When the 2000-01 school year opened, Brookfield-Lyons Elementary School District 103 officially abandoned its long-standing tradition of local K-8 schools and adopted the middle school model.

And when George Washington Middle School in Lyons opened that year, its principal was Mike Stritch, who was hired in 1999 to specifically usher in the new era. Stritch has remained the principal of GWMS since that time, but after the 2004-05 school year he will retire from the job.

“The strength Mike brought was in bringing five communities together under one roof,” said District 103 Superintendent Dr. Raymond Lauk. “When I came here last year, I heard from many parents about their dislike for the middle school concept and that they were missing the K-8 structure. I can only imagine what it was like six years ago.

“For Mike to have unified five very different communities under one roof is his crowning achievement.”

Stritch, who has spent 36 years as an educator (the last six in District 103), agreed that getting the middle school up and running was his greatest challenge.

“That was no doubt the biggest challenge of my career,” Stritch said. “I’m real proud of the faculty and staff here. I’ve met some wonderful, wonderful people, and they all worked very hard to establish this middle school philosophy.”

Lauk has been accepting applications and has conducted informal interviews with prospective candidates for the job during the last several weeks. The next step will be to narrow the field of candidates and have them meet with staff from the district office and then with a committee composed of teachers, staff and parents.

The school draws students from Brookfield, Lyons, Stickney, Forest View and McCook.

“I would love to have someone with experience as a middle school principal,” Lauk said.

But with a salary range of between $60,000 and $65,000, Lauk said that getting someone with that kind of experience might be difficult.

“That’s the range we’ve been bringing in all administrators at,” Lauk said. “What we offer is a wonderful place to work, wonderful people to work with and wonderful experiences.”

Lauk said he hoped to have a candidate that he can present to the District 103 board at its meeting on April 25. At the latest, Lauk said a new principal would be hired in May.

“I’d like to do this as soon as possible, because we’re competing [for applicants] with other districts,” Lauk said.

The kind of candidate Lauk is looking for, he said, is someone “with a lot of energy and ideas, who can work with staff, parents and kids to build on the structure Mike Stritch brought to this school.”

Lauk said he also wants the new middle school principal to focus on “achievement issues.”

In the past two years, GWMS has not made adequate yearly progress (AYP) according to the guidelines set up by the federal No Child Left behind Act, due to the performance of sub-groups within the school population.

“There are a variety of challenges, but at the forefront is the AYP,” Stritch said. “That is a monumental task, because [the standards] keep increasing every year. It takes so much time away from other things you need to do just to keep up with the paperwork.”

For example, in 2003, 60 percent of all students met or exceeded reading standards and 45.5 percent of all students met or exceeded math standards. Both numbers are considered adequate under the guidelines set by NCLB.

However, the school fell short of NCLB standards when economically disadvantaged students and Hispanic students were taken as individual sub-groups. Just 34 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, while just 60 percent of economically disadvantaged students took the Illinois State Achievement Test in 2003. At least 95 percent of any sub-group must take the test to be considered adequate.

In 2004, the 100 percent of economically disadvantaged students took the ISAT test, but just 23.4 percent met state standards in math. The percentage of Hispanic students meeting state standards in math, meanwhile, fell to 26.4 percent in 2004.

“In particular we had difficulty last year … in math, and we really worked hard on it this year,” Stritch said. “We hope to erase that [deficit] again this year.”