For the first time in two years Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 has a full-time superintendent.
Kevin Skinkis took over on July 1 as the top administrator at District 208, replacing Interim Superintendent David Bonnette, who served in the top job following the resignation of former Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann.
Skinkis, just 34 years old, was the principal at Bartlett High School for the last four years. The rookie superintendent says that he will spend much of his first three months on the job listening.
“I’m not looking to come in immediately and make any significant changes,” Skinkis told the Landmark on Monday in his first interview with the paper since taking over. “I think the first 90 days of my position should be focused on listening and learning from staff, from the [school] board and from the community.”
Skinkis says he will reach out to community leaders, parents, staff and others interested in the school. He already has had some breakfast meetings with members of the community.
“I’m open to invitations when I hear from parents and community members who want to meet and discuss concerns,” Skinkis said.
He said that he wants to put in processes and procedures so that there is more effective communication between the administration and the school board and between staff and the superintendent.
“I really want to spend a lot of time on communication structure and operational structure,” Skinkis said.
“My number one responsibility is to inform and advise the board what governance areas need to be addressed.”
He want to establish clear lines of authority, delineating roles among top administrators, something that may have been lacking at RBHS in the recent past, especially because Baldermann served both as the superintendent and principal and Bonnette was a part-time interim superintendent.
“One of my priorities is to clearly establish operational authority for building matters and district matters,” Skinkis said.
The building and grounds chief, the business manager (now called the chief financial officer) and Principal Pamela Bylsma will report directly to Skinkis. Other departments will report to Bylsma.
Skinkis says that he will concentrate of district issues such as finances and let Bylsma run the school.
“I am really looking forward to working with Pam, because I think we’re going to make a great team,” Skinkis said. “We share a lot of the same goals and passions about students and education.”
Skinkis comes to RBHS at a difficult time. The school’s financial condition is forcing layoffs, increased class sizes and cuts in programs that could affect the excellence that the school has become known for.
Skinkis knows that he must focus on finances.
“My job right now is to just make sure we’re operating as effectively and efficiently as possible in regards to finance,” Skinkis said.
Skinkis’ challenge is even more daunting because he will be working with an inexperienced board of education, a principal who has been at RBHS for only one year and a new part-time chief financial officer, Tim McGinnis.
But Skinkis looks on the bright side regarding all the new faces.
“By having new leadership on the board, new board members, a new principal who’s been here only a year, a new CFO, it kind of gives you an opportunity to grow and learn together,” Skinkis said. “At times people will stumble together and you’ll pick each other up. There are a lot of new ideas. There is a lot of new energy.”
RBHS does have experienced assistant principals in Tim Scanlon and John Passarella.
It remains to be seen what kind of leader Skinkis will be, but he says that he intends to be collaborative. He plans on establishing a superintendent’s advisory group of teachers, staff, students and community members to give him ideas and feed back. He also plans to form a superintendent’s advisory finance committee to help study the district’s financial problems.
When asked whether RBHS would try again to pass a tax increase referendum next year Skinkis deferred, saying that was an issue for the school board. In April a referendum to raise taxes to support RB was defeated by a more the 3-to-1 margin.
For the last five months, Skinkis has attended most District 208 school board meetings, but the only decision he made was the hiring of McGinnis.
‘That was probably the only decision I’ve been involved in the last six months,” Skinkis said. “Other than that it’s been strictly an observational role.”
Now he is now longer an observer; he is the boss. He follows Bonnette and Baldermann, who in their very different ways set a tone at RB.
Baldermann was a charismatic visionary who built RBHS’ reputation and raised its profile to heights unseen in the school’s long history. He put RB on the map and made it a place that other educators looked to as a model. He flew high, but his descent was swift and dramatic.
Bonnette gave the district steady leadership, but because of his interim and part-time status his impact was limited. Some said he was a caretaker and not a visionary.
It remains to be seen what Skinkis’ legacy will be.