Home School teacher tapped as middle school dean

Some D103 board members irked at hiring process

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

The administrative team at George Washington Middle School in Lyons is now fully staffed but some school board members are unhappy about how it was done. 

Last week, Sarah Torrejon, who had been an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Home School in Stickney began working at the middle school as a dean. 

Torrejon is working on an interim basis until the school board can vote on creating the position of dean and hiring her for the job, at its next meeting on Jan. 28.

Some school board members are not happy about the move prior to the board officially taking action.

"It doesn't follow the rules," said board member Shannon Johnson.

Last year, and for many years before that, there were three administrators at GWMS: a principal and two assistant principals. 

Last summer Assistant Principal Rubi Ortiz was promoted to a new position as bilingual program director for Lyons-Brookfield School District 103. In September, Superintendent Kristopher Rivera was set to recommend that the school board hire a Chicago Public Schools teacher, Socorro Mendoza, to replace Ortiz as an assistant principal at GWMS. But the job offer was suddenly withdrawn without a full explanation.

School board President Jorge Torres said at the time that the offer to Mendoza was withdrawn because of concerns about the budget.

School board member Marge Hubacek said that she didn't understand why Rivera acted before the school board formally created the new position of dean.

"I don't quite know what the hurry was at this point, because he dragged his feet this whole time," Hubacek said.

For the first four months of the school year, GWMS Principal Don Jones and Assistant Principal Gary Wheaton have been the only administrators at the school, which serves 750 students.

"That's a lot of work for two people," Rivera said.

Changing the position from assistant principal to dean will save the district a little money. The dean position, which will focus on student discipline, will be a 38-week position while assistant principals work a 42-week year. 

Rivera is recommending that Torrejon be paid an annual salary of $76,000. Wheaton and Ortiz were hired in 2018 at starting salaries of $80,000. For now, Torrejon is being paid a stipend in addition to her teacher's salary.

Torrejon worked for 15 years as a bilingual teacher in Chicago before coming to Home School. She holds a bachelor's degree from Chicago State University and has earned two master's degrees, one in curriculum and instruction from Indiana Wesleyan University and one in educational leadership and administration from Concordia University.

Torrejon says that starting at a new school in the middle of the school year has been great, but challenging. 

"I'm learning a new routine and new faces, but everybody has been so wonderful," she said.

Rivera said that he, HR Director Brian Towne, Jones, and Wheaton interviewed three candidates last month for the dean's position, two of whom did not work for District 103. Rivera said that Torrejon was the clear top choice.

"She was the best candidate of the individuals we interviewed," Rivera said.

Torrejon also fills gaps on the GWMS administrative team.

It helped that Torrejon was female and bilingual since both Jones and Wheaton are men who don't speak Spanish.

"It's just a big bonus to have somebody who is bilingual, because that was one of the things Mr. Jones was having concerns about," Rivera said. "It's just such an asset to have somebody who can help translate some of the written documentations and notices that go home."

Rivera said the job description for the new position of dean will match the job description of assistant principal.

"We didn't change the job description, but it could be managed differently onsite," Rivera said.

Rivera said the district is looking into how to fill Torrejon's position at Home School. A new hire, possibly a new graduate, or a long-term substitute are both possibilities, Rivera said.

"That's going to be tough, but filling an administrative position in the middle of the year was tough, too," Rivera said.

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