New George Washington Middle School Principal Paul Bleuher became a teacher, then a principal as a second career, after a stint at the Chicago Board of Trade. When financial regulations got more complicated for independent traders, he looked back at his original aspirations in college, and decided to change careers, he said.
“After spending six years in finance, I knew I had made the right decision,” he said. “Making a positive impact in the lives of children was something money could not buy.” Bleuher lives in Naperville and is father of four children ages 6 to 13. He picked up two master’s degrees and a superintendent’s certification while teaching in two different districts.
Most recently, Bleuher came from Lincoln Junior High School in Skokie, where he served as both principal and the district’s technology director. He said the school district was similar to Lyons-Brookfield District 103 in the number of low-income students (around 60 percent) and the number of English language learners.
“The difference was, we had about 40 different languages my students spoke in Skokie,” he said. “Lyons has mostly Spanish-speakers.”
Bleuher has been visiting the district in the school year’s final days, trying to touch base with the people and students he’ll be working with next year.
“I got a chance to attend the fifth-grade open house for incoming students, and I saw a concert and a play,” he said. “I’m trying to be in the district as much time as I can to have a nice transition to the next school year.”
He said coming into education from the “outside” gives him more experience to draw from as school districts are changing rapidly. His interests include “instructional technology, increasing community/family outreach, challenging financial decisions, teacher professional development, social-emotional learning program expansion, and assessment/data analysis,” he wrote in an email.
Bleuher didn’t know his hiring was mentioned in political rhetoric during the D103 school board elections, until after the elections.
Fliers for Parents for Student Excellence said the former board had quickly swept in Bleuher as well as a pair of interim superintendents, Patrick Patt and Griff Powell, as a lame-duck power grab.
“I came into this not knowing the whole political situation,” Bleuher said Monday. “It is what it is. You have to assume school board members are elected because they want to make a difference and improve student learning.”
He said his hiring process was not rushed. It was similar to that at other districts, meeting teachers and administrators. He didn’t meet board members until the day he was hired, he said.
Bleuher said his career detour into the financial world gave him a big-picture view of the financial struggles of Illinois school districts. At previous jobs in Darien and Skokie he had to eliminate busing and alter a teachers’ contract.
“There are always some efficiencies to be gained,” Bleuher said. “I don’t have my thumb on that right now, but it could mean more money for an extra teacher, or more textbooks or computer devices for students.”
Once the dust of the election is settled, Bleuher said, the school board and superintendent will get down to business.
“Sometimes it’s unfortunate that the adult issues overshadow the important stuff about the kids,” he said. “I’m excited about becoming part of the school and I look forward to getting immersed in the George Washington community.”