By Bob Skolnik
Superintendent Carol Baker is leaving Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 after two controversial years at the helm of the politically divided district.
On July 9, the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Baker as its new assistant superintendent for academics/chief academic officer.
Baker will be succeeding former Riverside-Brookfield High School Principal Pamela Bylsma in that position. Bylsma will stay on until October to mentor Baker before retiring.
The current majority of the District 103 school board is not sad to see Baker go.
Baker was hired as superintendent in 2016, when board members who were supported by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty controlled the school board. In 2017, two Getty-backed incumbents were defeated and control of the school board shifted.
Baker would have been entering the final year of her contract in District 103 in 2018-19, and there was little chance the present school board majority would have renewed it.
Board President Marge Hubacek, who was elected in 2017 and leads the board majority, said she is not disappointed that Baker is leaving.
"I couldn't answer that any other way," Hubacek said. "If I said, 'Yes, I was disappointed,' people could call me liar."
Nevertheless, Hubacek wished Baker well in her new job.
"I hope she is a good fit over there, and we're going to carry on as a district," Hubacek said.
Baker informed board members in an email on July 10 that she would be leaving District 103 on Aug. 1 to take the job in Hinsdale.
Baker did not return calls from Landmark asking her to comment on her decision to leave District 103.
District 103 board member Shannon Johnson, who was elected in 2017 as part of a slate with Hubacek and Joanne Schaeffer, said she thought the Hinsdale job better fit Baker's background, which is in science education at the high school level.
"I think this is a good move for her, to be honest," Johnson said. "I think her area of expertise is more on the curriculum end, and I think she'll be more in her zone of comfort. She was always a very nice person, she just wasn't meant to be a superintendent in an elementary school district."
Hubacek said that board will hire an interim superintendent for a year at an already planned special meeting on July 19. She expects the job to be split between retired superintendents Patrick Patt and Robert Madonia.
"These are our guys, because we are looking for someone who knows us," Hubacek said.
Patt has served as co-interim superintendent for District 103 twice before. In fact, he had just started a stint as interim superintendent in 2015 when he and co-interim superintendent Griff Powell were unceremoniously booted from their jobs when the Getty-backed candidates took office that May.
Patt and Powell were quickly hired by Riverside Elementary School District 96 and served for a year there as co-interim superintendents.
"We love Patrick Patt," Hubacek said. "He's been great for our district. He's carried us before."
Hubacek worked for Patt when she served as the District 103 superintendent's secretary. Patt acted as informal advisor to Hubacek during the 2017 school board campaign. He even attended a candidate debate despite living in Lake Forest.
Powell is currently working as an interim superintendent in another district and is not available.
But, Madonia, who served as a superintendent for 23 years, including 17 years at Komarek School District 94 in North Riverside, is available and apparently willing to take the job.
Last month, Madonia worked with the District 103 board during a goal-setting session, so he is somewhat familiar with district.
Johnson said she supports hiring Patt and Madonia as co-interim superintendents.
"Patrick Patt was in there before the takeover happened, and he was doing a fine job at that time," Johnson said. "And I met Bob Madonia when we were doing our board goals, and he seemed very knowledgeable and very experienced."
Johnson said that the school board must act quickly, since school starts in about six weeks, and doesn't really have time to consider other possibilities for interim superintendent.
"We're starting a new school year with a lot of new administrators, so I think it would be helpful to have somebody in there who knows our school district," Johnson said. "I don't think we're afforded the luxury of really searching."
In a brief conversation on July 10, Patt confirmed he had talked to Madonia about his willingness to share the job.
"I'm considering it," Madonia told the Landmark, noting that he had yet to receive a formal offer.
Patt and Madonia worked together more than 40 years ago when Patt was the principal of Maple School in Northbrook, and Madonia was his interim assistant.
As retirees receiving pensions from the Illinois Teacher Retirement System, both Patt and Madonia are limited in how many hours they can work while still receiving their pensions, so they will split the job, each working half time.
Hubacek said the district will conduct a search for a permanent superintendent during the coming school year. She said that she is confident that the district will be in good hands under Patt and Madonia.
"With the changes that have happened in the district, we need to have a strong leader now," Hubacek said. "I think we'll have that. I know we'll have that. We're going to be OK."