For Robert Hildreth, it’s like coming home again.

Hildreth’s return to the Brookfield-Lyons Elementary School District 103 area became official Monday night when the board of education approved his hiring to become the new principal at George Washington Middle School in Lyons.

Hildreth, 53, replaces Mike Stritch, who is retiring next month.

“I lived right around the corner from the district’s office for three years a while back,” said Hildreth, who is currently an assistant principal at H.W. Cowherd Middle School in Aurora. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be starting here.”

Hildreth was selected from a group of 25 applicants. One deciding factor for Superintendent Dr. Ray Lauk was the fact that Cowherd’s demographics are a close match to Washington’s. In addition, Hildreth has a strong background in special education. According to his bio on the Cowherd School Web site, he was a special education teacher at Morton East and Riverside-Brookfield high schools and developed an alternative education program in St. Charles called New Directions, that served five school districts in Kane County.

“We’re thrilled to have him,” Lauk said. “He brings a lot of experience to our district, and he understands the issues that are facing Washington and our district. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a great leader.”

Stritch, who is finishing his 36th year in education, became Washington’s first principal when the middle school opened in 2000. That was the first year when the district abandoned the traditional local K-8 schools and moved to the model that brought five communities together in one school.

Washington now draws students from Brookfield, Lyons, Stickney, Forest View and McCook.

“We had a number of great applicants, and made sure to involve a lot of people in the process,” Lauk said. “I didn’t ask the people involved who they liked and disliked as much as I was looking for what they thought was each person’s strength and weaknesses.”

Hildreth pointed out that one of his main goals is to get Washington to the guidelines set up by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In recent years, the middle school has not made adequate yearly progress.

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.

The school, however, 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.

“I know we have some work to do to meet the new standards,” said Hildreth, who is married and has four children. “One of the main things we have to do is help our children not only meet those standards, but excel well beyond them.”