School District 209’s new Superintendent Stan Fields previously served in the same position in District 120 in north suburban Mundelein, Ill., where he claims the changes he made will bolster academic performance and financial solvency for years to come. Fields took a roughly $25,000 pay cut to be here, and said he is optimistic that District 209 and the Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy can bounce back from a history of poor academic performance and financial woes.

Below is a portion of a recent Forest Park Review interview with the new administrator.

FPR: In the first few weeks with the district you’ve already made several substantial decisions. Are you surprised by the apparent necessity to make those changes so early in your tenure?

SF: I was aware through the interview process and communications with the board that several issues needed attention. Issues with the finance operations, academic performance and school climate were very apparent and the board’s expectation is that I address these. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the board of education was not aware of the chaos and issues with the opening of the academy. I expected to be dealing with more normal issues given that the school year was already underway.

FPR: What are PMSA’s strongest attributes and how do you emphasize or build on these?

SF: The one that jumps out at me invariably is the facility. One of the other attributes that distinguishes the academy is it represents hope. Also, there is a real commitment to provide 100 percent access to computers for faculty and students. We’re in the process now of acquiring a computer for every person in the building.

FPR: When you were hired, board members said it was “a sad day,” and called you a “novice.” What is your take on their criticisms and what is your strategy for working with the board?

SF: I didn’t take their comments personally, my record speaks for itself. The baseless, unfounded remarks had more to do with board member conflicts and less to do with an honest assessment of my record.

My strategy for working with the board is to first encourage more professional behavior. Getting the board focused on something bigger than their individual differences so that at the end of the day the selfish, petty differences will take a back seat.

FPR: What is your timeline for reaching milestones in academic performance and financial stability?

SF: The first step is to move the budget cycle up so the figures are set in advance of the first quarter of the fiscal year. The timeline for really getting our fiscal house in order is resting in fiscal year 2008, because we’re already into fiscal year 2007. I don’t know that we can balance the budget in one year. I am absolutely certain of this; it can’t take more than two.

The budgeting policy will be critical. We’ll start with a zero-based budget and re-examine how we treat unbudgeted items. The next budget building cycle will begin around Thanksgiving and we’ll have hard numbers by February.

At the Sept. 25 board of education meeting, I’ll propose we evaluate the quality of our academic programs. This will not be a survey. That process will take us through October and by the end of October we’ll work on a plan for addressing problem areas.

FPR: The board of education has awarded a number of contracts to companies that contributed to the president’s run for state office. Given that contract decisions are up to the board, how might you as superintendent change this practice?

SF: The school code is crystal clear on the procedure for awarding contracts. We will follow that process. Board President Chris Welch and the majority members of the board have consistently delivered in the best interests of the community.

FPR:Given the challenges facing the district and the reduction in pay from your previous salary, why did you take this job?

SF: The challenge. I finished what I set out to finish in Mundelein. District 209 also gives me the chance to work with three campuses instead of one, and the student body is closer to 6,000 rather than 1,000. Also, the level of student activity programs in District 209 is incredible.