Only five people, including one school board member, showed up for a public meeting last week to talk about what they wanted in a new superintendent for Riverside Elementary School District 96.
The meeting was called by former District 96 Superintendent David Bonnette and former Lyons Township High School Superintendent Dennis Kelly, who are leading the search for a new superintendent. They wanted to get input about what qualities people thought were important for a new superintendent to have.
Bonnette and Kelly are in the midst of drafting a candidate profile that will serve as the basis on their search. They are scheduled to present their profile to the District 96 school board on Oct. 6.
Bonnette is encouraging District 96 residents to come to that meeting and offer their views on what qualities they see as most important to have in a new superintendent.
During the rather intimate hour-long discussion in the auditorium of L.J. Hauser Junior High School a few themes emerged.
“We need someone who is going to get the district, with all its uniqueness and distinctness,” said Liz Buoscio, the mother of students at Ames and Hauser.
Bonnette and Kelly and the other parents there agreed that the differences among the district’s four elementary schools should be respected, noting that each school has its own unique character and parent environment.
Stability was another big theme, which was no surprise after two tumultuous years in which the district’s entire administrative staff has turned over. No principal in District 96 has been in their current job for longer than two years. And all the senior level central district administrative staff members have been on the job for less than a year.
“There’s just been too much turnover,” said Linda Zanieski, the mother of a Hauser sixth-grader.
Because of the turnover and a new administrative staff, the consensus was that the job called for someone who has already had experience as a superintendent.
“I almost think you have to get somebody who’s been a superintendent,” Zanieski said.
“They pretty much have to be experienced with administration, since the principals tend to be young,” Kelly said. “I want someone who’s really experienced and can inspire people.”
Rory Dominick, the mother of two Blythe Park School students, also thought experience was important an important quality to have in a new superintendent given all the new principals. Dominick said that while former Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis did some good things, she didn’t always communicate well, especially when some administrators abruptly left their jobs.
“Bhavna Sharma-Lewis didn’t communicate why people were leaving,” Dominick said.
Shari Klyber, the school board member at the meeting, also thought experience was important. Klyber pointed out that the district is creating a new strategic plan this year and said that she wanted someone with experience in implementing strategic plans and action plans.
Both Bonnette and Kelly said they hoped to find a superintendent who would stay around for a good long while. Kelly called the position a legacy position.
Bonnette and Kelly also met last week with teachers and staff at all of the district’s schools as well as central office staff. Stability and communication were issues that were brought up.
“Dennis and I have really appreciated the input we got from each of the staffs in the schools,” Bonnette said.
For Bonnette, who retired as District 96 superintendent in 2005 after 13 years, it was a homecoming of sorts to visit the schools and see some of the teachers he knew from his days leading the district.
“I had lots of hugs and kisses,” Bonnette said. “It’s a great place and it’s going to be even greater. We don’t need to be turned around. We need to be moved in a positive direction that is step by step by step.”
Bonnette said he takes this search personally. He clearly has been troubled by recent turmoil in the district and feels that he has a mission to help get the district back on track.
“Our reputation is on the line here,” Bonnette said.
One theme that came out of the meetings with staff is that teachers and other staff are very happy with Patrick Patt and Griff Powell, who are serving as co-interim superintendents in District 96 this year.
“Everything we hear from staff is it’s a darn shame we can’t keep these two guys because they’re exactly what we need,” Kelly said.