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By Ben Meyerson
River Forest Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman is leaving District 90 this fall for Winnetka, the North Shore suburb announced Thursday.
Hagerman will leave July 1, at the end of his third year at the helm of River Forest elementary and middle schools.
The District 90 school board has already hired a search firm to help select a new superintendent, and hopes to have Hagerman's replacement lined up by April 5.
Hagerman will reportedly be making $220,000 a year plus benefits at Winnetka's District 36, more than the $199,000 he made in the 2009-2010 school year in River Forest.
But Hagerman said it wasn't about the money — rather, it's more about Winnetka's bigger size and more progressive approach to education.
"That's a big part of it for me — I certainly wouldn't leave River Forest to make a lateral move," said Hagerman, who said Winnetka approached him about the job. "Progressive education is seen throughout their district. It's a very child-centered approach, not only to education, which I think we have in River Forest, but also kind of the philosophy of all decision making in the district itself, and I think that that's very much in alignment with my own personal beliefs in education."
In Winnetka, Hagerman said, many of his goals for River Forest are already realities.
"Progressive education is really about children being involved in their education much more, it really emphasizes social context. They really deemphasize testing and data, and focus on development instead," Hagerman said. "It's all the things that I do believe in and that we've been incorporating into River Forest. It's just that those things are already in place as guiding principles."
In a special meeting Friday morning, District 90's school board accepted Hagerman's resignation and signed a contract with search firm School Exec Connect to help find a new superintendent.
"I'm happy for him pursuing the next step in his career," School Board President Juli Geldner said Friday. "I think that there'll be some time it'll take for us to transition to the new superintendent, but we have a really good district, and the coming or going of any one person isn't going to change the direction of how this district proceeds."
Geldner said that Hagerman told her in mid-December that he had an offer from Winnetka, at which point they started to talk to School Exec Connect, which had helped District 90 find Hagerman and the interim superintendent who had preceded him.
School Exec Connect's familiarity with the district should be a boon in the search, she said, and should make the search process go quicker. But if the district can't find the right person by April, Geldner said they won't hesitate to go with an interim superintendent instead and continue the search for a long-term leader.
Hagerman was the district's fourth superintendent in the last 10 years. Having stability is important, Geldner said, but they're also looking for someone to inspire the district and lead it forward.
"I think tenure is important, but having said that, I think Thomas wasn't here for a very long time but he was certainly in the realm of excellent leaders," she said. "Ideally, we want the best candidate who's out there, and if that's a young rising star who's going to move along as his star rises professionally, then that's OK."
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