Rather than wait another week and risk the possibility of letting their top choice slip away, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 board members voted Monday to name Leslie Berman as the new principal of Hauser Junior High School.

Berman, currently the school improvement coordinator for Area 4 of the Chicago Public School system, will officially take over the reins at Hauser on July 1. She will be introduced to parents at the Hauser band concert tonight by Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.

Lamberson called Berman a “phenomenal” candidate who has “an incredible enthusiasm for working with middle level students and staff.”

He added that Berman had another offer already on the table and was expecting another from her current employer by week’s end, which is what prompted Monday’s special meeting of the school board instead of waiting until the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 16.

Berman was the unanimous choice of the board members at the meeting, including school board President Cheryl Berdelle, Nancy Jensen, Giles McCarthy and Richard Volpe. James Schraidt cast his “yes” vote via telephone. Board members Linda Bade and Norman Din were not present at the meeting.

Berman’s two-year contract calls for her to be paid $103,500 annually. Hauser’s interim principal, Victoria DeVylder, will return next year as principal of Hollywood School, a post she’s held for the past six years.

DeVylder was pressed into service as Hauser’s interim principal in January, following the administrative leave and eventual resignation of Joel Benton, who had been Hauser’s principal for the past decade. No reason has ever been given for Benton’s resignation.

Reached Monday afternoon at her office on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Berman said she was looking forward to the new challenge.

“I really wanted to work with people who valued learning the way I do,” Berman said. “I really wanted to join a [district] that wanted to work together to optimize teaching and learning opportunities.

“I love that it’s a small district, because you can connect so much more closely with everyone,” she said.

Berman, a Skokie resident, has spent her entire career within the Chicago Public Schools as a junior high/middle school teacher and administrator.

“It’s funny, because I didn’t start out at a middle school; I did my student teaching in the primary grades in Glencoe,” Berman said. “When I graduated, the only job I could find [at Arai Middle School in Uptown] was in a new middle school in Chicago.

“I took the job, and I was terrified,” she said. “But it didn’t take long for me to find that this was my calling.”

From 1975 to 1991, Berman taught junior high/middle school social science, language arts and reading at several Chicago public schools, taking 10 years off to raise two daughters, now grown.

It was at Thurgood Marshall Middle School on Chicago’s Northwest Side that Berman said her career took off. From 1991-02 she was a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at the school.

“It was where I really learned how to implement best practices in middle level education, taking into account emotional and social development in addition to academic excellence,” Berman said.

The school was named a “School to Watch” by the Association of Illinois Middle-Level Schools (AIMS) as a high-performing school. Berman called Marshall Middle School “socially equitable” in that “it met the needs of all kids.”

“It was an exciting time, and it was where I got the bug to go into administration,” she said.

In 2001, Berman earned her M.A. in educational organization and leadership from the University of Illinois.

In 2002, she was named assistant principal of Ames Middle School, also on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Later, she was promoted to principal and stayed there until 2004, when she was appointed school improvement coordinator for Area 4, which includes 28 elementary and middle schools on the Northwest Side of the city.

In her capacity as school improvement coordinator, Berman has collaborated with school administrators to forge corrective action plans for underachieving schools and has also led professional development efforts for Area 4 staff and administrators.

She is currently working on her dissertation for an Ed.D. in educational organization and leadership through the University of Illinois and expects to receive the degree in 2007.

Johnson named assistant principal

Also on Monday, the board voted 5-0 to appoint Hauser Junior Band Director Daniel Johnson as the school’s assistant principal.

The appointment makes official a position Johnson has effectively held for the past two years. During that time, Johnson created the master schedule and school calendar, while also dealing with student discipline issues.

In March, the District 96 board officially created the post of assistant principal at Hauser, and launched a formal search. Two internal candidates, one of them Johnson, interviewed for the job, according to Lamberson.

In addition to his teacher’s salary, Johnson will receive a $7,400 stipend, reflecting increased work during the summer and additional responsibilities during the school year. The contract is for one year.