Top school stories from 2012 in Oak Park and River Forest

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

What a difference a year makes when it comes to reducing the faculty workforce. In 2011, when public school districts around the state, including in Oak Park, sent out their annual pro-forma reduction-in-force (RIF) notices to part-time and non-tenured teachers, nary a voice was raised, as was the case in previous years. But this spring was different in Oak Park. Students and teachers at Oak Park and River Forest High School were in an uproar over the prospect of laying off 21 teachers. Under the RIFing procedure, giving notice is required, but some of those teachers are hired back. The OPRF administration seemed blindsided by the uproar over what is normally a routine, uneventful process.

Oak Park Elementary School District 97, meanwhile, faced a similar and unexpected revolt last spring. Some parents were upset that two dozen special education teaching assistants received a RIF notice.

Blacktop or bust

It's bust for the Irving School blacktop — bye, bye, we hardly knew ya. Next summer, much of it will be replaced with a soccer field, new playground and parking lot. It's been a 7-year effort by parents to get the surface removed. The D97 board has approved preliminary replacement plans and will finalize their decision in the spring. This likely would have happened even if parents hadn't raised safety concerns last summer over head injuries at the school. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with D97, a group of Irving parents discovered a high frequency of student head injuries at their school from playing on the blacktop. The district later did its own assessment. It found that while Irving experienced a higher volume of injuries, they were mostly minor.

Superintendents stay put

District 200 Supt. Steven Isoye this fall received a five-year contract extension. His D97 counterpart, Albert Roberts, got a three-year extension. Both were hired in 2010.

Mann ISAT controversy

A popular District 97 principal resigned her position in March due to alleged tampering by that principal and one other school employee, involving state standardized testing materials. Nimisha Kumar stepped down as Mann Elementary School principal following an internal D97 investigation led by Supt. Albert Roberts. A tip from an anonymous employee at the school alleged that the testing materials were improperly handled. Allegations included allowing students more time to finish their Illinois Standards Achievement Test, taken in early March, after the allotted testing time. Kumar submitted her resignation on March 22. Roberts maintained that this was a case of school employees using bad judgment vs. intentionally trying to cheat.

New principals for Mann, Brooks and Julian

District 97 ended up hiring their new Mann principal from within. Sam LeDeaux, an assistant principal at Julian, was hired as Kumar's replacement in May. Brooks and Julian middle schools also got new principals this year. Todd Fitzgerald, a former Brookfield middle school principal, replaced Victoria Sharts at Julian following Sharts' retirement. Mike Michkowski, former principal of Prairie Hill School in Beloit, took over at Brooks. Tom Sindelar, the school's principal, resigned from Brooks in March but did not disclose why.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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