but it still made me feel good.  I don't think I ever consciously tried to copy Mark's leadership style but I hope I subconsciously displayed some of it.  On my team, he is the GOAT of educational leaders.  

Deb Michael
He told us that he wanted to learn every student's name at DGS while he was the Principal.  He had an unbelievable ability to remember people's names.  My favorite memory was when he would see me, his comment was, "It is Summer Shandy time Ms. Michael."  All because I had a Summer Shandy beer with him at his home.  I will miss him terribly!  

Sheldon Davis    
Dr. McDonald was a very special man.  He was the type of man that led by example.  He held students, teachers and staff to a very high standard.  His leadership was impeccable and he always tried to make the best decision for students.  It was an to serve under his leadership and guidance.  Dr. McDonald made an everlasting impact on the District #99 community.

Randy Clendening
He was always kind and would always acknowledge your presence. He followed my cousin ( Flozell Adams ) when he was @ Michigan State and when he played for the Dallas Cowboys. We would have great conversation about Flozell's career. He was a great man and will never be forgotten. I thank God for allowing our paths to cross.

Lois Graham
I met with Mark twice a month while serving as Association President while he was District Superintendent.  I was always impressed with Mark's knowledge of legislation that would impact our district.  I learned much from him.  But most importantly, Mark was a straight shooter.  You knew what you were getting from Mark.  He was a leader who respected the teachers  who worked for District 99 and expected their best.  On a personal note, Mark always asked about my family and he openly shared how proud he was of his children and their accomplishments.  Mark was a good man.    

Mike Heinz
I always appreciated the fact that Dr. McDonald would  drop by my office to see how things were going with me as a DC and as a person. He was not there to evaluate or judge, but to listen, support, and give his honest thoughts. He really did listen and gave back a well reasoned perspective. While I didn't always agree, I knew his reasons for the decisions and I knew he did not waver from doing what was best for students.

John Upton
To Mark's Family and Friends, may care and love of those around you provide comfort and peace to get you through the days ahead. My most sincere condolences.

I am confident that Mark is enjoying storytelling with ""Mooseheart Red Ramblers"" alumni that he taught and mentored as High School Coach and Dean of Boys at Mooseheart High School, Friends, and Family Members that have  preceded him. 

John Upton, ""UPS"", Mooseheart Class of '70"

Diane McClellan
Shortly after I began teaching at DGN I received a letter from Dr. McDonald. The letter referenced some projects our team was working on and included wonderful words of thanks and encouragement. I hope the memories of his kind heart will sustain his family during this challenging time. 

Sue Thornquist
I was on the hiring committee the year Mark applied for the principal position at DGS. We had interviewed three or four average candidates, and so when Mark walked in the room we were starting to get discouraged. However, 10 minutes into his interview, I leaned over to the colleague sitting next to me and whispered, ""Hire him NOW."" And, of course, we did end up hiring him--best decision we ever made. Mark was a breath of fresh air.

I had the pleasure of teaching Mark's son Tony in my sophomore Honors English class that year. On the day of parent-teacher conferences, I happened to run into Mark in the hallway. Knowing he would not be able to attend the conference, I managed to have a good 10 minute conversation with him about Tony's progress in class, how he was doing (great!), how he was transitioning to DGS (well, it seemed), and just my perceptions of him as a student. Mark was very appreciative and interested in my report. But he didn't just express it verbally. The next morning, I found a lovely hand-written note expressing how happy he was that Tony was in my class and telling me that I was surely the right teacher for his son. Well, it made my day, and made me realize again the importance and power of taking time to communicate with someone on a personal level. Mark knew that. A few years later, when a friend in the English department had been nominated (or won, I can't remember) a distinguished award, Mark came up to the THIRD flower, found the teacher in his room, and personally congratulated him and offered his support. My friend was flabbergasted and touched. No administrator before had ever done such a thing that we knew of--once again, the power of personal connections.

Mark and I had many conversations over the years, both personal and school related. I felt comfortable talking with him about issues that affected DGS and the English department. While he did not always take my advice or go along with what I thought, he always listened intently and acknowledged my viewpoints. So when he made a decision that I might not have agreed with, I accepted it because I know he heard me and gave my thoughts careful consideration. The ""Mark"" of a great leader. And because of that, I asked him one year to come speak to my Honors class about leadership--an issue that connected with a book we were studying. That was great fun. He was always game. He even posed for a western picture based off the movie ""Rio Bravo"" for my retirement video.

Mark and I were really good friends. I will miss him.

Tod Kowallis
I was very blessed to have Dr. McDonald as a principal during my first couple of years of teaching at South.  He always said hello whenever I happened to see him,  and always had something positive to say.  He was the kind of person who really meant what he said.  He was just a great guy and a great leader, and I'll always be grateful for the time he took to help me become a better teacher.

Robin Cederblad
I first met Mark when Tim was a teacher/dean at West Aurora High School. When I heard he was interviewing for the principal's job at DGS, I was beyond excited. I knew Mark as an educator who put the students first, who asked for the best from his teachers, and who was always in what Tim and I fondly called his "consummate professional" apparel and demeanor. Mark expected his administrators to be in the hallways, and he included himself in that practice. I remember one time he suddenly appeared in Kathy Vanderplow's and my senior English class. He leaned against the wall, never spoke while watching, and silently left after 15 minutes or so. One of our students asked, "Who was that guy?" Considering Mark made it a practice to learn everyone's name, we were surprised our student did not know his. After learning that quiet guy was his principal, our student said, "Wow, he came to OUR class." That was Mark. We will miss you dearly, my friend.

Kierstin Thompson
Mark McDonald was always willing to give his time to individuals, to talk to you, to listen sincerely, to provide a thoughtful response. I always felt like my thoughts and feelings mattered to him. His sincerity and patience are rare gifts that he shared generously.

Alex Kopytko
I am very saddened to hear about Dr. McDonald's passing. I really enjoyed having him as our principal at Downers Grove South. Dr. McDonald was always a very encouraging and bright presence in our hallways as he greeted students with a warm "Good morning!" each day. I also appreciated seeing him at many of our school events, including the wrestling matches to cheer on our team. Dr. McDonald was a man of immense character to look up to, and I am thankful he was in my life while I was a high school student. I will keep him and his family in my prayers. 

Theresa Dees
It was an amazing journey to work under a boss who was also a good friend and mentor. Working at DGS was one of the best decision I have ever made, and it was all because of Mark McDonald.  I had the honor of being Dr. Mark McDonald secretary from 2003 -2008.
I appreciate everything that I have learned while working under Mark’s Leadership.  It was a pleasure to work with Mark.  Mark, thank you for being an inspiration and always encouraging me to do better and to be better.  
Mark, I thank you for encouragements and support over the year. You were an exceptional Boss, who had the staff interest in mind. Thank you for being a friendly and open-mined boss.  Your support has brightened my professional career, and your generosity will forever remain in my heart.  Thank you for making me a better me. Mark was always friendly and supportive of all my efforts.
Mark and I had many conversations about our families.  I remember the day he mention to me that he was going to be a grandfather.  He had the biggest smile on his face.
Working with you was very enjoyable and I have learned and grown a lot. Not many people have the privilege to work under someone as caring and understanding as you.
My dear friend. You will be missed.

Chris Esposito

The first time we met was in the summer of 2003 at the new teacher orientation week. We were both starting at South in the same year and even though Mark was the principal, he participated with all of us new teachers throughout the week. Everyone was nervous to talk to him because of his presence and stature and no one knew how to address him. I was volunteered by my peers to ask how he wanted to be addressed. I walked up to Mark and said, "no one knows what you want us to call you, do you prefer Dr. McDonald or Mark?" He paused, looked at me and said "You can call me Mark." 

That first impression really struck me and was completely indicative how he treated people. He always viewed everyone as an equal, as someone worth listening to, and worth engaging with. This was exactly how he approached students at DGS as well. I went on to work with Mark very closely in many capacities over the years, and he was also the same humble, caring leader that he showed on that very first day. Mark, you will be missed.

Sean Lovelace

Mark McDonald was the second person I met in District 99 in 2008.  He had just accepted the Superintendent position and I was interviewing for a teaching position in his last year as the South Principal. After that interview and meeting Dr. McDonald, I knew that Downers Grove South was the place I wanted to be. Even after taking over as the Superintendent of District 99, Dr. McDonald would often walk the halls of South, greeting students by their names, which I found remarkable for an individual in his position. Dr. McDonald dedicated his life to education and helping kids and left an indelible mark here at South and District 99. As an educator, I hope to have a fraction of the impact that Dr. McDonald made in his lifetime, he will be greatly missed.