Jonathan Lamberson District 96 Superintendent

The eight-year tenure of Jonathan Lamberson as the superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96 came to an abrupt end last week, when he announced he was retiring effective June 3. He had been expected to leave his position on June 30.

But, in April, Lamberson accepted a job as a school superintendent in Cedarburg, Wis., where he will start on July 1. Lamberson said that he is leaving District 96 four weeks sooner than expected to prepare for his move to Wisconsin.

“We are relocating out of state, and we need more time than a weekend at the end of the month,” Lamberson said.

On April 30, Lamberson met with school board members Lisa Gaynor and Art Perry and told them of his desire to leave his job prior to June 30. But the final timing of his departure wasn’t decided until May 29.

“It was sooner than I expected,” Perry said. “I am concerned that we have a smooth transition.”

Incoming Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis will take over July 1. In the interim, Central School Principal Janice Limperis will serve as acting superintendent with help from Director of Technology Vern Bettis and Director of Special Education and Assessment Mary Polk. All have the certification necessary to serve as a superintendent.

Major renovation work on Blythe Park and Hollywood schools is scheduled to begin in mid-June, so there are concerns over who is going to manage the construction in June.

The school board is planning to hire an owner’s representative at its June 18 meeting to help oversee the work this summer, a move it was going to take even if Lamberson had stayed until June 30.

Lamberson announced his early departure the day after a special school board meeting about summer construction. In his letter to the board Lamberson said that district is “fully prepared to start construction work in about two weeks.”

By leaving before June 30 Lamberson must pay the district $30,000 in “liquidated damages” for not fulfilling the terms of his contract. He will be paying that penalty with unused vacation time, school board President Mary Rose Mangia said.

In his letter to the school board, a very similar letter to district staff and a press release posted on the district’s website Lamberson noted the achievements of his eight years at the helm in District 96.

Lamberson highlighted 11 “remarkable successes,” including a major school improvement campaign that came without an additional tax hike and the inclusion of technology in the curriculum, among other achievements.

He also noted that under his leadership the district “attained historic and enviable fiscal stability.” Lamberson, however, did not mention that the district’s financial strength is due in large part to a successful tax increase referendum in 2004, a year before he arrived, a fact that his many critics often point out.

Lamberson also noted that under his leadership District 96 has received 19 school awards for academic excellence from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) compared to just one such award previously. He did not mention that the ISBE only began handing out awards for academic excellence to schools in 2004, just one year before he took over in District 96.

That’s the kind of shading of the facts and less than full context that infuriated many parents, who often found Lamberson unresponsive to complaints and criticisms.

Mangia, who was only seated on the school board in May and, therefore, only worked with Lamberson for less than a month, acknowledged the perception.

“Dissemble: if you look up that in the dictionary, his picture might be there,” Mangia said. “He has a way of deflecting blame and trying to keep things on an even keel, where he might have just been better served in acknowledging that there were problems. I think a lot of it was deflecting and deferring. I think that was the aspect that grew a little old for a lot of people.”

However both Mangia and Perry praised Lamberson for his achievements.

“He was a good steward of the district,” Mangia said. “I have always found him helpful, courteous and caring about the district. I have no complaints against Dr. Lamberson as to his cooperation and support of me. He has always been gracious to me.”

Perry said that Lamberson had been a good financial manager, but that he is looking to the future.

“He’s done some positive things here,” Perry said. “There’s definitely some things that I’m looking forward to, new vision, new thinking on as far as program, curriculum and instruction, things like that. I think overall his tenure has been effective and positive, but I look forward to growing from that point.”

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