Naperville Unit District 203 school board members have selected a fast-rising insider as interim superintendent while they seek a full-time replacement for Mark Mitrovich.
Currently the district's assistant superintendent for secondary education, Dan Bridges, will step into his new role July 1. He replaces Mitrovich, who recently announced plans to leave after three years with the district.
Bridges, 41, joined District 203 last summer and several school board members said he immediately was thought of as someone who could be groomed for the top spot.
"Dan Bridges has the drive, energy, experience and demonstrated leadership necessary to drive this district," school board President Mike Jaensch said Wednesday. "(Bridges) was hired with an eye for the future because we immediately recognized his talent and leadership abilities."
Bridges began work in Naperville in July 2011 after a lengthy career in West Aurora School District 129, where he held a number of leadership positions, including principal at the elementary, junior high and high school levels and district athletic director.
Since arriving in Naperville, Bridges established Tip203, an anonymous reporting line, oversaw the principal evaluation process related to school reform Senate Bill 7 and was a key player for the Enrollment Capacity Study Committee as it made its final boundary recommendation earlier this spring.
Several board members said the way in which he led the committee, interacted with the community and revived the often troubled boundary process put him in the spotlight.
"He gets it. Every engagement I've seen him in he's processs-oriented and very thoughtful. Once he makes up his mind, he's very clear and direct in his communications and that's what we look for in a leader," said board member Jim Dennison, who also sat on the committee. "Dan was part of a team that handled the enrollment capacity study as well as anyone could have. He recognized the district was in a quagmire but he listened to the community and managed the process as well as anyone could have expected."
Board member Dave Weeks agreed.
"There is no question that in a sense, it was an opportunity to shine and that's exactly what Dan did," Weeks said.
Bridges said while he has taken his current role "step by step," he believed his career eventually would lead to a superintendent's position.
"I'm ready for this opportunity and I'm excited for it because I know my education and experience has guided me to this experience as a superintendent," Bridges said. "I've been in situations where I've opened new schools. And in my time here, the district has seen fit to involve me in some very critical issues. We have a very knowledgeable administrative team and extremely strong staff here that is as excited about helping children succeed as I am and that excites me."
Mitrovich recently suggested any future superintendents should be prepared to be visible and active in the Naperville community. Bridges said that aspect of the job is one he's looking forward to.
"I enjoy interacting with the community and I recognize the importance of gauging members of the community for new ideas and to learn things they believe are worth changing," he said. "I am fully aware that my visibility is a very important part of the job."
Throughout the year, Bridges said parents can expect to see someone committed to doing what is best for students.
"The district is obviously in a period of transition and it is my job to help with that transition with solid leadership," he said. "My initial challenge will be to help stabilize this district and prepare it for the challenges ahead."
Board member Terry Fielden said he is convinced Bridges is ready for the challenge.
"Dan provided thoughtful answers to all questions and really expressed a deep appreciation on the overall need to immediately communicate with the community to ensure a solid transition. Dan has been working very closely with Mark Mitrovich on the majority of district concerns and he is in the best position to undertake the strong leadership that we need at this time. I have great confidence in Dan."
As do all of the other board members as Bridges was a unanimous choice of board members following their closed door meeting with him Monday evening.
"It was more like an enthusiastically unanimous decision," Dennison said. "It's been a while since we've all agreed so strongly on something."
Bridges is in the process of completing his doctorate in educational administration from Northern Illinois University and holds an endorsement for superintendent from the state. He has a bachelor's degree in history and secondary education from Millikin University, a master's degree in educational leadership from Aurora University, and a degree in educational administration from Northern Illinois University.
Bridges and his wife, Jill, have two children and live in Geneva.
The school board, meanwhile, has agreed to conduct a national search for Mitrovich's permanent replacement. But several board members said they believe Bridges will have an inside track if he chooses to apply for the permanent post.