Five days before the April school board election, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education voted unanimously to create two additional administrative positions.

Three non-incumbent candidates who ran and won election April 9 on a platform that emphasized fiscal restraint seemed skeptical about the need for one of the newly created positions — the director of academic excellence, which was proposed by incoming Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis.

Since the election, however, Sharma-Lewis managed to convince the three new school board members of the need for the position. And, last week, the newly constituted school board voted unanimously to hire Dr. Brian Ganan to the post of director of academic excellence.

“We’ve been talking to Dr. Sharma-Lewis a lot,” said new board member Rachel Marrello, who had previously questioned the need for the new position. “We’ve been going back and forward and trying to understand. The way she broke it down really convinced us, so I think it will be a good thing.”

Ganan, 38, is in his sixth year as the principal of Juliette Low Elementary School in Arlington Heights. Prior to that, Ganan served as an assistant principal at Salt Creek Elementary School in Elk Grove. Ganan began his career as a middle school math and Spanish literacy teacher at Iroquois School in Des Plaines.

He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa, a master’s degree from DePaul University and a doctorate in educational leadership and organizational change from Roosevelt University.

“My focus of study was on the improvement of instruction and I’m very excited to do that at the district level,” Ganan said. “I love the size of the district. I was impressed with the interview team and felt a strong connection.”

According to the 2012 school report card, 83.1 percent of students at Juliette Low met or exceeded state standards compared to 93.3 percent of students who did so in District 96. But Juliette Low has a different demographic profile than District 96, with 48.9 percent of students at Juliette Low classified as low-income compared to just 10.4 percent in District 96. In addition, 50.9 percent of students at Juliette Low are Hispanic compared to 24.3 percent in District 96.

The main reason to hire a director of academic excellence is to relieve principals of district-wide responsibilities they have under the current administrative structure. For example, Central School Principal Janice Limperis serves as the district’s director of learning systems. She handles most curriculum matters and is the immediate supervisor of the other elementary school principals.

Sharma-Lewis wants principals to focus on their schools and spend more time in their buildings, working with teachers and being a visible presence. She hopes to bring more uniformity and consistency to the curriculum in the district.

Ganan’s role will be help implement the new Common Core learning standards being adopted throughout the country, foster the professional development of teachers and work on teacher evaluation.

“We laid out a clear rationale as to the need and his responsibilities and vision to move forward, creating a collaborative and cohesive and coherent instructional structure,” Sharma-Lewis said.

Ganan received a one-year contract and will be paid $120,000 annually.

New school board President Mary Rose Mangia said Sharma-Lewis convinced her of the need for the position.

“It was voted on shortly before the election, so it was something we all had to come to terms with,” Mangia said. “But based on some pretty good information and discussion, we did.”

The board is probably not finished with making administrative hires. At the meeting shortly before school board election, the board also created a new director of finance and operations position. That position has not yet been filled and the board is considering options.

“They’ve been interviewing all along,” Mangia said. “We didn’t find a good candidate. We talked about alternatives. If we don’t find the right candidate for what we need let’s explore alternatives rather than putting somebody on staff.”

Marrello said that she understands if some of the people who voted for her in the election might get upset about the newcomers voting to hire additional administrators.

“I’m sure we’re going to suffer backlash in a lot of things, but that just kind of goes with the turf,” Marrello said. “But [the controversy over outgoing Superintendent Jonathan] Lamberson’s contract had to do with the amount, and nobody that we’ve retained is anywhere near [that].

“As the years go by we’re going to start chiseling away at some of these excessive contracts.”

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