Without a trace

Opinion: Editorials

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On the Friday before the Monday meeting, on the final day of District 97's spring break, came the e-mail statement: Mann Principal Sam LeDeaux was toast. It was jointly decided. It was jointly announced. Of course, it is a personnel matter so, of course, no one can speak on the record. Plus it is spring break and the schools are closed.

More than unsatisfying after the intense public debate of the past month over the future of this latest Mann School principal, there is something unacceptable in the process by which public bodies in this oh-so-transparent village, sometimes dismiss leading staff members and then scurry behind legal protections.

Sure, no one wants to get sued. We understand that. We also understand that it can be a convenient dodge in situations where there is no upside on anyone's part to filing a lawsuit. Most often a fired village manager or school principal — and by fired we mean "resigned" — needs a job not a lawsuit. They need a reputation more than they need to spend years battling in court.

And what is it the public needs and should rightfully expect? Some candor, respectfully offered. After the fact, it is not so much the details of Sam LeDeaux's firing that are important, but rather the question of what is it that makes a principal both successful in the eyes of D97 Supt. Al Roberts and safe in their employment. What is he looking for in a principal? And how tightly does that vision mesh with the views of his employers on the board of education? Now we won't know that either since the public meeting promised by Bob Spatz, the school board president, was made unnecessary by the nicely timed resignation/firing.

Elected boards and superintendents/managers do get the benefit of the doubt for a short time. A honeymoon. A mulligan. But it isn't open-ended. And this will be the second principal in D97 to have gone missing in recent years. The first was two years back with Brooks Middle School principal Tom Sindelar, who took over a tough situation and seemed to be well thought of until he was gone.

Being a principal is tough work, especially when you enter a school in some disarray, as both LeDeaux and Sindelar did in D97. There are many masters. Parents. Teachers. School staff. Central office staff. Media. Social media. The PTO. The school board. And the superintendent. 

The Mann PTO tried hard to short circuit the system when it got wind that LeDeaux was on the bubble. It turned to Facebook, window signs, ribbons and the comment page of OakPark.com to see if it was possible to dissuade a superintendent from doing what he had set out to accomplish. The lesson, short term is no. But at some point, in some forum even superintendents are accountable to explain themselves, to justify their actions, to resell their vision of how they hire, nurture and support their principals.

We're ready to listen anytime Supt. Roberts is ready to talk.

Reader Comments

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Concerned for OP  

Posted: April 5th, 2014 9:17 AM

Oak Park education and economy is a mess because it is run by bureaucrats like Al Roberts who are out of touch with the reality of what their customers (in this case parents) want. Our tax dollars are being wasted everyday

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 9:13 PM

Right now, Dr. Roberts probably considers hiring Mr. LeDeaux as the biggest mistake he's made as superintendent.

Concerned Former Teacher from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 7:14 PM

And, to continue, I think that Dr. Roberts is out of touch with school communities and their goals for education. I think he has blinders on which prevent him from understanding how education works and the values of this community. I'm not sure how this affects the Mann situation, but it probably plays a part.

Concerned Former Teacher from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 7:12 PM

Although I am retired, I'm a long-time resident here and I am concerned about what is going on in District 97. From all I can gather, there is a dis-connect between Dr. Roberts' outlook on education and the outlook of many parents and teachers. It seems to me he is interested in the "business model" for education, where children are viewed as producers of products (test scores) rather than as learners in a rich and varied environment.

Mann Mustang  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 6:52 PM

So the next principal has to fill Sam's shoes AND work under Roberts?!? Yeah, sign me up, and then tell me where I can go to get my head examined.

Long Time Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 6:04 PM

Lerner - There is also a lot of evidence, meaning track record, that Roberts is not doing a good job. When you talk to high ranking and teachers with outstanding records, and they aren't happy about how decisions are being handed down. They are not on board, this is also evidence. I guess I would ask, have you talked to principals or teachers that have a high regard for Mr Roberts?

R Lerner   

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 5:08 PM

While I agree there is value in Roberts sharing the expectations he has of his principals and teachers, I think you need to separate it somewhat from this situation because it seems to go deeper than that despite what you and other supporters might believe. Again, the evidence is clearly in the evaluation and whatever else might have been presented to the board in this matter. Mr. LeDeaux can be the poster child for transparency by sharing that with everyone.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:56 PM

Head to the Mann blacktop tomorrow morning and take a poll of parents and teachers--I think you'll have your answer pretty quickly. Regardless, I'm still not sure why you're so keen on having a school district that acts in such an opaque way. Yes, there are legal reasons to not share the specific about LeDeaux, but how 'bout sharing it in the abstract--what does Roberts want from principals and is that what we the parents want, too?

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:51 PM

You can certainly argue the majority of staff, but I have not heard much to convince me there were more than 50 percent of the parents on board. Also, how much should parent and staff input factor into the equation when these decisions are made? 10 percent? 20 percent? 50 percent? 80 percent?

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:48 PM

I love how there are only a few detractors, but hundreds of supporters. Guess it makes the argument easier.

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:47 PM

Well, longtime, then I look forward to seeing your name on the ballot for the next board election.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:42 PM

No. I do not believe a principal's fate should be decided on the opinion of a few inevitable detractors when the majority supports him. But. It doesn't much matter since parent and teacher opinion are not factored in to the process anyway. And here we are.

Longtime Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:37 PM

R Lerner, I was being sarcastic. Under Dr Roberts tight control, things haven't improved. We do need some more competence on the board, not "yes people". Roberts contract was just extended, not sure what the board is seeing that parents aren't. You missed that there were 2 people shot in OP last night

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:31 PM

So, since I'm not really sure what many, many constitutes in actual numbers, let's say half the Mann community wanted him back. I still have to ask if the opinions of the other half of the parents and three teachers account for nothing? Isn't their desire for him to go as valid as your desire for him to stay?

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:25 PM

@Long Time - It also rained a lot today and Penzey's is closing its store on Lake Street. Want to throw those things in the pot as well?


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:23 PM

If that's your measure, yes- in fact, I think the packed house at the D97 meeting spoke volumes. It is tremendously inconvenient to be somewhere during dinner time on a school night without your elementary-aged children, esp with D97 telling us it was happening only 48 hrs prior.Speaking on behalf of friends & neighbors, many many more wanted to be there but couldn't. Moreover, look at the fact that all but three Mann teachers signed a letter begging the district to keep Sam.

Long Time Oak Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 4:13 PM

Teachers and principals have said that Roberts operates "my way or the highway". I thought his strong personality would benefit Oak Park schools when he was hired. Unfortunately, Mr Roberts is not a good communicator, talks a good game, but doesn't have a high level of competence. Principals know they are at risk if they rock the boat with Roberts, so they don't have flexibility. Mann is in disarray. Lock down at Brooks today for because of a fight. Fastforward should correct this though.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 3:17 PM

And yet he lost the support of the same superintendent who hired him. And then he resigned, and signed a joint statement with that same superintendent.

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 3:16 PM

You mean anonymous comments like the ones of support below? Also, while I know there were 50 or 60 people at the board meeting showing support for him, I believe there are around 500 students at Mann. So, in your opinion, what constitutes a "high level of support?"


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 3:13 PM

Don't be fooled by anonymous comments on message boards, Lerner. In his two years at Mann Sam LeDeaux has enjoyed a very high level of support from parents and teachers.

Joel A. Schoenmeyer from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 3:07 PM

"The problem is that parents and teachers have largely evaluated him as terrific" With all due respect, I don't think we know that. I was a parent when Mr. LeDeaux was at Longfellow, and was very impressed by my interactions with him. However, the nature of this process (and the way the law works) means that none of us knows the nature and extent of complaints about his performance. That's very frustrating, but let's not equate "some Mann parents and teachers love him" with "all Mann parents and teachers love him."

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 3:06 PM

Actually, supporter, not receiving a good evaluation from your boss is the point. Again, you not agreeing with it based on your experiences doesn't make you right and the district wrong. In addition, based on some of the parent feedback offered in other comment sections on this site, it sounds like the issues extended beyond the evaluation for them.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 3:01 PM

No question he didn't receive a good evaluation. That's not the point. The problem is that parents and teachers have largely evaluated him as terrific, from firsthand experience over the course of 2 yrs. So obviously there is a major disconnect between what Roberts thinks makes a good principal and what parents actually value. Roberts said as much in his statement--their visions for Mann didn't line up. Problem is, Mann parents and teachers largely liked Sam's vision, a lot.

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 2:57 PM

It also sounds like there were parents from the Mann community who wanted LeDeaux gone for a variety of reasons. Do their opinions not count for anything? If the district had kept him and those individuals were upset because they felt their voices weren't being heard, what would all the supporters be saying to them?

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 2:50 PM

Also, "convenient dodge?" Convenient for who? I'm sure the district would love to put all of its cards on the table and explain exactly why they might be letting someone go. However, according to the letter Spatz sent out to the Mann community, 24A/7.1 of the Illinois School Code and the Personnel Record Review Act specifically preclude it. My guess is that if they shared this information, people would be complaining that the evals aren't fair or the district is violating people's privacy.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 2:49 PM

The district is prevented by state ed law from revealing eval contents. Typically, districts try to make the eval process objective - they create goals and objectives, and evaluate whether the employee hit the marks. It's hard not to renew someone who has met objectives, unless there's something else going on. I'm not sure how you'd go about asking someone to resign after a good eval. There's more here than any of us knows about.

R Lerner  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 2:45 PM

So, supporter, I guess this means he shared the entirety of his evaluation with you, as well as all of the documentation related to his potential non-renewal. If so, could you please share some of the details with us. As for the people who are upset that their voices were not heard, is it that or the fact that district didn't give you your way?

Hey Morons  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 2:44 PM

This editorial is trash and most of you are simpletons. You are barking up the wrong tree. Get it through your thick heads: Illinois law prevents the transparency you claim to yearn for in connection with personnel issues like this. If this is a problem, call Don Harmon. Meanwhile, the only person that is not prohibited by law from talking is silent. His silence speaks volumes, yet the morons on the WJ Ed Board publish this crap and we get the same whining from Mann parents who were snookered.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 2:33 PM

We are convinced he's right because he's the only one telling us anything. It would be wonderful if the District could enlighten us otherwise. Hard to extract rationale from radio silence.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 1:58 PM

" Must all D97 principals now live in fear for their jobs, rather than being granted the space to be creative, take risks and find innovative ways to improve the education our kids receive?" Mann parents seem absolutely convinced that LeDeaux was let go because he was doing too good a job, which was apparently a problem for the superintendent who hired him, who, I guess, wanted him to do a bad job. Amazing that LeDeaux signed that statement, when he was 100% right and Roberts was 100% wrong.

Ali Kiedrowski Ohlhoff  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 1:48 PM

Dr. Roberts and the D97 board of education: I hope you will take seriously the criticism expressed in this editorial. As a Mann parent, it's very distressing to have our well-loved and highly effective school leader ushered out in this fashion, with so little explanation and with such a dismissive attitude toward parent and teacher opinions. Must all D97 principals now live in fear for their jobs, rather than being granted the space to be creative, take risks and find innovative ways to improve the education our kids receive? What an unfortunate situation all around.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 1:36 PM

If Roberts is responsible for these atrocious new report cards-- mind boggling and replete with grammatical errors-- I will join the chorus calling for his resignation. How is my child learning? What is she learning? Is she improving? How does she compare to her peers? There is absolutely no way to tell. Which is likely the point. How many of us moved to Oak Park "for the schools"?

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 1:34 PM

It's worth remembering that no organization can function if personnel decisions are made based on the number of ribbons tied around trees. If there was any flexibility in Dr. Roberts' mind, the parent campaign forced his hand. He had to either let LeDeaux resign, or establish a precedent that his personnel decisions would now have to be approved by whichever parents had enough time to make Facebook pages and tie ribbons.

Maria Ping from Oak Park   

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 1:19 PM

We can only hope of another "resignation" on the horizon. This is despicable on so many levels. Sam had brought Mann back to what it deserved to be and it's a real shame that we will be starting from scratch again.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 3rd, 2014 10:09 AM

Nicole - It's no easier to get rid of good educators than bad ones. The process is the same. Mr. LeDeaux resigned, remember, which we can assume was in his own best interest. Dr. Roberts has some bad decisions to account for (Fast Forword is the most obvious example), but if you want to blame him for Mr. LeDeaux's departure, you have to also give him credit for promoting him into that position in the first place.


Posted: April 3rd, 2014 9:33 AM

Smart thoughts, Amy. Thank you. I hope we can keep this dialogue going and that the community (including the WJ) will continue to push Dr. Roberts and the Board for greater transparency. Personally, I think it's time for new leadership in D97.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 9:18 PM

If and when Supt. Roberts is ever ready to talk, please ask him to explain why he blew off last evening's concert at OP-RF H.S.? More than 800 district 97 students, representing all our elementary schools, performed for family and friends but Roberts was a no-show despite being scheduled to present opening remarks. How embarrassing for the staff, children and parents involved in a wonderful event, to realize our school superintendent couldn't find time to welcome them and honor their hard work.

Nicole Cahill  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 6:46 PM

The Journal hit the nail on the head. It is truly disappointing how easy the process is to get rid of good educators, but not easy enough to get rid of bad ones. One can hope there will be another "joint" resignation in the near future at D97.

Amy Srodon Williams from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 5:42 PM

I commend all the Mann parents who mobilized to get the word out about this situation and got people talking - no matter what their personal opinions might've been. If they hadn't done this, very few people would've even known about this issue. Here's a thought, why weren't the Mann parents consulted as at least part of the decision-making process? They're the ones who can best judge how their children are doing and how the school is performing -- not the superintendent. As someone who recently banded with my neighbors to oppose the proposed D97 new admin building, I know just how frustrating it was to get accurate information from D97 and to make our voices heard -- not to mention the dismissive attitude with which we were regarded -- or the "dirty tricks" such as an ill-publicized 8am Saturday public forum smack dab in the holidays. In the end we were successful, but all too often in OP/D97 gov't things get rushed through and you only find out about them after the fact. The system is not set up for citizens to have meaningful input in how decisions get made, and there is no formal process in place for people to oppose policies and decisions -- believe me, I asked. You just have to yell as loud as you can and let as many people know as possible so there might be some strength in numbers. Not everyone has a subscription to the Wednesday Journal or reads it online. Not everyone has the time to read all the board meeting minutes. Not everyone has the time and resources to be able to go to a D97 board meeting at night and wait for hours before being given your allotted few minutes to speak. What about the people who don't have childcare, work at night, don't have transportation, or may not be physically able to sit in a chair waiting for hours? It shouldn't have to be a full-time job for us, the taxpayers, to stay informed and be considered in the issues that directly affect us and our children.

Without a trace of irony!  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 5:33 PM

And by "ignore crimes" I do mean you deliberately do not report serious crimes that occur inside the schools--from the theft of IPads (thanks anonymous commentator, but where was the WJ follow up?) to pepper spray attacks (when that happens in a city school, it's on the front page of the trib site). Will you ever report on how much we are STILL paying Roberts' friends at FastForward every year for a product with ZERO science behind it? Do you ever follow up on anything?

Without a trace of irony!  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 5:21 PM

What's missing from this essay is a single mention of "students" "education" "learning" or "curriculum"--which says much about both D97 and this paper's boosterish role in supporting its incompetence. Shouldn't the super and principal BOTH be primarily concerned with serving STUDENTS rather than other "masters"? WJ lauded the FastForward program, iPads for all, and the "need" for a new bldg, while you continue to ignore crimes, scandals, and declining test scores in our schools. Shame.

Mann Mom  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 4:44 PM

Bravo, Wednesday Journal. This is so well put. Thank you. I hope other parents and Oak Park voters are taking note of what happened here, because it's far from "just a Mann" issue.


Posted: April 2nd, 2014 2:27 PM

The core issue is the Board is unable to recognize if Roberts is capable as he is a great administrator which is consistent with a board that is excellent at procedure, process and bylaws. But look at the data and results - the reality is OP is in slow decline toward medocrity and results are lacking. It is unfortunate that by the time the OP citizens wake up, damage will be done.

John Murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 2:09 PM

The performance of D97 since the last board election and tax referendum has been pathetic. something is very wrong!

Mann Dad  

Posted: April 2nd, 2014 9:11 AM

No principal is perfect and neither is the school they lead, including Mann, but the way this played out is demoralizing and appears to disregard what's best for kids. D97 is in danger of becoming more like some of our neighboring Cook County school districts that: do what they want without consideration, don't listen to citizen voters, remove good people for unknown reasons, and create unnecessary transition. All at the expense of students, staff, and families.

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