HINSDALE – He'll be the first to say that he may not have the experience of some other superintendents, but it's his character, potential and work ethic that shined through when the District 86 Board of Education made its decision to name him superintendent.
At the Oct. 7 board of education meeting, the board officially removed the "acting" portion of Bruce Law's title and made him fulltime superintendent. Since 2010, Law has been the district's assistant superintendent for instruction.
Previous to that, Law served as the head of school at Chicago Virtual Charter School, was on the faculty in the education department at Lewis University in Romeoville and was the director of research and school improvement at Monroe County Community School Corporation in Bloomington, Ind.
Suburban Life reporter Danny Ciamprone spoke recently with Law about his new title.
Ciamprone: Why did you originally want to pursue a career in education?
Law: I guess I'd answer that question like most educators would answer. I just have a passion for education. I loved it as a student and I loved it as a teacher and that's something I've always done. I can't really see myself doing anything else.
Ciamprone: You've been at District 86 now since 2010. What made you want to come to work at D-86?
Law: I was contacted by people who knew about the district and knew about the community and the teachers and the students and said this is one of the best places you can be, and things worked out. I'm very fortunate.
Ciamprone: What was your reaction when the board took away that "acting" portion of your title and made you superintendent?
Law: My first reaction was surprised because I didn't see it coming. I was really focused on trying to do all the things that needed to be done and when they said that's what they would like to do I was surprised. If they had gone to a full-blown search and done all that I certainly would've applied, because having done it for a month and a half I thought I'm sure there are people out there who are better qualified and have more experience, but I really love this district and I really like what I'm doing and I'd like to continue doing that. So I would've applied for sure, but the timing of it surprised me and that was the first response. The second response was it's a very humbling thing when someone says we think you're the person for this, how else can you act besides humbled.
Ciamprone: Do you have any immediate goals for the district?
Law: First goal is to get a great principal at Hinsdale Central. Then we need to get other persons in place at the district office because our goal in the district is to support all the activities that go on in the buildings and as long as we're short staffed, or have people who are interim positions, we're not really providing the kind of service we need to provide to the teachers and staff and ultimately then the students.
Ciamprone: How is that search for the Hinsdale Central principal going?
Law: It's on track, it's on time. My goal is to take a candidate to the board on the 16th [of December]. Certainly next week we will go over the applications and narrow it down to a few candidates we will bring in, but then talk to community members and other teachers and students, administrators, in preparation to bringing a candidate to the board.
Ciamprone: What do you see as the district's biggest strengths right now?
Law: We have of course tremendous community support. It takes a lot of money to operate a school district. It takes a lot of community support to be a great school district and we have that. We have great teachers; couldn't have the kind of success we've had without great teachers. And we have great students. You put those three things together and you're going to get great results and that's what we've got. So we have all the elements of a great school district and I think those elements are the district's strengths.
Ciamprone: Do you see any weaknesses right now in the district?
Law: I don't necessarily see weaknesses, but I do think in spite of all the accomplishments, in spite of the tradition of excellence, I still think our best years lie ahead of us and anytime you start talking about improvements there's the expectation that there's something that's not quite right. When I think about improvement I think there's unrealized potential, which is kind of an astounding claim given what this district has been able to accomplish, but I still think there's unrealized potential so I think it's a pretty exciting place to be.
Ciamprone: You're taking over for former superintendent Nick Wahl. Did you have any idea that he was going to leave?
Law: No I didn't. I had no idea. The board let me know that was his intention and it took me completely by surprise.
Ciamprone: Is there anything that he did as superintendent that you're going to take away from or implement as well?
Law: Of course. Dr. Wahl was one who had been talking about, before I got there, the importance of looking at student growth as a way to measure our success as a district, not just static test measures that you give out on the PSAE. The emphasis on student growth is one that will continue. He was a very strong supporter of social emotional learning, which are skills and competencies that students need to be successful in the classroom not just academically, but also be successful in the social environment that school is, and then to be successful in the social environment of work. So work through social learning, that will also continue. I think that Dr. Wahl always used to say we need to do things with people and believed strongly in collaborating with people to get things done and that will continue.
Ciamprone: With the board of education, it seems like there's a riff in the board, frequent 4-3 votes. Is there anything you can do as superintendent to increase cooperation, or do you have any plans to increase cooperation?
Law: Members of the board of education feel very strongly about doing the right thing and the best thing for students. They don't always agree as individuals what course of action to take to get that done and I think that tells me that deliberation, discussion, disagreement, that's a sign of a board that takes its job seriously and is willing to disagree when they think it's important to disagree. The fact we have a board that likes to debate and discuss, that speaks to their commitment. My job in that regard is to work with the board, obviously they're my boss so I do what the board tells me to do, but it's also my job to try to bring proposals, bring ideas that would benefit the students and would get the support of the board, so I guess in that way I do have the opportunity to work with the board and bring all of this together, but it's not a bad sign that we have a board that has very strong ideas about how to do what's best for kids and there are going to be times when they're just going to disagree about that and that's why we vote, but it's also why we have these debates in public so the public can evaluate the merits of the debate.
Ciamprone: One of the quotes you had from the Oct. 7 meeting that I really liked was, 'One approach to making a hiring decision is to use experience. Another is to use potential. I realize the board has made a bet on my potential, and I am determined to exceed even my high expectations.' Could you elaborate on that a little? Did you think the board was taking a risk when they hired you?
Law: If they had found a superintendent who had 10 years of experience, from the standpoint of experience, of course I was a riskier bet. [That quote] I think was more of a turn of phrase than anything because anytime you're hiring someone you're taking a risk if the person was going to work out the way you thought. In that sentence what I was doing was I was acknowledging that I don't have years and years of experience. I have no years of experience as superintendent, so if they saw something in me that made them think I can take this job it must be my potential.