By Terry Dean
Oak Park District 97 will host a special school board meeting on March 31 to decide Mann Principal Sam LeDeaux's future with the district.
LeDeaux's contract is among the district's eight elementary school principal contracts up for annual renewal this spring. But his contract is the only one that's caused any kind of a stir as many parents at his school have mounted a public campaign to retain him in the face of speculation his job is on the line. A letter concerning the March 31, meeting has been sent to parents from D97 Board President Bob Spatz.
A time and location for the meeting is still being determined. The board is slated to take action on only LeDeaux's contract at that meeting.
"The primary impetus for scheduling this meeting is to ensure that we fulfill our obligations to meet procedural deadlines established by the state," Spatz said. "Since we are still in the process of discussing the options that are available regarding Mr. LeDeaux's status for next year, we cannot offer any additional information at this time about the nature of the action that will be presented to the board for a vote that evening."
Spatz also expressed appreciation to parents for voicing their concerns and providing their perspective, adding that the board takes all of the feedback it receives seriously before making any decisions impacting the students.
Spatz and Supt. Al Roberts have stressed that no decision has yet been made concerning LeDeaux's future employment with the district. Yet, many parents from Mann have gone public in their support for LeDeaux.
About 60 parents attended the D97 board's March 18 meeting, 15 speaking during public comments in support of LeDeaux. They strongly urged the board to retain him as principal once Roberts makes his recommendation.
One after another, parents spoke glowingly and passionately about LeDeaux, who's been principal at Mann for two years. Many credited him for improving the school's morale and culture after the resignation of the former principal, Nimisha Kumar, following a controversy surrounding the improper handling of Illinois Standards Achievement Tests in spring 2012.
LeDeaux was hired in May 2012, approved unanimously by the D97 board.
Many parents at Mann have said they want LeDeaux retained.
Those attending last week's board meeting wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Mann." Some also wore buttons and held signs with "We Stand With Sam" on them.
According to Maggie Kelly, co-president of the school's PTO, the parents want to let the board know directly how LeDeaux is doing as principal prior to the superintendent's recommendation. That, she said, is important because not all principal evaluations are conducted by Roberts.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, a superintendent or his/her designee who is certified can conduct principal evaluations. Kelly added that Roberts has only been in the Mann building twice this school year, making it difficult to fully gauge LeDeaux's work. The district, however, disputes that claim.
According to D97 spokesperson Chris Jasculca, while the district doesn't have an exact count of his visits to Mann, Roberts has visited the school "numerous times," since the start of the school year.
Roberts has also had "numerous conversations with the two certified, trained district administrators who made multiple visits to the building in conjunction with Mr. LeDeaux's evaluation," Jasculca said, adding that Roberts has met with LeDeaux and his evaluators "many times throughout the year to discuss his evaluation and issues related to his job."
The superintendent's designees include the directors of special education and curriculum, both of whom are certified, trained evaluators, Jasculca said.