By Terry Dean
The District 97 Board of Education on Monday officially accepted the resignation of Sam LeDeaux as principal of Mann Elementary School.
It was a quick vote, around 9:30 p.m., after the board came out of executive session. Monday's special board meeting began at 4 p.m. with several agenda items and scheduled executive sessions planned. The vote on LeDeaux was unanimous; one member, Jim Gates, was absent from the meeting.
After the vote, Supt. Al Roberts said the search for a new Mann principal will begin immediately with the hope of having a person selected by May. LeDeaux will stay on at Mann through the end of the school year and help with the leadership transition.
Roberts said the district's search team will include central office staff and Mann school stakeholders. Roberts said the team will forward him 2-3 finalists and he will conduct the final interviews with candidates.
The district is looking to now fill two principal posts. The Whittier School position is open with Principal Carol Young set to retire in June. The school district announced LeDeaux's resignation on Friday following weeks of uncertainty concerning his job status. D97 elementary school principals are on one-year contracts with LeDeaux's among those up for renewal this spring.
Friday's announcement was a joint statement by LeDeaux and Roberts. LeDeaux has been Mann's principal since 2012, making the next hire the third principal in two years for the northwest Oak Park school.
LeDeaux's resignation comes as a blow to many Mann parents who over the last four weeks mounted a public campaign to keep him as principal. About 60 parents attended a March 18, D97 school board meeting to show their support. Many wore "Mann" T-shirts and buttons reading, "We Stand With Sam." Parents also put up a Facebook page and signs in Oak Park in support of LeDeaux.
Since Friday's announcement, parents have expressed disappointment and frustration about losing LeDeaux. In an email to Wednesday Journal, Monday, Mann parent Chris Ohlhoff said he's very disappointed that LeDeaux won't be back next year.
"It's bewildering that it came to this. I believe Dr. Roberts and the board of education have failed the Mann community by not making every effort to retain Mr. LeDeaux, and I don't have much confidence in their leadership moving forward," Ohlhoff wrote.
Nara Schoenberg, the mother of two Mann students, was the only parent who showed up and spoke at the start of Monday's board meeting. She said parents began hearing rumors weeks ago that LeDeaux's job was the on the line and that he wouldn't be returning next year as principal.
Schoenberg, who spoke with Wednesday Journal following her comments to the board, said parents are disappointed but pretty much resigned to the fate.
She and other parents feel they weren't truly listened to by the board or Roberts, and the process should have been more transparent.
"This was kind of a last stand — the one lone parent speaking," she said of Monday's meeting. "The broad feeling among parents is that we've lost on this one. We've had a great year and a half with Mr. LeDeaux and are sad to see him leave."
Parents have praised LeDeaux's leadership, his involvement with staff and students, and for restoring the school's morale. Schoenberg said he performed well after stepping into a difficult situation. He replaced Nimisha Kumar, who resigned after a D97 investigation uncovered that Mann staff had inappropriately administered the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in spring of 2012.
LeDeaux applied for the Mann post when it became vacant and was approved by the board in May 2012. A former assistant principal at both Longfellow Elementary and Julian Middle School, LeDeaux taught in the Chicago Public Schools before joining D97.
Upon his hiring, Roberts touted LeDeaux's leadership but the two appeared to be at odds later concerning Mann's future. Both acknowledged as much in their joint statement.
"During the past few weeks, the two of us have discussed the vision for Mann School. While it is true that we have not been in lockstep on every issue, we have always shared a strong, vested interest in Mann's success and the creation of a productive, nurturing learning environment. … Although progress has been made in this critical endeavor, we have come to the conclusion that a change in leadership is best for everyone involved," the statement read.
Shortly after the board's vote on LeDeaux, Roberts said the goal is to have permanent principals for both Mann and Whittier in place for next fall.
Joint statement from Sam LeDeaux and Supt. Al Roberts
During the past few weeks, the two of us have discussed the vision for Mann School. While it is true that we have not been in lockstep on every issue, we have always shared a strong, vested interest in Mann's success and the creation of a productive, nurturing learning environment aimed at fostering the growth and development of our students.
Although progress has been made in this critical endeavor, we have come to the conclusion that a change in leadership is best for everyone involved.
We realize that change is often unpopular. We also understand and appreciate that having three principals over a two-year time period is not ideal for any school. However, we are firmly committed to working together between now and the end of the school year to ensure that the transition to a new leader is as smooth and seamless as possible. In addition, we are hopeful that the members of the community will accept the district's invitation to aid in the principal search. Your feedback is both valued and vital to the success of this important process.
With the joint resolution of this matter, we will turn our attention to the remainder of this school year and the work that must be accomplished in the days ahead. We want to thank everyone who has raised questions, offered their insight or expressed their views regarding this important matter. Your steadfast commitment to our schools and the children we serve is a testament to the character and integrity of the citizens of Oak Park.
Statement from Supt. Roberts released Tuesday concerning LeDeaux and the principal search
I want to thank Sam LeDeaux for his service to District 97 during the past four years. I appreciated the passion for education he displayed during his tenure here, and wish him the best in his future endeavors.
The search for Mann's new principal will begin immediately. We are developing a tentative timeline and process for filling this important position, which includes the goal of presenting a candidate for approval at the Board of Education meeting on May 13.
As Mr. LeDeaux and I alluded to in our joint statement, change, especially in important leadership positions, is never easy. However, we will be working closely and collaboratively with our various stakeholders during the next few weeks to identify the individual whose skills, qualities and characteristics will contribute to Mann's long-term success and help our students continue to learn, grow and achieve.