By Bob Skolnik
The next principal of George Washington Middle School in Lyons will apparently be a familiar, but not universally popular, choice.
Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Superintendent Kristopher Rivera is recommending that the Board of Education hire his predecessor, former Superintendent Carol Baker, as GWMS principal.
Baker will replace Don Jones, who is leaving the district on July 1 to take a new post as principal of Algonquin Middle School in Des Plaines. Rivera is also recommending that Baker take on the role of assistant superintendent in what will be a combined position.
"I fell in love with the district and the community when I came here four years ago," Baker wrote in an email to the Landmark. "I was passionate about meeting the needs of the community and I only left because the previous board wouldn't extend my contract; it was never my desire to leave."
The school board is expected to vote on Baker's hiring at its May 26 meeting.
"Dr. Baker's primary position will be that of the principal of George Washington Middle School," Rivera wrote in an email to GWMS staff, which Rivera provided to the Landmark after being asked about Baker's expected hiring.
"In addition, she will serve as assistant superintendent, which will include additional duties to support central office," Rivera wrote. "You can expect full commitment to the students, staff, parents, and community of George Washington Middle School. This is also an aspect of cost savings as we have eliminated several positions at the administration building and she can help provide support in respective areas."
Baker served as superintendent of District 103 for two years from 2016 until 2018, when she left to take a job as an assistant superintendent for academics and chief academic officer at Hinsdale High School District 86.
In January, the District 86 school board voted unanimously not to renew Baker's contract after her plan to revamp the science curriculum at Hinsdale Central High School was met with vocal opposition from some parents.
"I have worked with an extremely smart, talented group of administrators at Hinsdale 86 and I wish them well moving forward," Baker said. "The science sequencing that we worked on is moving forward as planned, and is (and always was) supported by the board, the teachers and the administration."
Rivera is recommending that Baker be given a two-year contract in what he said was a move to express a commitment to consistency for the staff at GWMS, which has worked under three principals in the last five years.
Rivera stated that he had planned on having a hiring committee screen applicants for the principal's position, but the opportunity to hire someone of Baker's credentials was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
"While I certainly hoped to have had a full committee and participate in a full process of hiring, this opportunity arose and could not be passed on as her experience, knowledge and commitment to the Lyons community will serve as an enormous asset for the school district," Rivera wrote in his email.
One GWMS teacher who spoke to Landmark on the condition of anonymity said she was shocked that Baker would return to District 103 as a principal, noting that Baker was a controversial superintendent.
Baker was hired at District 103 in 2016 by a school board that was controlled by a majority elected with support of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. She left District 103 after that majority was turned out after the 2017 election.
Prior to the new majority taking over, however, the lame duck Getty-aligned board controversially extended her contract. In 2019, Getty-supported candidates retook control of the school board.
Baker has a strong background in science education at the high school level and once served as the president of the Illinois Science Teachers Association. Other than her two years at District 103, Baker has always worked at the high school level.
She has never been a principal before. Before she was hired to be the superintendent at District 103, she had been director of curriculum for science and Music at Oak Lawn-based Community High School District 218, where she has spent the bulk of her career.
Last August, the District 103 school board voted 4-3 to pay Baker about $10,700 for unused vacation time from her time in District 103, after Baker claimed she was entitled to be paid for all her vacation days of the 2018-19 fiscal year, despite working for District 103 for just one month of that year.
In 2009, Baker served on the Consolidated High School District 230 school board with current state Sen. Michael Hastings, who is the son of Kyle Hastings, who was hired in 2015 by the Getty-aligned board as District 103 interim superintendent.
When Baker was hired for the top spot, the school board created a part-time assistant superintendent position for Hastings, who remained in that position through this year.
Baker started her career as a physics teacher. She earned her bachelor's degree in physics from Loyola University of Chicago in 1988, a master's degree in educational leadership from Governor's State University in 1994 and a doctorate in education from National Louis University in 2012.