For the first time in more than a decade, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education has begun a strategic plan process to guide the district’s future.

At its July 21 meeting, the school board voted 4 to 3 to hire former Komarek District 94 Superintendent Bob Madonia to create the plan and lead the strategic planning process. Board President Jeff Miller and board members Shari Klyber, Lynda Murphy and Rich Regan voted to hire Madonia. Board Vice President Mary Rose Mangia and board members Randy Brockway and Rachel Marrello voted against hiring Madonia last week, saying they wanted more time to get information about the services the two other bidders for the job would provide.

“I’m disappointed with the level of the information provided,” Mangia said at the July 21 meeting. At an earlier meeting, she had pushed for inviting the three bidders to appear before the board to pitch their services, but the majority of the board did not feel that was useful since they were comfortable hiring Madonia.

Mangia said hers was not a vote against Madonia. She and the others who voted against said they simply wanted more information about the vendors and the process and were not ready to hire anyone.

“I was uncomfortable with the compare-and-contrast of these proposals,” Mangia said. “Different vendors offered different services.”

Madonia was the low bidder. He will be paid $9,000 for his work. The other bids were for about $12,000 from the Consortium for Educational Changes, and a $25,000 bid from ECRA Group, a company that employs Steve Humphrey, a retired superintendent who did consulting work for D96 in 2014. Mangia said the other bids provided more analytical and statistical information than Madonia would provide.

But the four board members who voted to hire Madonia didn’t want to wait.

“I want to get this started,” Murphy said at the meeting.

The majority of the board was impressed by previous strategic plans that Madonia had created for some well-thought-of school districts.

“He gave us a bunch of plans he came up with,” Miller said. “We liked his process, we liked his output, so we were very comfortable going with him. That was also the recommendation of our two interim superintendents.”

Regan, too, was impressed by the materials that Madonia submitted.

“Bob Madonia made a fantastic presentation to us,” he said.

Madonia met with the board for about two hours at a special meeting, Saturday, to get the process going. Mangia said she was impressed with how the meeting went.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Mangia said. “I think it was certainly needed and it’s an indication that we’re going to look at this in a comprehensive and a future-orientated way.”

Madonia was the superintendent at Komarek for 16 years, from 1986 until 2002. He then went to serve for seven years as the superintendent of Frankfort District 157C until retiring in 2010. Since retiring, he has created strategic plans for school districts in Frankfort, Lincolnshire, Libertyville, Flossmoor and Chicago Ridge. In 2012 he also served as interim superintendent in Lemont-Bromberek District 113A.

Madonia’s next task is to create a survey to give district residents a chance to evaluate the district and give their thoughts about the future. District officials would like as many district residents as possible to complete the survey once it is created in the next month or so.

“We’re going to try to contact not only just the typically school-interested people, the people who have children in school; we’re going to try to reach out to every resident,” said Co-Interim Superintendent Griff Powell. “We’re going to do so by doing a mailer to the entire community.”

The goal of the strategic planning process is to find out what residents want to see in their schools.

At Saturday’s special meeting, the school board decided to create focus groups for five separate areas: instruction, climate and culture, finance, facilities, and human relations. Madonia and Miller said the goal is to get perhaps 50 to 70 people to participate in the focus groups, which will meet for one weekend, a Friday night and Saturday morning, in the fall.

One board member and one administrator will be assigned to each focus group to lead the discussion and take notes.

“We want to get community input about the priorities and goals for the school district over the next, say, five years,” Miller said. “The basic community idea is to get community input into where should the schools be going, in terms of curriculum and all the other things and kind of include this in the high level goals of the school district.”

The goal is to submit the strategic plan to the school board by mid-November.

“The final product will be a five-year strategic vision of where the district is going to go and, in a forward thinking mode, to plan for the future,” Madonia said.

Miller said that after the plan is adopted, the focus groups will meet annually to measure progress toward the goals set out in the plan.

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