DOWNERS GROVE – With 26 applicants and almost a month left in the search for a new superintendent, the Downers Grove Grade School District 58 Board of Education and consulting firm BWP & Associates have plenty of work ahead of them before locking down a replacement by mid-March.
After seven years as superintendent, Kari Cremascoli officially announced her resignation in December and her move to become the new superintendent for Wilmette School District 39.
The school board in January announced a timeline that called for Cremascoli’s replacement to be hired by mid-March, a decision that raised concerns among some members of the District 58 community.
At this point, the school board and BWP & Associates are asking members of the District 58 community to share their input in an online survey to help them further understand what qualities, priorities, skills and goals a new leader should have.
The seven-question survey released on Feb. 11 can be found on the district’s website and will remain open until Feb. 20. Emails about the survey were sent to district families, while staff was encouraged to promote the survey through social media, said Meg Hewitt, District 58’s community relations coordinator.
“We really want to reach as many people as possible,” Hewitt said.
After the survey, community forums will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Feb. 20 at Herrick and O’Neill middle schools. Community members are welcome to attend either session. Herrick is located at 4435 Middaugh Ave. O’Neill is at 635 59th St.
Additionally, BWP & Associates will host 30-minute focus groups Feb. 20 with six stakeholder groups. The consultants also will interview school board members as well as candidates running for board seats in the April 2 election, board secretary Melissa Jerves said.
A complete timeline of the hiring process with tentative target dates is also featured on the district site. By the end of February, BWP & Associates plans to narrow down the pool of 26 potential candidates to about 10 or 12, who will then undergo interviews.
From there, consultants will select four to five candidates and share their recommendations with school board members in a closed session. Board members are to take a closer look and review those applications and prepare for interviews, which are expected to take place during the first and second weeks of March. By March 18, the district hopes to formally approve a new superintendent.
Some District 58 parents such as Chris Hanley are concerned about the district’s swift hiring process.
“We’re doing this in basically three months from [Cremascoli’s] announcement,” said Hanley, who has children at Puffer Elementary School.
While Hanley understands that board members want to hire someone from a big “talent pool” and have that person transition into the position before Cremascoli’s resignation takes effect July 1, he suggested they take additional time before making any more moves.
“I’m not sure why there’s a sense of urgency to get the current board to put their stamp on a superintendent before the new board has a chance to interact with that person, and the new board is going to have to work with that person for at least three to five years,” Hanley said.
The board could have as many as four new members after the April 2 election.
Carrie Blonigen, executive committee president of the Belle Aire Elementary School PTA, does not have a problem with the district’s desire to hire someone by March. All she asks is that the school board keep the lines of communication open.
“As long as they do it with input from all the groups, from parents and teachers and keep it a transparent process, I have no issue with moving quickly as long as we can find a quality candidate that fits with the direction of where the district is going, who will help us with this strategic planning that we just undertook and to move forward,” Blonigen said.
Hanley and Blonigen hope that the new superintendent will be someone who has their children and community’s interests at heart; is willing to have thoughtful, constructive conversations with board members; and is a good communicator who will strive to move the district in the right direction.
Hewitt said that those characteristics align with those of the board members, and the search will go on if they are not satisfied with the initial group of candidates.
“They’ve already made that commitment that while they want to hire someone by mid to late March, if they don’t find the candidate that is the right fit for District 58, they are committed to continuing the search even if it means that it will take longer than expected,” Hewitt said.