As Bhavna Sharma-Lewis walks out the doors at Riverside District 96, we’re guessing at the end of the school year (the school board meeting where the board will take up a separation agreement with the superintendent happened after the Landmark’s press time), the one overriding question that we’re left with is this:
Did it have to happen this way?
To be sure, Sharma-Lewis and the board that was in place after the spring 2013 election were oil and water from the get-go. Both the board leadership and Sharma-Lewis herself were new to their respective roles, and it showed.
During a tumultuous first year in which Sharma-Lewis turned over the entire administrative hierarchy of the district, she rubbed people the wrong way with a style that could seem imperious.
At the same time, however, Sharma-Lewis and the team she hired tackled big problems left behind by her predecessor, not the least of which was a failure to begin aligning the district’s curriculum with the new Common Core standards.
But while the school board allowed Sharma-Lewis to build her team and make those kinds of important decisions, they also barely gave her room to breathe, particularly during her first 12 months on the job.
And while the board might not admit it publicly, it has been laying the groundwork for Sharma-Lewis’ departure for months. The woman never had a chance.
And here’s what the district faces in May when the next board is seated:
There will be no member of the school board with more than two years’ experience to set the future course of District 96. Depending on how the election shakes out, there could be entirely new board leadership come May.
That board inherits an administrative leadership team whose top two people are on the way out and a third whose title has the word “interim” in it.
It would seem clear that the 2015-16 school year in District 96 will be helmed by an interim superintendent while the next board conducts a search for Sharma-Lewis’ replacement.
Until that hire is made, it would be unwise for the board to hire a curriculum director on its own. Depending on who the new superintendent is, it might not be necessary to hire a new curriculum director.
We hope that after all of this preparation to remove Sharma-Lewis from the superintendent’s office that the board has crafted a succession plan. Because, quite frankly, District 96 can’t take much more of this soap opera.
Riverside schools for years have been the envy of its neighbors and a drawing card for young families who want to provide the best education possible for their children. All of this extracurricular drama does nothing for the district but make people wonder who the heck is running things.
The next school board needs to get down to the business of moving the district past the events of the last three years.
In the final analysis, the responsibility for what’s been happening in the district falls on the shoulders of board members, who are charged with governing the place. If getting rid of Sharma-Lewis is for the better, the board’s going to have to prove it with their next hire.