Kevin Skinkis was just 30 years old when he became the principal at Bartlett High School, so when the time came to look for a successor to Riverside-Brookfield High School Principal Pamela Bylsma, Skinkis wasn’t going to let age stand in the way of trying out a talented and popular administrator already familiar with the school.
Last week, Skinkis recommended that the District 208 school board appoint 31-year-old Kristin Smetana interim principal at RBHS. The District 208 school board accepted Skinkis’ recommendation and appointed Smetana interim principal by a unanimous vote after meeting in closed session on March 11.
“I was a principal at 30 and a superintendent at 34,” said Skinkis, who is now 37. “I think Kristin’s got more than enough experience to be a successful principal. She was a math teacher for five years, a department chair, an assistant principal, she’s a nationally board certified teacher, she has two master’s degrees and is currently completing a doctorate.”
Bylsma is leaving RBHS this summer to become an assistant superintendent at Hinsdale High School District 86. Smetana will start her new job July 1.
Smetana, known as “Krissy” to teachers and staff, is currently the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at RBHS. She came to the school in 2012 after serving as a math teacher and math department chairwoman at Hinsdale Central High School. While serving as interim principal, Smetana will receive a $7,500 stipend in addition to her $109,180 regular salary as assistant principal.
In her less than two years at RBHS, Smetana has impressed just about everyone she has worked with.
“She’s very sound,” said school social worker Mari Mortensen. “She’s a doer; she’s a worker. She’s just a good fit.”
Those who have worked with Smetana praise her analytical mind, collaborative attitude and her work ethic. And she listens, which teachers appreciate.
“If she is looking into something, she looks into all of the data,” said English teacher Wendy Cassens, who is serving this year as the president of the Riverside Brookfield Education Association, the union local that represents teachers and support staff at RB.
“Krissy just has a way of processing information and delivering it back in a way that is just very teacher friendly,” Cassens added. “Her style is not to say, ‘Well, this is what I see and this is how we’re going to do it.’ She is much more team-environment.”
Cassens said the choice of Smetana is a popular one among teachers, who are glad that after three straight new administrators coming from other schools, teachers will be able to continue to work with someone they know and trust.
“I’m speaking for myself, but also the staff. It’s nice that we won’t have to adjust to a change,” Cassens said.
In her time at RBHS, Smetana has worked on a joint evaluation committee devising a new evaluation process for teachers. She has led a credit recovery program for students who have failed courses, she’s led a technology team that is introducing Chromebooks to RBHS and she has worked with feeder schools to better align curriculum.
Smetana has a reputation as a hard worker who puts in long hours. She was like that as a high school volleyball player at Downers Grove South High School. Although not blessed with an abundance of natural talent, she worked her way into a spot as a regular rotation player on a state championship team.
“Back at Downers South when I was coaching her, not only was she a great student academically — very focused — she took on athletics the same way,” said her former coach, Denise Kavanaugh, now the athletic director at Downers Grove North. “She’s just one of those overachievers in every way possible.”
Smetana is excited about her new position.
“I’m thrilled,” Smetana said. “I’ve enjoyed my experiences these past two years at RB and the relationships that I’ve been able to form with the staff, the students and the parents, so I’m really excited for this new role so that I can continue to build those relationships and lead the district in this time of transition.”
Skinkis said he and the school board will evaluate Smetana’s performance as interim principal in January of 2015 and decide whether to take off the “interim” label and give her the job on a permanent basis.
“We’ll evaluate how she’s doing at the end of first semester,” Skinkis said. “We don’t want to just give somebody a job, so we want to make it clear that it’s an interim process and we’ll revisit it sometime next year.”
Skinkis said since planning for next year is now in full swing, he didn’t want to do a long search for a principal right now.
“I thought it would be in the best interest of the board to give Kristin this opportunity, and it also would be good for the school, continuity wise, to have Kristin step right in and help us with those projects,” Skinkis said.
It seems clear that Skinkis thinks that Smetana will be up to the job and not just a placeholder. He is essentially giving Smetana a six-month tryout.
Smetana said she doesn’t feel any pressure with the interim label.
“It doesn’t put pressure on me or put me in an awkward situation, because I just love being able to help the organization out and provide some stability,” Smetana said.
While Smetana is serving as interim principal, Skinkis said that he will fill the assistant principal for curriculum and instruction position on an interim basis with a current staff member.