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School Board Takes First Steps in Superintendent Search

500 signatures are presented to District 109 members concerned about the hiring process; search firm lays out practice

Those hoping for an era of peace and tranquility in the Deerfield school system are going to have to hold on for a little while.

That’s because the Deerfield Public Schools District 109 School Board received petitions with approximately 500 signatures expressing a lack of confidence in their ability to hire a new superintendent.

At Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting of the Board, Mara Meyer spoke on behalf of a five person committee concerned about hiring decisions of the board in the past. Meyer would love to have confidence with the board. “But because of past practices we don’t,” she said.

She then handed over the petitions and promised more signatures would be forthcoming.

, an occasional Patch commenter and her colleagues would like to see the decision of a new superintendent pushed back until after the April 2013 election of the next school board.

But Board President Ellen London said the process will continue. “This is our job,” she said at the conclusion of the three hour meeting.  “We’ve been elected to do this job and this is one of the most important things a school board does and we are going to do it.”

As for the selection of the new superintendent, she added, “Ultimately it is a Board decision.”

This is the latest turn of events as  negotiations for a new teacher’s contract brought out divisions in the 109 community. That contract was eventually agreed to and went into place this year and will run through the 2014-15 school year.

Regardless of the petitions, the Board is r, the superintendent of the last eight years who is scheduled to retire at the end of June.

Consultants Outline Plan

The Board received initial input from the education search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the Rosemont based organization that will receive approximately $19,000 to start the process of finding Goier’s replacement.

Hank Gmitro, the firm’s president, talked at length about the options the board can pursue in selecting a new superintendent.

As part of the initial stages of the process, next month representatives of the search firm will talk with community leaders and at the same put together an online survey that will be available in late September over a three week period about what the traits should be for the next superintendent, according to the community.

That information will then go back to the Board and the interviewing process will start in October going through various stages all leading up to a selection being announced at the Jan. 14 Board meeting.

Among the questions facing the Board is how available will the first group of candidates be to the public.

There Are Some Benefits to a “Quiet” Search

While getting as much community involvement is a goal most people have in mind it can be a double edged sword as some candidates may want to apply quietly.

“The more public a process becomes the less likely it becomes that an experienced superintendent would put themselves in that position,” Gmitro said.

But Sari Montgomery, a member of the 109 Caucus countered, “I understand the risks you take when subjecting candidates to that, but given what has gone on in this community, especially in the past year, it is crucial for the ultimately successful candidate that the community has faith in the decision you make.”

London emphasized how the process of finding the new candidate is still being worked out and there will be further discussions on its implementations.

Gmitro noted at some point staff, Board members, parents, community leaders and other elected officials will all play a role in the process and even students will be able to participate in the online survey.

“We don’t generally see large numbers of students participating but some districts like to offer then the opportunity,” Gmitro said.

Once the candidate pool is winnowed down and, should the board decides that none of the candidates are the right fit, the search would start all over again. “Our commitment to the district is we are here until we find the right person,” Gmitro said.

London is optimistic that community can work together to find a new leader for the school system, but is also realistic.

“I hope we can put behind this past year and not even wait for a new superintendent,” London said. “Most of the issues that have come up in the past year have been examined and dealt with and we have a collective bargaining agreement and the teachers are hard at work. I would hope this doesn’t carry forward to a new superintendent but if it does, I can’t control that.”

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John Russillo August 29, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Ah, so once again the story changes. “The more public a process becomes the less likely it becomes that an experienced superintendent would put themselves in that position,” Gmitro said. Yes, maybe the current superintendent would not have applied here either if there was this level of parent involvement 7 years ago. Correct me if I'm wrong but don't we WANT a candidate who is willing to stand up to public scrutiny? After 7 years of operating in the shadows, we're gonna do the same thing all over again?? As for President London, I'm sure she DOES want to put the past behind her, but it's not going to happen if she continues to ignore community input. If she decides to run again there will be some tough questions that she will have to answer.
D'skidoc August 29, 2012 at 02:23 PM
John, it's not so much about the scrutiny of the community interviewing, it's the perception that administrators want to keep up in the district they currently serve. It's politically difficult for an administrator to subject themself to a very public search campaign while maintaining focus on their current job. I don't think we want an administrator who would allow a search for a new position to adversely affect their current performance. The search process itself, if too contentious or public, can eliminate some qualified candidates. Having said that, it is critical that the community support and be confident in this new hire.
John Russillo August 29, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Actuallly, I would be fine without any community involvement, focus groups, etc. They mean nothing. The only thing that means anything is the seven people making the final decision. The only community involvement I want is in choosing those seven people. The current seven have lost all credibility. Step aside and let the community choose who will make the decision. Then we can have the nice, quiet search that you're looking for.
katie Bittner August 29, 2012 at 04:14 PM
How can Ellen London be optimistic that the community can work together to find a new leader for the school system when she is totally ignoring what 500 members of this community are telling her?? Ellen London stated "Most of the issues that have come up in the past year have been examined and dealt with" Dealt with HOW? What data/assessments have you gathered and reported on to the community, especially in regards to the many Special education issues that were brought up in the Parent Forum meetings? Issues which have never yet been fully disclosed to the community due to "confidentiality". When a meeting is held and you are instructed "you can not speak about your individual child and their services" why are the notes/discussion points never fully revealed. Once again, it is District 109 gathering information, gathering data and doing NOTHING with it. The dog and pony show continues. And who suffers? Our children.
MSB August 29, 2012 at 04:22 PM
London says, “This is our job.” Well Ellen, where have you and your board been as the district fell apart under your watch? Your job was to provide this community and its students with a world class education – AND YOU FAILED. You circumvented your responsibilities to Goier because, like her, you never actually enter a school to find out what is going on unless there is some sort of community function. With your 100% support of Goier, this is what you allowed in your district: -Denied struggling students assistance because, according to Goier, the district over-identified students with needs because government statistics said we had too many students who qualified for support-- regardless of ACTUAL need. This caused parents the expense to independently seek testing and legal representation. -Ignored student needs as developed in the individual educational plans (IEPs) and dictated district “appropriate” services from a administration office without direct contact with the students -Had Student Service Coordinators pull teachers and support staff aside who dared to speak out on half of their students -Maintained a very low percentage of tenured Special Education teachers in order to maintain control of them
MSB August 29, 2012 at 04:23 PM
-Cut staffed resource rooms – designed to support and reinforce lessons -Grouped social services where children cannot express their individual concerns and have their needs and issues addressed -Started support services weeks after the school year began and stopped these services weeks before the school year ended -Put Special Education students into foreign language classes and regular education classes without support and regard to their individual abilities. In turn, this placed an unusually hard responsibility on regular education teachers who are not qualified to provide appropriate differentiated lessons for all their students – so in the end all students suffer. As far as being fiscally responsible to the community – AGAIN YOU FAILED. You allowed this administration to: -Bloat the administration staff by creating numerous administration positions that did not previously exist all to make their jobs easier (Communications Director, Literacy / Math coaches, etc.) None of which have any direct contact with the students -Provide the administrative staff with – numerous lunches; gas to and from work; a car; 403b contributions on top of their pensions (around $15K each); doctoral educations above contractual obligations (again around $15K each); trips to Rome; and granting average administration raises of around 6% - some up to 12% without even blinking an eye.
MSB August 29, 2012 at 04:24 PM
-Spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on educational consultants and hiring firms where problems are identified and community input is provided and then IGNORED. -Hire questionable administrative staff who have been fired from other districts or who leave quietly in the night due to criminal activities This doesn’t sound like a world class educational environment to me! Yes, you started addressing some of these concerns – but only after public outcry – and only when you thought it might affect your chances of being re-elected. I chose Deerfield over other communities and justified my ridiculous tax bill as a price to pay for a great education for my children. When people say, “Oh you’re from Deerfield, they have good schools.” I pause, collect myself and say, “Yes, their high school is one of the best in the state.” This all happened under your watch, District 109 board. And that is why there is NO CONFIDENCE in your ability to make important decisions such as hiring the next superintendent. You have not only failed the parents whose children attend the schools but also the community as a whole who want to justify their taxes and maintain their property values.
RonnieTheLimoDriver August 29, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Because 500 signatures represents approximately 3% of the population of Deerfield, hardly the overwhelming majority. If you want change, you are going to need to gather a lot more.
MSB August 29, 2012 at 06:21 PM
These 500 signatures do not reflect the total household’s view of the board’s competency where as only one family member signs the petition via a joint e-mail account. The response to the petition is also considerable since the site was only posted for a few days as these articles rotate out of sight within a few days. And as you can imagine, gathering signatures in person is a huge undertaking and time commitment. Thank you to all who have taken the time to gather signatures and to those who have voiced your concerns by signing the petition. www.change.org/petitions/dps-109
MSB August 29, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Ronnie, Maybe we can leave a petition in your limo for people to sign.
RonnieTheLimoDriver August 29, 2012 at 08:59 PM
@MSB politics and business don't mix. In your case apparently intelligent discourse and politics are strange bedfellows as well.
Gayle August 30, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Ronnie - you are commenting on MSB's "intelligent discourse" yet you are inflating your numbers. While Deerfield has a population of about 18,225 (making 500 signatures approximately 3%) but I hardly think it's fair to count the under-18 crowd in the denominator. I think obtaining 500 signatures for a school issue is quite a remarkable accomplishment - I'd venture to guess that the majority of residents in any community do not at all follow what goes on in their local schools.
Eddie Jacobs August 30, 2012 at 03:05 AM
MSB- I am so distressed that you feel the way that you do about the current state of affairs in district 109. We have an extremely high achieving district that makes up a large percentage of a top ranked high school. That performance can be attributed to a combination of hard working students, involved parents, outstanding teachers and support staff, and despite your comments, a well informed and hard working board and administration. Managing a high achieving district from a educational as well as a business perspective in an era of ever changing needs, laws and demands is extremely challenging. The board is charged with representing the entire community on there own time with no compensation other than knowing that they are doing what they believe is the best for ALL of our children and residents of the district.I hope that there will be many well informed district residents that will step forward during the caucus process to seek positions on the board at the next election. Deerfield is a wonderful place to live and raise a family and I feel privileged to have lived here for 19 years and to have had two outstanding sons who thrived in the schools of Deerfield. It's fortunate to live in an extremely well informed community which pushes our educational and political leaders to do their absolute best to provide what we need to educate the future leaders of our country.
John Russillo August 30, 2012 at 03:30 AM
You can downplay the numbers all you want but the fact is the district has about 3,000 students and probably about 1,500 families. 500 is a significant number. Ed I agree with lot of what you said but MSB and many other parents have had bad experiences in the district. That just cannot happen in a world class school system. We have much work to do. It is obvious that neither 500 nor 5,000 signatures will stop this board from doing what they want to do so we just have to hope and pray for a great Superintendent that can reach out to families and teachers, and turn the district around.
RonnieTheLimoDriver August 30, 2012 at 01:13 PM
@Gayle, Im not dissing 500 signatures, and so lets just say its 6% of registered voters and I am off by 100%. That is still a minority of people in the community. Since we are not giving awards out for petition signature gathering, that doesn't accomplish much. In the Board's mind that means 94% of the people in the community support them and 6% are against. In reality, these types of petitions are often full of double signings, people who in fact are not registered voters, etc. So Im probably closer to correct at 3%.
Curious Resident August 30, 2012 at 01:14 PM
MSB, I agree with everything you have stated about this current school board. Unfortunately, they really will not listen to parents, and they definitely did not listen to the staff members of 109 in my opinion. Why they won't release information about with the "studies" of special education in the district has produced is beyond my understanding. Getting rid of one administrator at Caruso who dealt with special education and moving the principal does not fix what the true problem is at least there. Knowing that the children in all the schools still need to have a resource period, where the concepts can be re-taught and effective understanding can go further then intensive interventions. Most children have been through intensive interventions prior to receiving an IEP. That's what Response to Intervention is about, and that's why they hired yet more coaches for RtI. While it is unfortunate that the board isn't listening to the community, I too hope like Mr. Russillo, that the firm that is looking for our new superintendent, will find a person, that can put this district back together, and staff members to not worry about stating truthful facts in meetings, etc. Ellen London's words are not important to me, as she sounds like the Charlie Brown teacher to me at board meetings now. Hold a board meeting when Open Houses are being held in the district...is it to hope that not a lot of community members/parents show up, so you all can move forward with your own plan!?!?
MSB August 30, 2012 at 03:16 PM
@Ronnie… And you are commenting on my intelligent discourse?? WOW! First of all, your logic is severely flawed. 100% of Deerfield’s population has not been approached to sign the petition, so how you can come to the conclusion that 94% are for the board and 6% are against. And as Gayle and John have pointed out -- about 31% of the population is under 18 years old. I do not believe the petition was even extended to this group. Second, not everyone who agrees with the petition signed it for privacy reason, as with the teachers fear of retaliation; or because their spouse already signed it for their household. Others have commented that they have had their run in with this board but think that we may miss out on the best candidate if there is a delay or if a long term contract is not extended. I would venture to say that most people probably don’t care. However, I can safely say that 100% of the population doesn’t vote in any given election; but now you have a highly motivated group of people that will be urged to vote.
MSB August 30, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Finally and most important, one of life’s lessons that you should have learned by now is that the majority is not always right especially when it discriminates against a minority; i.e. NAZI Germany, the Civil rights movement or when a school district discriminates against providing an education to special needs students. Some day you may be in a minority.
RonnieTheLimoDriver August 30, 2012 at 09:54 PM
MSB, you just don't get it do you? I SAID "in the Board's mind..." meaning that would be there perception. Anyway, Im not sure why I would try to reason with you based on your rants on the topic. How this has anything to do with nazi germany I dont know.

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