Bridge will step down in '07

Leaving now takes advantage of best retirement incentives

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By ELENA LEVENSON

Oak Park and River Forest High School superintendent/principal Sue Bridge will retire following the 2006-07 school year. The board confirmed her retirement at its last meeting on June 20.

"It's very simple," Bridge said of her request for retirement. "Thirty-eight years is a substantial amount of one's life to commit to one particular action, although I have thoroughly enjoyed it."

Bridge's original five-year contract, signed in 1999, was extended by three years. "The understanding when the Board offered me the extension was that [the contract] would [end] in 2007," she said. "There was no shockwave with my turning in the letter [requesting retirement]. I wanted the district to have ample time" to search for a replacement. The search for a superintendent typically takes two years.

She also has plans beyond OPRF.

"I want to teach. I am dying to teach," said Bridge, who taught high school English for 18 years before becoming an administrator. "I would very much like to work with adults who have had experience, as I had, teaching, and are interested in moving into education administration." Bridge will have 20 years in education administration by the time she leaves OPRF.

When she arrived at the high school six years ago, Bridge got off to a promising start: she was named Wednesday Journal's 1999 Villager of the Year six months into the school year.

At the time, she named the minority student achievement gap as her top priority. That year, as her predecessor Donald Offermann had planned, OPRF joined the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), a group of school districts nationwide who agreed to communicate about minority student achievement at their schools.

Outside of MSAN, District 200 designed the Learning Community Performance Gap study, the results of which were published in May 2003. In response, the school formed "learning teams" of faculty members addressing specific issues during in-services. The teams met with mixed results, but Bridge viewed them positively because the school now has an internal structure in which to discuss gap-related issues.

"I believe we have stayed true to keeping our eyes on that number-one goal. We have found that some of our initiatives were not successful, and we've put them aside. Other initiatives that we've implemented we feel are helpful, but we'd like to have two, three years of data before we...say, 'Look, we're making major inroads,'" Bridge said.

"But we're not losing ground, and that's very good."

Bridge also noted that before she came to OPRF, the school had no community relations director. Its relationship with its neighbors was less friendly, particularly because of parking. She began the semi-annual school spirit assemblies, had the brown lockers painted orange and blue, and added photographs of students to the hallways.

Five years ago, the school began issuing an annual report of school-related statistics. Parent newsletters are published more frequently, and parents can visit OPRF on certain days.

"It's opening the doors, getting the communication out about the school," Bridge said. "I think, if there's one thing I've tried to do in the six years...it's letting [out] the incredibly good news about all the things our kids here do and all the rich programs that our communities support for the youth of our towns."

Bridge's announcement of her intention to retire came just in time to take advantage of a changing retirement system.

"The certified teachers' retirement plan and the rules that govern retirement are based in Springfield, and it changed this year for things like end-of-career bumps, where you can give increases of up to 20 percent before retirement," said Board of Education President John Rigas. "As of the 2006-07 school year, anyone who would retire would receive a 5 percent bump."

Retirement plan calculations are based on the highest four years of an educator's salary, so a larger end-of-career bump would translate into a higher pension. Four or five educators, including Bridge, applied for retirement because of the change in the law, Rigas said.

Other retirees following the 2006-7 school year include history division head Michael Averbach; Kathi Kyrias, head of dean/counselors; head basketball coach and math teacher Al Allen; and Ellen Boyer, an English teacher and frequent director in the school's theatre program.

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