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District 46 superintendent submits resignation

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 6:22 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 12:16 a.m. CDT

PRAIRIE GROVE – Superintendent Lynette Zimmer will leave District 46 at the end of the year, making her the fourth administrator to depart the district since the beginning of the year.

Zimmer, who is in her fourth year as superintendent, was hired by Lake Villa District 41 at its school board meeting Monday evening.

“Prairie Grove is a hard place to leave,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding that District 41 is a bigger district where she’ll face more challenges.

District 46 has faced nearly unprecedented turnover this year, with now four of their six administrators resigning.

“This is a lot,” Zimmer said.

While Zimmer didn’t point to anything within District 46 that led to her leaving, former business manager Andy Searle told the board in an exit interview this summer that the atmosphere at the district is “toxic.”

Searle pointed to a dispute that predated him and Zimmer, in which false information was given to teachers by administrators, as the reason behind the distrust.

School board member Khushali Shah said she thinks dysfunction with the board is part of the problem and worries it will make finding a replacement a challenge.

Since the April election that brought in four new board members, the atmosphere at meetings has been tense, with arguments between board members and disputes over how agenda items and communication between board members, staff and the district attorney should be handled.

“I’m hoping that [the school board members] are going to reach out to one another and that they’re going to embrace the knowledge that the more experienced board members have,” Zimmer said. “They have the ability to do that.”

While board President Margaret Ponga agrees the board has been struggling since the election, she doesn’t agree that it’s the underlying issue behind the resignations. Instead, she said, the amount of turnover the district is seeing this year is the result of its size.

“It’s not unusual,” she said. “The history of our district is that it’s been a stepping-stone for administrators.”

Either way, relations on the board are improving, she said, adding the board has made a lot of changes to “bring the community back into the school.”

“That’s a change,” Ponga said. “Anytime there’s a change in the way things are going ... Change can be tough for some people.”

Board secretary John Bowman agreed that things are improving, adding the last meeting was one of the best they’ve had.

“I think it’s going about as well as it can,” he said. “We’ve seen an awful lot of improvement.”

The District 46 school board will start the search for a new superintendent immediately, Ponga said. She plans on talking to school board members to get their thoughts and having a discussion at the January board meeting.

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