By Bob Skolnik
Don Jones wanted to be a principal almost from the start of his teaching career. And he has now achieved that goal less than 10 years after graduating from college.
On May 29, the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education voted 4 to 0 to hire the 31-year-old Jones as the new principal at George Washington Middle School in Lyons.
The school serves children in sixth through eighth grades for the entire district, which serves the southeast quarter of Brookfield, in addition to Lyons, Stickney, Forest View and McCook.
Jones, who is currently finishing up his first year as a special education coordinator at Joliet West High School, will succeed Christopher Cybulski whose contract was not renewed in a controversial 4 to 3 vote by the school board in March.
"I always kind of had a career goal of being a principal and being the leader of a great school," said Jones in a telephone interview with the Landmark.
Jones was hired from a field of 26 applicants, 10 of whom were interviewed. He and four other finalists were interviewed by a committee made up of parents, teachers and administrators. He impressed GWMS parent Krystal Steiner, a Brookfield resident, who was a member of the interview committee.
"He seemed very positive, and I think he has experience in all the areas that we need," Steiner said.
While Cybulski appeared to be generally popular with GWMS parents, a few criticized his handling of special education issues, an area where Jones has experience.
District 103 Superintendent Carol Baker said Jones stood out from the other applicants for the position.
"He was the unanimous top choice from parents, staff, and administrators," Baker said. "He's got middle school experience already. He's got a deep love of middle school and an understanding of the middle school philosophy and concept."
Before moving to Joliet West a year ago, Jones spent two years an assistant principal at Veterans Middle School in Blue Island, where he also served as a special education coordinator and alternative learning center administrator.
Jones began his career as a special education teacher in 2010 at Harlem High School which is located in Loves Park, just north of Rockford. In addition to teaching special education at Harlem Jones taught geography and English.
Jones says that he is anxious to return to a middle school. Joliet West High School has more than 3,000 students.
"I really like the smaller environment of middle schools," Jones said. "The current high school I'm in is a great school, but it it's also a very large school."
Jones made a good impression in his one year at Joliet West.
"He is absolutely student-centered," said Joliet West Principal Teresa Gibson. "He has a great way of dealing with kids and parents and staff. I've really enjoyed the year working with him."
Jones said that he enjoyed teaching but felt that he could make a bigger impact as an administrator.
Many GWMS teachers were upset when Cybulski was not retained for a third year at GWMS. A number of them spoke out publicly in support of Cybulski and implored the board to rehire him.
"I'm aware of that," Jones said. "It's my job to build positive relationships with not only teachers, but students and parents and everybody in the community."
Jones received a one-year contract and will be paid $103,000. He starts his new job at GWMS on July 1, and one of his first tasks will be to hire an assistant principal.
Jones graduated from Monmouth College and earned a master's degree in educational leadership from Aurora University.
Business manager gets raise, extension
The school board also voted 3 to 1 on May 29 to give Business Manager Sherry Reynolds Whitaker a two-year contract and a significant raise, amending a previous one-year contract the board had approved in March.
Whitaker is completing her first year as the district's business manager. When new Human Resources Director Kim Ontiveros received a two-year contract, Whitaker asked for a two-year contract for herself and the board obliged.
Joanne Schaeffer cast the only vote against the new deal for Whitaker, saying she voted on principle.
"We've never done that before," Schaeffer said of the two-year contract for the business manager.
Schaeffer also voted against giving Ontiveros a two-year contract.
Whitaker had been in line to get a $3,150 raise next year, but the board also amended her contract to give her a $10,000 raise, boosting her salary to $115,000 next year. In the second year of her contract, Whitaker will be paid $120,000.
School board President Marge Hubacek said she and other board members have been impressed with Whitaker's work.
"She's extremely easy to work with and she's a wealth of knowledge," Hubacek said. "I hope she stays with us a very long time."