WESTMONT – Westmont High School administrators and school board members are giving Principal Jack Baldermann high marks after his first year.
Baldermann was a controversial hire by Community Unit School District 201 last year after an ignominious exit from Riverside Brookfield High School in 2009.
His eight years as superintendent and principal at that school was largely marked by success but ended with an abrupt resignation in 2009 after a pair of widely publicized indiscretions the year before: an affair with a school staff member and allowing his administrative accreditation with the state to lapse, which he described at the time as a bureaucratic error.
Westmont school officials say his indiscretions have remained in the past and praised his efforts so far in his new job.
“Everybody has a past,” said Marie Charlton, president of the District 201 school board. “He is bringing to us everything we wanted him to do. He is doing an exemplary job in our school.”
When asked if he thinks he has something to prove after his exit from Riverside Brookfield, Baldermann said, “yes.”
“I am really focused on Westmont right now,” he said. “And I want to be the best person, and the best principal that I possibly can be for the people who put faith in me and the people that I work with every day.”
Baldermann said he’s bringing many of the initiatives and programs that brought success to Riverside Brookfield to Westmont, programs that led him to regular speaking appearances at educational conferences.
In the past year, Baldermann said he has worked to improve the school’s graduation rate, revamp its Advanced Placement class program and introduce new professional development opportunities for faculty.
Part of the key to improving the school’s graduation rate is the reintroduction of summer school for struggling students, and a weekly check in with the students to make sure they are not falling behind, he said.
“We’re going to keep on them, and supporting them, and hounding them and giving them the kind of encouragement and expectations that don’t allow them to fail,” he said.
Next school year, the high school also will offer seven new Advanced Placement courses, and Baldermann said he has set a goal of tripling the number of students who pass AP class tests to earn college credit.
Larry Herbst, who served as president of the Riverside Brookfield School Board when it hired Baldermann, praised Baldermann’s contributions to that district in an interview with the Progress last week.
The high school rose quickly up national rankings during Baldermann’s tenure, to which Herbst accredited the former superintendent’s ability to “think outside the box” and “push the envelope,” a quality he said occasionally rubbed some people the wrong way.
Westmont is “extremely fortunate to have Jack Baldermann,” Herbst said. “If it was up to me, he’d still be the superintendent [at Riverside Brookfield High School]. He’s possibly the most innovative educator we’ve ever come across. He set in place professional development programs for our teachers that other top schools came to our school to emulate.”
When the District 201 school board voted to hire Baldermann a year ago, Charlton was the lone dissenting vote. But, like Herbst, she had nothing but praise for the high school’s new principal.
“As of today, he has done nothing but a tremendous job here with us, and has really made a huge difference with us,” she said.
The praise also came from District 201 Superintendent Kevin Carey, who vetted Baldermann and recommended him to the Westmont school board for the principal position. In the 1990s, Carey served as assistant principal at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park under Baldermann, who was principal.
Carey also said the district has not seen Baldermann repeat any of the past indiscretions in Westmont.
“Jack has done a great job developing positive relationships with the students, parents and staff,” he said.
District 201 school board members Shannon Hancock, who voted to hire Baldermann, and Matt Johnson, who joined the board after Baldermann’s hiring, had only positive things to say about him, as well.
“I can say that I have had nothing but good feedback, as far as the type of job that he has been doing,” Johnson said. “That has been from both parents, administration and students. I have not yet heard anything critical.”