Two innovative educators have left Riverside Elementary School District 96 for new jobs this summer.

Instructional Technology Coordinator Jason Smit was hired away from District 96 by former Assistant Superintendent Merryl Brownlow, who is now the superintendent of Palos Heights District 128, and L.J. Hauser Junior High School STEAM teacher Steven Jones has resigned to take a job in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Smit worked for District 96 for five years. He was hired in 2015 to be the assistant principal at Hauser, but after one year in that position he was named to fill the newly created instructional technology coordinator specialist job. In that position, Smit coached teachers in how to use technology in their teaching.

“Jason was a great educational leader,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. “I wish him great success in his new role. I know I will certainly miss him. I’ll miss him for his professionalism and his creativity and his focus on innovation.”

Smit will become the director of innovation and communication at Palos Heights District 128 and rejoin Brownlow under whom he worked at District 96 for four years. Smit’s new salary is $92,000. He made $87,206 last year at District 96. The new job means a shorter commute for Smit, who lives in Indiana.

Ryan-Toy won’t replace Smit, at least not right away, despite technology becoming more important as the district prepares for what appears to be a combined in-person and remote-learning start of the school year next month.

“We don’t have specific plans to replace him,” Ryan-Toye said. “We were leaning that way prior to the pandemic. If we stay in a hybrid or more remote learning position or if we’re forced into that because of the virus, we are looking at some plans for how we might use current staff and have them do some additional coaching.”

School districts are concerned about financial pressures because of a freeze in state aid, possible problems in collecting property tax revenue and added expenses because of the pandemic.

“We wanted to be conservative financially because of the pandemic,” Ryan-Toye said, adding she wanted to retain flexibility in the staffing budget. 

District 96 has another position, called the innovative learning specialist, a job held by Sarah Hickey, devoted to helping teachers use technology and develop innovative teaching techniques.

Jones, who came to Hauser in 2016, started and taught the STEAM elective classes there. These classes combined science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics and business skills in a project driven and collaborative environment. Students worked in groups to design and build products.

The school district will hire a new teacher to fill that role.

Jones was one of only two Black teachers in District 96 last year. The only remaining Black teacher in the district is Mario Weston, a reading specialist at Central School.