Wednesday, November 8, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 9:07 p.m.
Featured image: Mark Holder, who was recently appointed as the permanent superintendent at Bellwood District 88. | sd88.org
During a regular meeting on Nov. 6, the Bellwood School District 88 Board of Education voted unanimously to appoint Mark Holder as permanent superintendent.
Holder, 61, had been serving as interim superintendent since May, when he replaced former superintendent Rosemary Hendricks. The board approved a 4-year, $182,000 contract for Holder, according to district officials.
During a phone interview on Nov. 8, Holder said that he’s been working in District 88 since 1988, when he started out as a physical education instructor. He eventually worked his way through the ranks — from a classroom teacher to dean of students to assistant principal to principal.
Since 2001, Holder had toggled back and forth as principal of either Thurgood Marshall or Roosevelt, where he was appointed by Hendricks in 2015 before the board tapped him to become interim superintendent in May of this year.
The veteran administrator and native of Harvey said he started out his career in education as a substitute teacher in West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147. He would eventually go on to earn three master’s degrees in a range of education-related areas and an educational specialist degree — all from Lewis University.
“I just want to thank the entire Bellwood community, our parents and our board for allowing me this great opportunity to be the district leader to move us forward,” Holder said on Wednesday.
Holder said that among his top priorities have been changing the “atmosphere and climate in our central office.”
“Before I came, there was an extremely hypodermic atmosphere here,” Holder said. “There was no sense of transparency. People weren’t talking to each other. It didn’t take very much for me to change that culture.”
Holder said that he “developed a core of administrators who had the very best skill sets to help run this school district” and implemented measures like professional development training for administrators.
And he boasted of having already seized some low-hanging fruit, such as balancing the district’s budget, acquiring an A-1 credit rating for D88 and joining a consortium of superintendents in Proviso Township that Hendricks “had nothing to do with.”
All of this amounts to opening the district back up to the wider community and injecting transparency and efficiency in how it functions, he said.
“I know what blue ribbon districts look like and there’s a sense of cohesion that they have in common,” Holder said. “It’s simple: a school community. We’re taking all the tangible pieces of our community and connecting them, putting them together.”
Holder’s appointment as permanent superintendent comes in the wake of what many district employees, parents and community members say was something of a dark age for a school district where just 8 percent of students who took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam in 2016-17 met state standards.
Holder is the district’s 10th superintendent since 2001, a turnover rate that, according to the Chicago Tribune, is among the highest of any district in the Chicago suburbs.
During Hendricks’ tenures at the helm (she had been hired as superintendent three separate times by the school board), the district regularly generated headlines for lawsuits, controversial contracts and claims of nepotism, among other issues.
Hendricks and the former board majority that often vouchsafed her decisions sparked enough outrage among some community members that they mobilized candidates to run in the April elections, winning three new seats on the school board.
The wins were enough to solidify a board majority and oust Hendricks, who was placed on administrative leave before she was eventually let go permanently and replaced by Holder.
On Wednesday, the new superintendent presented himself in contrasting terms to his predecessor, explaining that his “number one priority is the development of children” and “providing people with the resources they need to be successful.”
“We will no longer be a dysfunctional school district,” Holder said. VFP
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