Just about the most important duty for an elected public school board is choosing who will lead the educational efforts of the school district as superintendent.
In Lyons-Brookfield District 103, quite frankly, we’ve had misgivings about the board’s ability to do that. In the past 12 months, the school board and the highly connected interim administration it handpicked has decreased transparency and has done little to indicate that it does anything but take orders from Lyons Village Hall.
So when the board began its search for a permanent superintendent, we had little faith in that process.
When the board announced its pick, it was a bit of a head scratcher. Neither of the two finalists had been a school superintendent anywhere, and one had experience only at the high school level as a teacher and administrator.
The other was a middle school principal in Berwyn who had spent time as an administrator at George Washington Middle School in Lyons, which appeared to make him a pretty good fit, albeit someone new to leading a district that needed strong leadership most of all.
In the end, the school board chose Carol Keene Baker, who has spent her entire career as a teacher and administrator in south suburban high school District 218.
But, at least right now, the board appears to have chosen someone truly interested in turning around the academic achievement in District 103, someone who is a sincerely devoted educator who has impressed her colleagues enough to be chosen as part of a select group that rewrote national high school standards for science.
It was perhaps unavoidable, given the way decisions have been made in the past year in District 103, that Baker has connections to the present interim administration. Through the time she spent as a member of a south suburban school board with his son, Baker personally knows Kyle Hastings. She also was a longtime colleague of the man the school board hired as a fill-in interim superintendent to end the 2015-16 school year.
The majority now in charge of the District 103 school board promised voters that it wanted to turn around academic performance. Here is their chance to do that.
With a new superintendent whose specialty is curriculum and instruction in the central office, the school board needs to let her take charge and freely operate District 103 and hire key employees – including a maintenance director, two school principals and a curriculum director — without interference from village hall.
Unfortunately, Baker is saddled with Hastings as an extravagantly paid, part-time assistant for the next four years. That $100,000-plus per year expense, for someone who’ll be in the building two days a week, could be better channeled into improving education services and is the shining example of how the school board has operated to date.
That’s why this school board is going to have to prove to us and to voters that it has the ability to let the new superintendent do her job.
We also wish Baker the best as she embarks on this job, because she’s going to have to navigate not just the challenge of turning the district around academically but of a political minefield that we don’t believe is going away.