Two Plano school administrators in running for district's top job

It’s certainly a first for the Plano School District – and perhaps a first for any school district.

Out of nearly 40 candidates who applied to replace Dr. Hector Garcia as superintendent, the top two are presently administrators in the district. So school board members, who usually keep such information under wraps until they make a decision, this time decided to make the two names public. And they decided to have a meet-and-greet session for staff members before the May 8 board meeting at the Plano High School, when they will decide who will be named the district’s new superintendent.

The board’s plan is to name the new superintendent after a Salute to Service ceremony starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, in the high school auditorium. Board members expect to make an announcement at about 7:45 p.m., following their closed session.  

The two finalist candidates are Dr. Tracy Thurwanger, the present director for teaching and learning, and Tony Baker, principal at the Emily G. Johns Elementary School.

After reviewing the applications over the past few weeks, board members narrowed them down to six candidates who were subsequently interviewed. Those sessions led to Thurwanger and Baker being the final two.

Thurwanger was hired as director for teaching and learning in July of 2016. She replaced Terry Hanrahan, who resigned to spend more time with her elderly parents. She worked with Garcia while both were employed at Plainfield North High School.

Thurwanger received a doctorate in educational leadership and superintendent endorsement from St. Francis University, a master's degree in educational leadership at Aurora University, and a bachelor’s degree in health and general sciences from Eastern Illinois University.

She noted at the time she joined the district that she had been a member of the community for several years, and had two children at Plano High School.

“Being able to combine my passion for education in the place where my children have had such an educational experience is priceless,” she added.

Thurwanger said she has 18 years of experience in education with a strong commitment to leadership principles and practices gained through work experience and formal education. Her education includes serving a doctoral internship in human resources at Plainfield School District 202, serving as assistant principal at Scullen Middle School in Naperville, and serving as assistant principal for student services at Plainfield North High School.

During her 18 years in education, she also served as dean of students at Oswego East High School; assistant principal and dean of students at Sycamore High School; dean of students, health and science educator, coach and class sponsor and union vice president at Morris Community High School; science educator, coach and class sponsor at Somonauk Junior-Senior High School; and was science educator and student teacher at Jefferson Middle School in West Aurora School District 129.

Thurwanger is a lifelong resident of the area, having been raised in Yorkville and graduating from Yorkville High School. Her husband, Mark, is an attorney and does contract work for a temp agency in the Chicago area.

Baker, who resides in Oswego, has 16 years of administrative experience with Plano School District 88. He opened Emily G. Johns School as its first principal in 2007. The school serves grades four to six.

His experience includes being the lead administrator to initiate and transition to standard-based grading system for multiple elementary schools. He also established and maintained numerous partnerships with a multitude of community members, businesses and organizations within Kendall County

As principal of Johns, he has been in charge of 70 certified and support employees. He collaboratively led the implementation of teacher evaluation plan to include student growth component. And he led the school in its raising more than $32,000 for LLS over a three-year period.

From 2002-07, he served as assistant principal and athletic director of Plano Middle School, and was sixth-grade language arts and social science teacher at the school from 2000-02.

Baker received his degree as an education specialist and school superintendent endorsement in 2017 from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. He holds a master’s degree in school administration from Aurora University and a bachelor’s degree in education from Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois.

His extracurricular and community service experience covers numerous sports at all age levels.

Garcia’s final school board meeting will be on June 18, at which time the gavel will be turned over to his successor. Garcia, who joined the district six years ago, is leaving to accept a superintendent position at Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181. He said he did not apply for the position but was recruited by BWP and Associates and was chosen by the district from a field of 32 applicants. He lives in Elmhurst, which is 15 minutes from his new office.

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