A new leader for Hawthorn schools
Hawthorn School District 73 Superintenden Nick Brown greets students. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 1:17AM
VERNON HILLS — Nick Brown has been superintendent of Hawthorn School District 73 for less than seven months.
Beginning his career in education as a teacher, the administrator still finds ways to get his “kid fix.”
“When I was a principal, I visited every classroom of my school regularly,” Brown said. “And I had a building with about 700 kids.”
That time as principal, teacher and eventually superintendent was spent in Indiana, where Brown’s family still lives while their home is on the market.
In the meantime, Brown has been spending the work week at an apartment in Vernon Hills and commuting home on weekends. The plan is to move into the community. But even before he becomes part of its fabric, Brown wants to be close with residents of the school district, even if they don’t have school age kids.
“I would like the community to feel vested in the district even if they don’t have students here,” he said. “We want to do what’s best for the kids and what benefits the kids benefits the community.”
When it comes to making decisions, Brown made it clear that he has an open door policy.
“We want to get many voices in the planning process and decision-making process,” he said. “I would welcome [community] input, to view it as a collaborative environment.”
Making decisions and solving problems is what Brown loves about his job, he said. Since he has a degree and background in business, he enjoys the process of budgeting and figuring out how to best allocate precious resources.
Being creative at stretching a dollar is an increasingly needed skill for school district leaders. The state of Illinois continues to grapple with budget shortfalls and the economy has led to lower property tax revenues – a major source of funding for schools. Brown is frank about the challenges.
“How do we maintain excellence with reduced dollars? I think this will be with us for quite some time,” he said.
The district budget is in the black, Brown said, due in part to reductions in staffing and expenditures over the past two years.
But it wouldn’t necessarily stay that way, he said. Costs would go up considerably if, for instance, the state of Illinois shifts teachers’ pension costs to the individual school districts.
The measure that has been discussed in Springfield as one possible way to deal with the huge unfunded pension liability. Brown said such a move would have a huge affect on district finances, and he hopes legislators would not go ahead with it.
“If there is a need to shift the cost, it would have to be done very carefully and over a long period of time,” he said.
To continue making good budgeting decisions, Brown has to get up to speed on the workings of the district, which serves over 4,000 students. It’s a task he’s still working on.
“We have a lot of programs and classes,” Brown said. “And everything is intertwined, so first I want to learn what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Above all, Brown said he wants to foster a safe and caring environment for students. He also wants them to enjoy their time at Hawthorn and be challenged.
“I want them to leave here interested in learning,” he said.
Brown also hopes his outgoing nature will pay off and that kids and parents will know who he is.
“I’d want people to feel welcome to say hi if they saw me at Target,” he said.