Search for Amberg's heir to be internal

Search for Amberg's heir to be internal

URBANA – After celebrating the accomplishments of retiring Urbana school Superintendent Gene Amberg, school board members said they're also looking at the future.

They said they're looking seriously at internal candidates to replace Amberg, who will retire June 30, 2007.

Chief among them is Deputy Superintendent Preston Williams, a Kankakee native who taught and coached at Champaign schools before he was hired as a social studies teacher and basketball coach at Urbana High School in 1987.

"I'm going to be a lot more interested in looking internally," said board member John Dimit. "We have a person groomed, and consistency at the service center (district headquarters) might help us move forward without disruption."

Dimit, the board's senior member, said another good reason to focus on consistency in leadership is that there will be major personnel changes at Urbana High School this summer.

Principal John Woodward is retiring, and Assistant Principal Laura Taylor will take his job. The board has hired Tim Staples from Bolingbrook High School to replace Taylor; and Greg Johnson, a UHS English teacher, will replace retiring Assistant Principal Polly Washington.

The third assistant principal's job opened up this week when Jeff Isenhower, who's also athletic director, resigned to take a job at Royal's Prairieview district.

"We have a pool of strong leadership in the district, and looking within is the right thing to do," said board member Mark Netter. "If we have the talent in the district, it's better to focus on a smooth transition."

Board President Joyce Hudson also said Amberg has been grooming Williams for years to become a superintendent.

Williams taught at Centennial High School before he was hired by Urbana schools. He was assistant principal of Urbana Middle School from 1990 to 1993 and assistant superintendent for human resources from 1993 to 1998, when he became associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, a title since changed to deputy superintendent.

After Amberg's resignation, former board member and president Tina Gunsalus said she remembered his interview before he took the job at Urbana.

"He stood and answered our questions, and I said, 'You look good on the surface. Do you have depth?' He said 'I think so,' and went on to tell us about his time in the seminary, his goals for growth as a human and as a professional and many other things, and we were ready to vote. It summed up everything. He had it all, the knowledge, the background, the passion, the humanity."

"He has a lot of intellectual curiosity," Dimit said. "I have learned so much from him. His approach to education is well grounded."

He said the depth of leadership in the district is a direct tribute to Amberg's leadership.

Williams said diversity was a priority when Amberg brought him into the central office to be human relations director.

"We wanted to bring in more diversity, and we've been successful, but we're not finished," he said. "Things change; our Latino and Latina population is increasing, and we need to hire more Spanish-speaking staff. We always look for racial, cultural and gender diversity."

Williams said Amberg's 25 years of experience as a superintendent and 35 years in public education gave him close exposure to the issues and approaches he would need to become a top administrator.

"We talked about the idea of him being able to mentor us to assume roles as superintendent one day," Williams said of Amberg's work with him and former Urbana principal Bob Nielsen, now a superintendent in Bloomington.

"He showed me the things I needed to do to grow," Williams said. "That's been very important to me. He's been a good friend, we work well together and he gave me an opportunity. I've learned a great deal from him, and hopefully, he's learned from me, too."

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