The McHenry County Board turned the page Tuesday night on several years of troubles at the McHenry County Regional Office of Education and voted to approve a new regional superintendent.
The board voted, 19-2, at Tuesday’s board meeting to approve Diana Hartmann, a special education administrator at Elgin School District U-46, to take over as the county’s regional superintendent.
“I have seen over the years there wasn’t much being done at the office, and I look forward to bring a lot more service back,” Hartmann said in an interview.
The position was vacated in November when the County Board voted unanimously to remove Leslie Schermerhorn as superintendent following years of unaddressed accounting issues and organizational problems that left board members saying they felt like they had no choice but to make a change.
Hartmann, who was one of three people interviewed for the job, said she wants the office to have a greater public presence and better grasp on the issues parents and school officials feel need to be addressed.
“Hopefully, over the next year, people will begin to know what the office does,” she said.
The McHenry County Regional Office of Education is different from most of the other 34 in Illinois because it covers a single county, while many offices are responsible for multiple counties. The regional offices of education in Lake, Kane, DeKalb, DuPage and Will counties also serve single counties.
The Regional Office of Education is responsible for handling teacher certification, truancy issues and GEDs, as well as ensuring the county’s public school districts remain financially viable and in compliance with state curriculum requirements.
Hartmann said she is ready for the “clean-up job” that is ahead of her.
During Schermerhorn’s tenure, the ROE had at least six consecutive state audits come back with errors, many of them repeats from previous years. Audits of fiscal 2020 and 2021 have yet to be completed by the Illinois Auditor General. An audit conducted by the county last year also produced 27 findings.
“She is enthusiastic about the position and will work closely with our school districts and County Board to get our ROE back on track,” County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, said Tuesday.
Board members voiced strong support for Hartmann’s appointment.
“I am very excited for Ms. Hartmann to be recommend for this position. Having spent 20 years in education, I was able to witness her professionalism, confidence and passion for education as well as all the educators [who] are in all the classrooms,” said board member Lori Parrish, R-Crystal Lake.
Among Hartmann’s first priorities will be cleaning up the office’s accounting errors, getting to know how the office functions and finding out what issues people in the county need addressed.
“This is a high action time in education when we have mask mandates and critical race theory,” Hartmann said.
Mask mandates should be an issue of local control, Hartmann said, but the ROE does not have the power to make rules about it. She said her job will be providing information about such requirements to schools and giving them information on who to contact if they want to see changes.
Critical race theory is an educational approach to teaching race that focuses on how a person’s race and background shapes their experiences and identity, according to Purdue University. It has become a hot-button issue in national politics, especially for conservatives, who have moved to prohibit its teaching in schools.
“That’s not something that’s in the Illinois school code, so the only time you’re going to hear that in a classroom is if a teacher goes rogue and starts talking about that on their own,” Hartmann said.
Like the mask issue, Hartmann said her position as regional superintendent is not to make decisions about what is taught in the schools. Her job will be to act as a liaison between the Illinois State Board of Education and schools and make sure schools are aware of pending legislation that could impact their curriculum.
She said schools should be looking at other data points, such as test scores and making sure more students are getting into Advanced Placement classes, to guide their decisions about their students’ education.
Hartmann is a Lakemoor resident and comes to the ROE with a special education background in addition to her administrative experience. She previously was director of student services at the Alexander Leigh Center for Autism in McHenry and taught special education classes at Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake. She also was a teacher at Harvard High School.
Hartmann said she thinks her various areas of experience in education will make her transition to regional superintendent smooth.
“I feel pretty confident,” she said. “I’ve served in a lot of different roles in the years I’ve been in education.”
“I’m going to bring a lot of changes to that office and a lot of services are going to be amped up,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann said she plans to be more involved with state lawmakers to advocate for the county’s education needs.
“It is crucial to be an active community member and leadership partner in education that works with lawmakers to inform and request change when needed to benefit the students of the county,” she wrote in her application for the position.
The regional superintendent is an elected position, and Hartmann said she does plan to run for reelection as a Republican in November.
County Board members said last year finding a candidate who was willing to run for the office was important to them. Schermerhorn was appointed superintendent in 2012, but never faced an opponent in an election.
“I sat in the interviews,” said board member Mike Skala, R-Huntley. “The three candidates that came and interviewed I thought were all very strong. I was encouraged by the ability to have three people to choose from.”