The principal of Riverside-Brookfield High School will spend no more time at RB than its students: four years. 

Last week, the Hinsdale District 86 Board of Education voted 4 to 1 to hire Principal Pamela Bylsma as its new assistant superintendent for academics. Bylsma will start her job July 1, after finishing the school year as RBHS’ principal.

Bylsma came to RBHS as its principal in 2010 after working for 11 years as an administrator at Hinsdale Central High School, which along with Hinsdale South High School makes up District 86.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to go back,” Bylsma said. “It was always bittersweet leaving there, and it’ll be bittersweet leaving here because I do love RB. I didn’t want and go be a principal anywhere else, so I wouldn’t leave the students here to be the principal of other students anywhere else. I’m going to miss being with the kids. That’s the most painful part.”

Bylsma came to RBHS at a difficult time and was the principal during a time of staff cutbacks. As the principal and the educational leader of the school, she was often caught in the middle dealing with teachers and other staff on one side, but also carrying out the desires of the school board and a superintendent who needed to cut spending after the defeat of a tax increase referendum in 2011 — Bylsma’s first year as principal.

“That role, by the organization chart, is always caught in the middle,” Bylsma said. “I did come into this district at a very difficult transition time in its history, and I tried to serve it well.”

Teachers apparently weren’t always happy with Bylsma, who reportedly did not fare well on the state-mandated Five Essentials survey last spring. Bylsma acknowledged that her ranking was not good among the faculty who took part in the survey, but said it was partially due the structure of the survey. 

The Illinois State Board of Education has acknowledged issues with the survey, and it ultimately decided that the results did not need to be released.

“There were some statements in there and some of the rankings, but those were not even released to the public, because of the fact that there were questions of their legitimacy,” Bylsma said.

She noted that because of the structure of the school survey, those with issues with district policy could only express their discontent via answers dealing with what they thought of the principal of a school.

“All they could do was complain against the principal,” Bylsma said. “There wasn’t any distinguishing whether it was a district-level decision, a board decision or the principal, so all the principals thought they were getting beat up for things that weren’t their fault.”

Bylsma said it was sometimes difficult to win the trust of the faculty during a time of change, and for a time, cutbacks.

“Whenever you’re coming in at a difficult transition time like that it is hard to quickly build trust with the staff, because you’re an outside entity and I understand that,” Bylsma said. “I knew that it was a tough role to come in and try and fill, but I tried to do the best I could.”

Bylsma was also in the awkward position of working for a superintendent who didn’t hire her. District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis was hired one year after Bylsma came to RBHS.

Skinkis praised Bylsma in an emailed statement to the Landmark.

“Pam is a consummate professional who is very driven,” Skinkis wrote. “I am not surprised that she is taking on a new position and a new challenge. I appreciate what she has done for RB during her tenure and I wish her nothing but the best.”

Matt Sinde, the president of the District 208 Board of Education, said that the issue of rehiring Bylsma, who was working on a one-year contract, had not been addressed by the school board.

“We hadn’t even started talking about administrative contracts at all,” Sinde said. “We don’t even start talking about administrative contracts until … April.”

Sinde praised Bylsma for her work and noted that Bylsma is getting a promotion and a pay raise.

“She has done a lot of great stuff at RB and she’s going to a higher position from where she was at before,” Sinde said. “I never get disappointed when somebody’s going to a bigger position, a better position.”

School board member Mike Welch also praised Bylsma.

“Ms. Bylsma came to us in a time of great need and I think she did a wonderful job,” Welch said.

Bylsma said she has been gratified by the outpouring of support that she received since people have learned that she would be leaving RB at the end of the school year.

“Since that I’ve announced that I’m not returning, I’ve had an outpouring of support and kindness from support staff, from teachers, from administrators,” Bylsma said. “Are there people who might not be supportive? Yes, probably. You know that’s in every job. … I’ve always thought that the staff has been open and willing to accept my ideas and my vision, but it’s been a hard time for teachers everywhere.”

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