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updated: 3/23/2012 1:05 AM

New Glenbard superintendent brings world view

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  • David Larson

    David Larson

  • Video: Larson in his current district


The son of a missionary anthropologist from Michigan, David Larson was raised among the natives in the jungles and mountains of Indonesia, attended high school in Malaysia, and later became an educator in the states.

But he always has had a connection to the area where his new job -- superintendent of Glenbard High School District 87 -- is based.

Larson's brother and friends attended Wheaton College; his sister lived in Carol Stream and got married in Lombard; and a cousin is currently a teacher in Wheaton.

"Even in middle school in the '70s, I was aware of the area," said Larson, 53, who is superintendent of the Birmingham Public Schools in suburban Detroit. "I've been aware of the general community -- the quality, its values and the quality of life. The position was intriguing. I'm at the point in my career where my wife and I tossed around the idea of one more professional move and it seemed like a fantastic shift."

Larson's hiring was approved earlier this week by Glenbard school board members. They've been searching for a replacement for Mike Meissen, who announced last August he would be stepping down at the end of the school year.

The new superintendent's start date is July 1.

Growing up

Larson says his world view was shaped at a particularly young age, having grown up in New Guinea, Indonesia, among the Dani people, a primitive, stone-age tribe.

"I was living and engaged in playing and hunting with the Dani natives -- my friends," he said.

When his dad was on furlough and returned to the University of Michigan, Larson attended first grade in Ann Arbor -- a struggle, he says, since it was the first time he was exposed to any type of Western civilization. His family returned to Indonesia, then came back to Ann Arbor at the height of the late 1960s anti-war protests.

He later attended high school in Penang, Malaysia.

"It was a very, very rich upbringing with lots of diversity," he said.

Coming to Glenbard

Larson will be overseeing a school district that's different in size and scope. Birmingham's district is made up of 15 schools from prekindergarten to grade 12. Glenbard is four high schools. That concentration on 9-12 education was one reason why Larson, a former high school teacher and principal, says he pursued the job.

"I enjoy the context of a single level. That's intriguing and interesting to me," he said.

He'll get a pay bump for the new job -- from a base salary of $179,708 in Michigan to $215,000 at Glenbard.

While he still has a commitment to his current position in Michigan, Larson said he will be getting to know Glenbard from afar by reading through materials district officials have sent him. He also will be involved in the selection process for a new assistant superintendent for educational services to replace Hector Garcia, who is taking a job as superintendent in Plano School District 88.

Larson will have to play a part in contract negotiations with the teachers union, since the current deal expires at the end of the school year. Birmingham school board President Susan Hill said Larson was involved in negotiations a year ago for the Birmingham contract, and characterized the discussions as respectful and successful, since "neither party feels like they won or lost."

Once he arrives at Glenbard this summer, Larson said he'll concentrate on the district's strategic plan. It's also an area that he has experience in, Hill said.

"When he first got here in the spring of 2008, we were sun-setting on our existing strategic plan," Hill said. "We expected it would take some time for him to get in and get going, but he really didn't waste his time in getting to work."

Larson said another concentration he will have once he arrives is the district's finances. In Birmingham, the school district is facing a $2.1 million deficit this year that will require dipping into reserves to balance the budget, while Glenbard's budget outlook is much better. But school districts in Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere are facing many of the same financial issues.

"It's helping the district and board navigate through what most Midwestern states are dealing with -- declining revenues and trying to harness growing expenditures -- to facilitate those decisions with student programming in mind," he said.

Hill said Larson has been effective in marketing the district throughout the state to make sure it gets its share of funding. She said he has been very involved in the community.

That will likely please Glenbard board members and other district stakeholders, who say one characteristic of the district's top administrator is to be the "face of the district."

"He's very visible," Hill said. "You kind of see him everywhere."

Larson said he plans to move to the area as soon as possible -- his three-year contract requires him to establish residency within the district by Dec. 1 -- though there are several factors up in the air about how soon the rest of his family joins him. He has three children -- one in college, one in high school and one in middle school.

He will be here for a community reception April 16.

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