New Hauser Junior High Principal April Mahy

Two new principals have been hired in Riverside Elementary School District 96. And administrators and school board members hope and expect that they will stick around for a while.

April Mahy was hired to be the principal at L.J. Hauser Junior High School and a former Hauser teacher, Kimberly Hefner, was hired to be the principal at Hollywood School. The school board approved the hires on June 16.

The positions became open a month ago when Hauser Principal Steve Juracka and Hollywood Principal Kurt Preble announced they were resigning to join departing Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis in her new school district in Mundelein.

Both Juracka and Preble had been in their respective positions for just one year.

The search for new principals was led by co-interim superintendents Patrick Patt and Griff Powell.

Patt and Powell officially took over this week as Sharma-Lewis is spending her last two weeks on the District 96 payroll on vacation. Patt and Powell have been doing work without pay for the district since they were hired nearly a month ago.

Both Mahy and Hefner are experienced administrators. For the past nine years Mahy, 49, has been the assistant principal at Hickory Creek Middle School in Frankfort. Hefner, who taught reading, English and Spanish at Hauser from 2001 to 2007, is currently the principal of the Early Childhood Center for Community Consolidated School District 93 in Carol Stream.

Previously Hefner had served as an elementary school principal in Cicero for two years and as an assistant principal at middle schools in Glen Ellyn and Oak Park.

“They both bring a lot of stability,” Patt said. “If they are ever crazy enough to invite us to come back to visit in about five years, we expect both of them will still be doing those jobs and doing them extremely well.”

Powell said the school board gave clear direction that they sought stability in leadership positions after a period of change in the district over the last two years. No District 96 principal has been on the job more than two years.

About 90 to 100 people applied for the positions with some candidates applying for both positions. Powell and Patt did telephone interviews and research into 12 candidates for each position.

The finalists, five at Hollywood and four at Hauser, were interviewed by a panel that included Patt and Powell, incoming Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Merryl Brownlow, Special Education Director Pam Shaw, two District 96 principals, teachers, three parents and the school secretary.

No school board members were part of the interviewing process, a deliberate choice made by the interim superintendents.

“Their role is to make sure that the process is in place and the recommendation is based on solid process involving all stakeholders,” Powell said.

Mahy, 49, was the clear choice among the Hauser finalists.

“She was really dynamic,” said Carol Barlow, the president of Hauser Parent Teacher Organization and a member on the Hauser interview panel. “A lot of energy. It seemed like she would interact well with the kids. We liked her [English language arts] background.”

Prior to assuming her current position nine years ago Mahy, who grew up in southern Illinois near Centralia, served as dean of students for a year at James Hart Junior High School in Homewood.

She also taught social studies and English at Hart for three years. Before that Mahy  taught science, social studies, and English at Palos South Middle School in Palos Park. She began her teaching career at Forest Trail Junior High School in Park Forest. 

 “When I was looking into Hauser, I saw that the community and students and parents seemed to be very similar to the area where I work right now,” Mahy said. “[They are] very involved in their school and committed to excellence in education.”

Hefner, 45, left Hauser in 2007 to become an administrator taking a job as the assistant principal at Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn. After two years at Hadley and two more years as assistant principal at Brooks Middle School in Oak Park, Hefner become a principal at Woodbine Elementary School in Cicero.

“I am so excited to lead Hollywood,” Hefner said. “This is initially what I wanted. I’m excited to be back in District 96, being at the elementary level.”

Hefner opened the Early Childhood Center for District 93 two years ago, and it is one of only two schools in Illinois that was awarded the Whole Child Award by the Illinois Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Her experience in early childhood education makes her a good fit for Hollywood School, which houses the District 96 Early Childhood Learning Program.

Hefner will also run the District 96 summer school program in 2016 and take on some special district-wide assignments.

Both new principals start work in District 96 on July 1. Mahy, who also coached cheerleading at Andrew High School for 19 years and is a member of the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Hall of Fame, will be paid $105,000 next year. Hefner will earn $98,000.

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