District 46 hires new superintendent

PRAIRIE GROVE – District 46 has a new superintendent.

The School District 46 Board unanimously approved a three-year contract with Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Superintendent Philip Bender at a special meeting Monday afternoon.

Before joining District 64 four years ago, Bender was a superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal and elementary school teacher in Indiana.

“Dr. Bender is a fantastic person,” School District 46 Board President Margaret Ponga said. “We could immediately see his passion is the kids. There’s no doubt his positive energy will be contagious.”

The ability to spend time with the kids on a daily basis is one of the reasons District 46 appealed to him, Bender said.

Bender announced his resignation from the 4,400-student district in October.

The School District 64 Board is comprised of nearly all new people since he started, and the new board was looking to make its own stamp on the district, Bender said. With his contract expiring at the end of the year, the board wanted to bring in a new face.

Ponga said she’s not nervous about District 64’s decision not to retain Bender.

News releases from both District 64 announcing Bender’s resignation and District 46 announcing his hiring highlight his work at District 64, including strengthening student achievement through programs like Project Lead the Way, strong fiscal management, improving labor relations with teachers and shepherding in a one-to-one technology initiative.

Bender will replace current Superintendent Lynette Zimmer, who pointed to a contentious relationship with the school board president as the reason behind her leaving.

The district has been rocked by a one-day teacher strike, an upset election that wiped out the old board leadership, and sometimes hostile board meetings and communication between board members.

Bender and board members have decided to make “mending and working together and making students our primary goal,” Bender said, adding he has had frank conversations with board members about moving forward.

“This board has united in my appointment,” he said. “I’m sure there will be bumps that you climb over and rocks that you uncover, but my goal is to come into the district and do the very best for the children, the staff and the parents.”

Bender will start at District 46 on July 1 with a starting salary of $170,000. He makes $193,000 at his current district.

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