Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 has filled out its new and fully revamped administrative team by hiring a new special education director.

At their Aug. 22 meeting, school board members voted 6 to 1 to hire Janine Gruhn as the district’s its new director of special education. Gruhn replaces Beth Malinski, who resigned over the summer to take a job as the special needs coordinator in Westchester Elementary School District 92½, the same district where former District 103’s curriculum director, Kelly Baas, also now works.

Superintendent Carol Baker, Gruhn and new curriculum director Natacia Campbell are all new to District 103 this year. 

Gruhn had been the special education director at Waukegan District 60, a large north suburban K-12 unit school district, for 11 years before resigning that position effective June 30.

Baker said that she was attracted by Gruhn’s experience, especially since District 103 has had a lot of staff turnover.

“I really felt like I wanted somebody who had experience as a director of special ed,” Baker said. “We have an awful lot of new people in the school district.”

Baker said that she also wanted an experienced special education administrator, because she herself does not have experience in special education.

“Because I don’t have a background in special ed, it was really important to me to find somebody with a background that was strong as opposed to hiring somebody where it would be a step up for them,” Baker said.

Gruhn received a one-year contract that expires June 30. She will earn a prorated salary based on an annual rate of $96,500 a year.

Board member Joanne Schaeffer cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she didn’t feel that Gruhn had enough experience with elementary school kids.

But, working in Waukegan Gruhn managed special education in a district that has 15 elementary schools, five middle schools and two high school campuses.

That was more than enough experience with elementary school aged kids for board member Sharon Anderson, who often has joined Schaeffer in bucking the majority on its administrative hires.

“She seemed to have K-8 experience,” said Anderson. “She was from a unit school district.”

Gruhn resigned her position at Waukegan effective June 30 and was without a job this summer. A new superintendent started in Waukegan on July 1, but Gruhn said that was not a major factor in her decision to leave the Waukegan district after 11 years.

 “I really felt that after 11 years at Waukegan it was time to look at something else,” said Gruhn, who disclosed that she’d been offered a position to stay in Waukegan. “I was very confident in my skills to be able to find a job.”

Gruhn began her career as a special education teacher at Morton East High School in Cicero. She worked at a special education cooperative and for the Chicago Public Schools before going to Waukegan.

She graduated from University of Illinois in 1996 with a degree in special education and teaching, earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Loyola University, and is close to earning her doctorate in education from National Lewis University.

Gruhn was a senior at Maine West High School when she began working in a preschool program that included special needs children. A teacher there saw how well Gruhn worked with the children and suggested that she go into special education.

In her first couple of weeks on the job in District 103, Gruhn has been getting familiar with the district and her staff. 

“Right now I’m listening and learning and observing,” Gruhn said. “I think any changes we make will be gradual and purposeful. Right now I’m just really getting to know the district and looking at how we can maximize our resources. I’m not looking to necessarily change anything at this point, because I’ve only been on the job for two weeks.”

At the Aug. 22 meeting, the school board hired five new teachers, completing faculty hiring for the new school year, which began on Aug. 15. One of those new hires was Michael Rinchiuso, who will be the art teacher at Lincoln School in Brookfield.

However, the two nurses serving District 103 resigned in August and Baker is now focused on filling those positions. She said that she hopes to fill at least one of the two vacant nurse positions at the Sept. 8 school board meeting. 

Until the new nurses are hired, the district is using nurses from a staffing agency. Temporary nurses from an agency cost anywhere from $60 to $90 an hour Baker said.

Baker said that the district is also looking to hire more teacher aides.