New superintendent jumps in at District 103

Rivera hopes to bring stability to fractious environment

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Superintendent Kristopher Rivera aims to bring stability and shared decision-making to notoriously fractious Lyons School District 103.

Rivera, the new superintendent of Lyons School District 103, started May 7, nearly two months earlier than his previously agreed upon start date. 

Typically, new superintendents start at the beginning of a new fiscal year, on July 1. However, after former co-interim superintendents Patrick Patt and Robert Madonia abruptly resigned after the April 2 school board election, Rivera wrote to the school board and offered to begin work ahead of schedule. 

Rivera, 43, had been an assistant superintendent for human resources in the Hammond, Indiana school district.

In his first week at District 103 Rivera met with administrative staff, visited schools, teachers and students and generally got a look at how things are done.

"A lot of what I'm doing right now is gathering information, getting to know people," said Rivera in an interview at his new office on May 10. 

Being visible is important to Rivera.

"I want people to know who I am," Rivera said. "I want them to know who the superintendent of their district is. I don't want people to be guessing who's the guy over there in the suit."

Rivera said the district needs stability after a lot of administrative turnover in the past four years.

"I hope we can get some stability, Rivera said. "I hope to promote some sustainability here and some consistency in leadership." 

The churn of top administrators is continuing. Business Manager Sherry Reynolds-Whitaker is resigning after two years on the job. Her last day will be June 28.

Reynolds-Whitaker has worked in District 103 for two years and is highly thought of. In March she was given a contract extension without a single dissenting vote by the school board.

Reynolds-Whitaker declined to say what she is doing next.

"I am leaving because I got a new opportunity, and I'm not sharing any of that information right now," Reynolds-Whitaker said. 

Reynolds-Whitaker said that the changeover on the school board did not affect her decision to leave District 103. 

"Not at all," Reynolds-Whitaker said. "I'm also a professor at a university so some opportunities came along and I took them."

Reynolds-Whitaker's departure means Rivera and the school board now have two central office vacancies to fill as well as needing to hire principals at Lincoln and Robinson schools. 

Human Resources Director Kim Ontiveros announced last month that she is leaving the district at the end of June to take a job in the East Aurora school district.

"I really hope we can get some stability," Rivera said.

Rivera declined to say whether Robinson School Principal Al Molina might retain his job. In March, the school board voted 4 to 3 to reclassify Molina as a teacher in the wake of a no-confidence vote in Molina by Robinson School teachers. 

However, new school board president Jorge Torres voted against reclassifying Molina. It is not clear if the newly constituted school board, led by Torres, will want to reconsider that decision.

Rivera said that he has not had any interference from anyone on hiring. Some are concerned that the new board majority, elected with the backing on Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, might want to hire politically connected people.

"I have had no interference in the hiring practices," Rivera said. "I plan on having committees together, putting together individuals to make these decisions. That's the way I'm moving forward. … I have had no interference or recommendations or suggestions or anything to that nature in terms of any of my vacancies to this point."

Rivera says he has not met Getty but would like to meet him and the other village presidents in the communities that make up District 103.

"The schools and the villages have the same interest in having good schools, so I am willing to collaborate with each mayor and see how we can help one another to get good schools," Rivera said.

Rivera wants to bring a shared decision-making style of leadership to District 103. He believes in collaboration and involving stakeholders in decisions and does not like dictating decisions from the top.

"I want to empower stakeholders," Rivera said. "I don't know how committed to shared leadership and consensus decision-making the district is, but that will be one of the main goals."

He says he wants to try and get the divided school board to work together. He plans to be visible and to communicate and involve everyone.

"I want to get out the community events, the buildings, school events," Rivera said. "You can't understate the importance of relationships and showing commitment."

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