A year of talk, transition in Oak Park schools

Extended talks on pools in D200, teacher contract in D97, dominated 2014

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Oak Park's public school districts experienced much change and transition in 2014. The year also saw teacher contract talks in District 97 and new pool talks in District 200 drag on for the entire year with a resolution on neither issue. Administrative reshuffling in both districts also took place in 2014, including new principal hires in D97. Here's a sampling of the more prominent education stories in Oak Park for the year: 

D97 lands two new principals: Mann and Whittier elementary schools hired new principals in 2014, one a district veteran and the other a newcomer from Chicago Public Schools. 

Faith Cole, a 10-year veteran teacher and administrator in D97, was hired at Mann, coming over from Julian Middle School where she was assistant principal. A native of Oak Park, Cole is a former Mann student, and also attended Julian and Oak Park and River Forest High School. 

Keshia Warner was hired as Whittier's principal. Formerly the principal of the CPS John B. Drake Elementary School, she was also an assistant principal. Warner replaced longtime Whittier principal Carol Young, who retired last spring. 

Mann principal's controversial resignation: 2014 saw the controversial resignation of Mann Principal Sam LeDeaux. Hired in 2012, LeDeaux was an assistant principal at Longfellow Elementary and Julian Middle School before his appointment to Mann. Philosophical differences between LeDeaux and district Superintendent Al Roberts appeared to be at the root of LeDeaux's departure. Both acknowledged as much in a joint statement released in April announcing LeDeaux's resignation.

No pool yet for D200: The OPRF High School board will decide in January where it will build a new pool and how to pay for it. The board's pool site evaluation committee has spent the last two months vetting each and every likely site location and funding mechanisms — referendum, bond sale, dipping into reserves or some combination of those options. 

No teacher contract yet in D97: Elementary and middle schools will either have a new teacher contract signed in January or continue with negotiations, which began a year ago in January. 

Administrative shakeups: OPRF began a revamping of its special education department in 2014 by hiring an outside consultant to study what changes are needed. Former special ed administrator Tina Halliman left in May to become superintendent in Blue Island's school district. Veteran OPRF administrator Gwen Walker-Qualls was named interim director for the current school year while the department's evaluation continues. D97 continued to revamp its instruction department with the creation of three new posts: two curriculum directors and a deputy superintendent. 

Village, D97 agree to Madison TIF plan: The village of Oak Park and D97 in late 2014 agreed to an intergovernmental agreement to have D97's new headquarters built at 260 Madison St. and to relocate its maintenance operations to the village's public works building on South Boulevard, the latter with a 40-year lease agreement. The district's current 540 Madison warehouse and central office at 970 Madison will be put on the market. Next month, both taxing bodies expect to finalize amending the Madison TIF to OK using those funds to build the headquarters. Earlier this year, the two sides was unable to agree on a tentative proposal to build the headquarters on village hall property. 

Second-year levy freeze for D200: The OPRF school board this month approved a second-year freeze of its levy, continuing the $10 million tax cut approved in 2013. 

 Students make news: As in past years, students from the two districts celebrated notable achievements. While there's never enough space to acknowledge every academic and personal achievement made by each and every student, we highlighted several in 2014. OPRF student Grace Niewijk developed an antibacterial medical bandage as part of her year-long science project — she used particles taken from the slime of hagfish to make her bandage. The fish's slime is very absorbent, she found. Niewijk, who graduated in June, was able to isolate silk threads from the mucus to make her bandage. She hopes to bring it to market. Also in 2014, we wrote about OPRF student Vincent Taglia, who purchased the wearable Google Glass. He uses the computer device in and out of school, but not for instruction, he said. Taglia hopes to develop an app for the device. 

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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