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At Highlands, a new school year, new administrators and new configuration

September 8, 2018 GMT

The Highlands School District will be starting this school year without its top administrator.

Superintendent Michael Bjalobok has been on medical leave since July 2. Assistant Superintendent Monique Mawhinney will serve as substitute superintendent indefinitely.

Mawhinney will receive a monthly stipend of $1,500 on top of her $130,000 salary while she fills in for Bjalobok. Officials don’t know how long he will be on medical leave.

“We were not given any specific date of return,” said district spokeswoman Jennifer Goldberg.

Mawhinney, who just started at the district in April, has been filling in for Bjalobok since July, so she’s had some time to settle into the position.

Mawhinney said she is up for the challenge and looking forward to the first day of school on Aug. 30.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “Over the summer, I really had a chance to dive into what we needed to get started on.”

Mawhinney said her two main areas of focus this school year are student achievement and improving district communications.

Other administration moves

Former Highlands Elementary Center Principal Cathy Russo will be stepping into a new district administration position this school year. She will now serve as the district’s coordinator of curriculum, which will focus on developing the district’s curriculum and analyzing student achievement.

“It’s the heart of what we do in any school district,” Mawhinney said of Russo’s new position.

Samantha Perlik will move up from assistant principal to principal at Highlands Elementary Center.

The district hired Kristie Gizienski to be the new assistant elementary principal at a salary of $70,000.

The administrative moves add to the changes already expected for this school year, including the reconfiguration of schools.

Highlands will start the new year with a reconfiguration and renaming of its buildings. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will attend the Early Childhood Center, formerly Fairmount Primary Center; first through fourth grades will be at Highlands Elementary School, formerly Grandview Upper Elementary; fifth through eighth grades will attend Highlands Middle school; and ninth through 12th grades will be at Highlands High School.

The former Fawn Primary Center will become the Highlands Support Center, housing the district’s child and adolescent hospitalization and alternative education programs and the Highlands Virtual Academy.