When Bhavna Sharma-Lewis was a young fifth-grade teacher at South Park Elementary School in Deerfield, her superintendent, Max McGee, noticed that there was something special about her.
“She was just a natural leader,” said McGee who went on to be the superintendent of schools for the state of Illinois and is now the president of the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
“I was impressed that she was an eager learner,” McGee added. “Sometimes in this profession, or any profession I guess, people just stop learning. They want to do a good job, which is great, but Bhavna has always wanted to do a better job and think of ways that she could help her class or her school or her district.”
McGee encouraged Sharma-Lewis to think about becoming an administrator. Now, nearly 20 years later, Sharma-Lewis is poised to become the next superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96.
Last week District 96 announced that Sharma-Lewis was the district’s “preferred candidate” to succeed Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson, who is retiring next June. The school board is expected to officially hire Sharma-Lewis at its Dec. 18 meeting. Contract details are being finalized this week. Sharma –Lewis is expected to begin work in District 96 on July 1, 2013.
For the past two and a half years, Sharma-Lewis, 42, has been the superintendent of Harrison School District 36, a one-school district, in Wonder Lake in northern McHenry County. ]
Sharma-Lewis holds three degrees from University of Illinois at Chicago: a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. degree in curriculum and policy studies. She earned her superintendent’s endorsement through a program at Loyola University in 2006.
“Dr. Sharma-Lewis has a strong background in curriculum and instruction and understands the role of technology in promoting 21st century learning,” said District 96 school board President Mary Ellen Meindl in a press release. “She is a visionary leader and will cultivate a positive relationship with our students, staff and the community.”
Board Vice President Art Perry was also very impressed with Sharma-Lewis, who was interviewed twice by the entire school board.
“She just seems like a great combination of experience, personality and accomplishment,” Perry said.
Sharma-Lewis said that she was impressed by the District 96 school board.
“I thought they were a very thoughtful group of people who are there prioritizing kids and the needs of the community,” Sharma-Lewis said in an interview last week.
Before becoming the superintendent of the Harrison School District, which consists of one pre-K through eighth-grade school of about 500 students, in 2010 Sharma-Lewis served as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Addison Elementary School District 4.
Prior to that she was a principal for nine years, six at Edison School in Elmhurst and three at Middleton Elementary School in Skokie, the school she attended as a child.
Sharma-Lewis was only 28 years old when she became the principal at Middleton. Before she became a principal, she served for one year as an assistant principal at Woodland Primary school in Gurnee. Sharma-Lewis began her career teaching math for one year at Stratford Junior High School in Bloomingdale and taught fifth grade in Deerfield for four years.
Sharma-Lewis says she’s hoping for a long stay in District 96.
“I’m hoping for a long-term relationship with a strong community and a good staff and wonderful students,” Sharma-Lewis said.
Sharma-Lewis plans to continue to live in Bartlett where she lived as an adolescent after moving from Skokie and has lived for the past 12 years.
“I have two school-age children who are very ingrained in the school and in the community,” Sharma-Lewis said.
Sharma-Lewis says that she intends to do a lot of listening as she gets to know District 96.
“I would describe my leadership style as very hands-on and motivating and encouraging — visible, approachable and collaborative,” Sharma-Lewis said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity of sitting down with people and really understanding what it is that’s working, what are our strengths right now, what it is we need to do differently, what is we need to improve on and just really listening to all different stakeholders. I think it’s really important to meet with people and to do a lot of listening and a lot of learning.”
McGee, who has continued to mentor Sharma-Lewis and has invited her to speak to superintendent classes he teaches, said that District 96 made an excellent choice.
“She has a great vision,” McGee said. “She’s an excellent communicator. She’s a thoughtful listener, but above all she gets things done. She’s able to transform vision to action, engage people collaboratively, but to move beyond the discussion stage with them so people want to work hard for her and do their best. You have a winner there, I’ll tell you that.”