The top educator at Oak Grove Elementary District 68 is leaving at the end of the school year for a position that will give her a closer connection to the classroom.
Tax levies and budgets are important, but no longer are they among the most enjoyable part of the educational process, says Janice Matthews. She is serving in her fifth year as superintendent at the K-8 district in Green Oakt but will take a new job as principal of The Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth District 38
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"I really wanted to get closer to kids and teachers," she said. "I'm excited to be a principal again. It's a better use of my strengths."
Matthews, who has decades of experience, wanted to become a principal again but needed to go elsewhere to do that. Kenilworth has 550 students and like Oak Grove is a single-school district. Oak Grove has about 875 students.
"The superintendent is a little bit more removed from the day-to-day operation. I thought, 'You only live once,' and this is something I wanted to do," she said.
District 38 approved the hiring last week. Matthews, whose base salary at Oak Grove is about $168,000, will serve until June 30, when her contract ends.
Matthews had been principal for 21 years and assistant superintendent for human resources for five years at the K-12 Birmingham Public School District in Birmingham, Mich., when she was hired from among 52 candidates at Oak Grove.
The Oak Grove board will meet Wednesday to begin defining the search process. That likely will involve input from parents and others, according to board President Jennifer Manski.
"We need to confirm and affirm with our community what kind of superintendent we want and need for the community," she said.
Manski, who joined the board three years ago, said Matthews has welcomed change and had a high profile in the community.
"She's been a good superintendent for us," she said.
The district has dealt with several meaty issues of late, including a four-year teachers contract that was finalized in November. The possible introduction of foreign language for elementary students and extension of the school day and the evolution of the district's bullying program, which includes an anonymous reporting system, are ongoing issues.
Matthews noted the introduction of a strategic plan in 2009, technology upgrades and increased public information as highlights.
"The community can see almost everything the (school) board can see," she said. "We've become much more transparent."
Oak Grove has had some lengthy and at times contentious meetings during Matthews' tenure.
"Debate is good. It's how we come out of that debate and work together that's important," Manski said. "I acknowledge there have been times there has been friction but it's just part of the process."
In December, a split board reversed a decision to lower the tax levy. Matthews had recommended the full levy, saying purposely reducing revenue by lowering it would be a "grave mistake."
Hawthorn Elementary District 73 in Vernon Hills recently hired a new superintendent to replace Sue Zook to start the 2012-13 school year and Diamond Lake Elementary District 76 is searching for a replacement for Roger Prosise, who is retiring.