Todd Fitzgerald, the principal at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield for the past six years, will be leaving at the end of the school year to pursue a new job in Oak Park.

On Tuesday night, the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 board hired Fitzgerald as principal of Percy Julian Middle School, one of two middle schools in that district.

“I really look at it as an opportunity to continue growing as an administrator,” said Fitzgerald, 39, who came to S.E. Gross School in 2006 after one year as assistant principal at a junior high in Westmont. He previously taught social studies for nine years at Hauser Junior High in Riverside.

“I know there are going to be similar challenges, but there will also be many different challenges in a district that’s much bigger,” he said.

As the leader of Julian, Fitzgerald will oversee a school with an enrollment of 870 students – more than double that of S.E. Gross and almost as many as the total enrollment of Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95. Oak Park’s District 97 has a total enrollment of almost 5,600 students.

“The biggest attraction is that District 97 has a tradition of excellence and a really strong reputation of providing students with different opportunities to excel and succeed,” said Fitzgerald, a resident of LaGrange. “All of those things played into my decision.”

District 97 Superintendent Albert Roberts praised Fitzgerald and Mike Michowski, who was hired Tuesday night as principal of Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park, describing them as “good listeners and collaborative leaders,” qualities each school community was looking for, and who would “lead our middle schools to a new future.”

Fitzgerald described his own philosophy of administration as collaborative, a philosophy he said he wants to continue in Oak Park.

“What I’ve learned is, really, the importance of being collaborative and involving people in the change process,” Fitzgerald said.

“It’s giving people an opportunity to make sure their voice is heard, making sure what all we are thinking is in the best interest of providing students with a strong education,” he said.

Since coming to S.E. Gross Middle School, Fitzgerald has implemented many different programs – from a student-teacher mentoring program to the introduction of a drug and violence prevention program to intervention programs for students struggling in reading and math.

His efforts have resulted in steadily rising standardized test scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). The year before he came to S.E. Gross 83.1 percent of students at S.E. Gross Middle School met state standards in reading and math. In 2011, S.E. Gross topped the 90-percent mark for the first time, with 90.5 percent meeting state standards.

“I think as a whole, Todd has been extremely good for the district in that he’s an instructional leader in the truest sense,” said Mark Kuzniewski, superintendent of Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95. “It’s certainly a loss for us to lose someone with that type of experience and expertise.”

The District 95 Board of Education is planning on a recognizing Fitzgerald’s achievements as principal at the board meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 24 at 7 p.m. at Gross Middle School, 3524 Maple Ave. in Brookfield.

To go along with the new job, Fitzgerald will also be getting a raise when he starts in Oak Park on July 1. Fitzgerald’s base salary will be $120,000 as principal at Julian Middle School. According to District 95’s website, Fitzgerald makes $97,978 as principal of S.E. Gross Middle School.

Kuzniewski said the position for Gross School has been posted since May 3 and has already generated 30 applicants. The school board will likely begin discussing what it will be looking for in a new principal at its meeting scheduled for Thursday night.

When the 2012-13 school year begins, the leadership team at S.E. Gross Middle School will be new. Not only will there be a new principal, but a new assistant principal as well.

In April, the district hired social studies teacher Ryan Evans to be Gross School’s assistant principal. He replaces Wayne Porod, who is retiring at the end of June.

“We’ll need someone with some basic level of administrative experience, someone who can transition quickly from the administrative part of the job to the instructional leadership part of the job,” said Kuzniewski.

While the goal would be to hire someone by July 1, Kuzniewski said that the board may take longer than that in order to identify to right candidate.

“We’ll find a candidate that meets what we need, and we’ll move forward,” he said.

Terry Dean contributed to this report.