Proviso School District 209 will begin searching for Proviso West High School’s next principal in the coming days and intends to have a candidate ready for final Board of Education approval by May or June.

Oscar Hawthorne, West’s current principal, announced his resignation in January. The search is the latest example of leadership turnover at Proviso. D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez began his tenure as superintendent just eight months ago, in July 2016, and finding a new Proviso West principal will be one of his most significant hires to date.

“We are looking for a turnaround principal for Proviso West,” Rodriguez said March 3. “We are looking for someone who can produce results. This is a very, very important position.”

D209 will partner with BWP & Associates, a Libertyville-based search firm and the agreement pays BWP about $11,000, according to Rodriguez, who noted that any candidate must receive final approval from the D209 Board of Education in a straight-up majority vote. Community members, school staff and students will be involved in the process, which will include several rounds of interviews. It is also likely to be an outside hire, although district employees can apply for the job, Rodriguez said.

The district is targeting someone with at least four years of experience as a high-school principal and someone with a “proven track record of improving student achievement.” Leadership skills and an emphasis on leveraging data-driven strategies is important, too, Rodriguez said.

Currently, he added, about 40 people have applied but he expects the list to balloon to around 75. BWP will whittle that number down to about a dozen. From there, the hiring committee, which includes Rodriguez, school staff and human resources employees, will conduct more interviews and present a handful of candidates to the board.

“We need folks who are driven. We need folks who are committed,” Rodriguez said. “Many, many people will be intimidated by the work that needs to be done.”

Indeed, there is plenty of room for academic improvement at Proviso West. The 2016 four-year graduation rate was 78 percent and just 56 percent of the school’s roughly 2,000 students enroll at a university or college after graduation. Both percentages are below the Illinois state average. About two-thirds of students did not meet Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test benchmarks either, according to the Illinois Report Card, the state’s official source.

Hawthorne, who served as principal for four years, was not available for comment. But in a bi-monthly newsletter to parents, he wrote, “It is with deep appreciation that I have had the honor of serving as principal” and mentioned he would be moving on to “other interests.”

In Hawthorne’s first year as principal in 2013, Proviso West’s four-year graduation rate was 77 percent. The 2016 rate was 78 percent. Since 2014, the percentage of freshmen on track to graduate has more than doubled from 25 percent to 62 percent.

Hawthorne is the school’s third principal in the last six years. His salary in 2015-2016 was $160,783, according to district records.

The April 4 school board election will not affect the search process, Rodriguez said. By the time the board is asked to vote on the potential hires, the election will have taken place.

The D209 board approved the hiring of another top administrator, Dr. Nicole Howard, as assistant superintendent for Academics and Student and Family Services, at its Jan. 10 meeting. She will be paid $156,960 annually.

Rodriguez sees parallels to the current principal search and his own hiring in July 2016 and said the role, like his own, will be difficult but also rewarding.

“I did recognize the opportunities and challenges of Proviso,” Rodriguez said of his decision to accept the district’s top job. “That’s what I want for the Proviso West principal. They are going to be working long hours.”