New principal picked for River Forest's Willard School

Hired from Barrington, smaller district appealed to Diane Wood

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Deb Kadin

Contributing reporter

The idea of a small, close-knit community attracts people to River Forest. It also is what drew Diane Wood to take the open position of principal at Willard Elementary School in River Forest's District 90 public elementary schools.

Moving from a large unit district in west suburban Barrington to the much smaller River Forest district also attracted Wood. She is looking forward to having a broader impact in a community, particularly as it involves children.

"I really like the community. There will be a close-knit sense of collegiality," Wood said. "Being able to contribute to the growth and development of children is very exciting to me. To watch their growth over time and have an impact on them over time, to be a part of their transition is appealing to me."

An experienced educator who already has had experience with two of the district's initiatives, Wood, who has been academic leader at North Barrington Elementary School for five years, was unanimously chosen to be the principal during a special meeting of the District 90 school board on  Wednesday morning.

The 51-year-old Wood will receive a two-year contract with an annual salary of $124,432, plus contributions to the teachers' retirement system.

An open house to welcome her will be held during the July 21 school board meeting. A community meet and greet is slated for late July, District 90 Supt. Ed Condon said.

"We believe Diane Wood is an excellent fit for Willard students, staff, and families," Condon said. "Her extensive background in school administration, curriculum and instruction, along with her commitment to a student-focused school environment were among the reasons Wood was selected."

An experienced teacher and administrator, Wood is excited about joining Willard. Throughout the selection process, it was clear "that the River Forest District 90 and the parents and staff at Willard shared her commitment to educating and nurturing the whole child. I'm eager to get started," she said.

Brian Harris, superintendent of Barrington Community Unit District 220, where North Barrington Elementary is situated, said his system will have big shoes to fill.

"She's high energy, enthusiastic, a very highly respected leader. River Forest has found an excellent leader. She's done good work; an instructional leader. She's good at facilitating the relationship between the school, faculty, staff, students and parents. River Forest's gain is our loss. Their gain is our loss."

Wood will replace Merryl Brownlow, a popular educator who became assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Lombard District 44.

A search for Brownlow's successor began almost immediately after Brownlow tendered her resignation in May. A total of 54 candidates initially applied; eventually three candidates were interviewed by teams of parents, faculty, staff and a board member in late June, Condon said.

Wood possesses the kind of skills that will serve the district well, Condon said. She has considerable experience in a high performing school district. Barrington District 220 is a unit system with 12 buildings that house 9,000 students from all or part of 12 different communities, according to the district's website. 

Nearly 500 children in grades kindergarten through fifth attend North Barrington; 87 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT, according to the school's most current report card. Seven percent of the students are low-income; another 6 percent have been identified as English language learners, according to the state report card.

In addition, Wood's approach to the principal's position is student centered, which was apparent in her interviews, Condon said. She also has a collaborative leadership style, an important asset in fostering a positive school environment.

"She understands the importance of a positive school climate and the impact that has on student learning. She has a desire to build partnerships with parents to support students' academic experiences. It is important in this day and age that all elements of a school community are working as partners to support student learning. That leadership is an added benefit," Condon said.

Wood is versed in both Common Core, the national initiative which lays out an ambitious set of goals for math, reading and writing skills that children should acquire as they move through school. The specific skills that students will be asked to demonstrate build in complexity from grade to grade. She also is familiar with the Social Emotional Learning program, which focuses on the social and emotional needs and health of students. That both elements are present in District 90 helped Wood make her decision to come to River Forest.

Before going to North Barrington, Wood was an assistant principal at the Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School in Arlington Heights. She taught fourth and fifth grade at Baker Demonstration School, an independent, progressive elementary school in Wilmette; Lincoln Elementary School in Mundelein and two districts downstate. 

Wood also has corporate experience serving as the director of communications and client services for the Field Trip Factory in Chicago. She has had other public relations, special event production and marketing experience. 

She holds a bachelor's degree from Northern Illinois University, a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a certificate of advanced studies in educational leadership from National-Louis University.

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okey parkey  

Posted: July 4th, 2014 1:24 PM

River Forest never discusses the achievement gap. Jelly.


Posted: July 3rd, 2014 9:54 PM

I have no problem with the salary, but what does "plus contributions to the teachers' retirement system" mean? Does that mean the taxpayers are paying the 9% employee portion instead? That's what gets me...$124K and you can't afford to fund even a small portion of your own retirement? $124K in the private sector equates to about 15% less (401k + SS tax) in net income per year. The over/under on the pension implosion date is 2021. Place your bets.

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