Oak Park schools dismiss some tenured teachers for 'underperformance'

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 says it has dismissed some teachers due to "underperformance" during the current school year, even though those teachers had attained tenure while working in the district.

It's an unprecedented public acknowledgement for an Oak Park school district though officials maintain that tenured teachers have been dismissed in the past. It just hasn't been publicized.

The latest instance coincides with a movement in the state legislature to reform public education throughout Illinois. One aspect of the recent bill approved last week by the Illinois Senate ties tenure to teacher performance.

Neither D97's administration nor the Oak Park Teachers Association (OPTA) will say how many tenured teachers were let go or if they taught at one of the eight elementary schools or the two middle schools.

The teachers likely taught for at least five years, since state law requires a teacher to work four full years prior to receiving tenure in the fifth year.

District 97 Supt. Albert Roberts, who was hired in June 2010, confirmed that more than two teachers were let go this year. The superintendent was cautious about getting too specific but noted that two of the dismissals initially stemmed from parents' concerns. That information, he said, was brought to his attention, which he followed up on.

Both teachers' past evaluations were looked at to see if any corrective actions were taken. Roberts stressed that teachers — tenured and otherwise — are not fired over an initial concern. The district, he said, employs remediation efforts at the district and state level to help teachers. But if those efforts prove fruitless, Roberts noted that the district has in the past and will continue to part ways with ineffective teachers.

"To me, the standard in Oak Park — and since joining the district it's been reinforced — is that there's no room for mediocrity," he said. "Most of the teachers we employ are exceptional educators who care deeply about students, and they're a credit to their profession. But from my vantage point, every student deserves to have an excellent teacher helping him or her achieve every year. So the expectation here in District 97 is that we'll evaluate employee performance and take action when such performances are not acceptable."

Roberts added that the move to dismiss these tenured teachers was supported by the OPTA. Susan Tresselt, the union's president and also a 13-year veteran teacher in the district, noted that the union typically works well with the administration regarding helping teachers improve. She also stressed that the process involved in the release of these tenured teachers was fair.

"The state remediation plan has been in place for years and the district has always utilized it," she said.

The state's remediation plan includes evaluating their performance in the classroom and how they prepare their lesson plans. Teachers are rated on their performance. A "public notice to remedy" is a separate process that District 97 could also employ to help a teacher improve. The district offers mentoring programs and ongoing professional development for teachers as well.

But Tresselt noted that those efforts sometimes don't work for every teacher.

"Those can be very difficult conversations," she said. "There are different levels of consequences available to teachers. After time, if they're not successful in improving the situation, the next step would be a release."

Roberts added: "It's not any one tool that's used in the evaluation process that sometimes leads to a parting of the ways, but it is an ongoing commitment to truly focus on doing what's in the best interest of kids that gets us in a position to take appropriate action."

Another aspect of the state's reform legislation is looking at "steps" and "lanes" that are utilized in teacher's contracts — two compensation mechanisms that reward teachers with raises if they attain additional education.

Tresselt said she didn't have a specific view concerning eliminating lanes and steps in teacher contracts but noted that it's worth investigating. Roberts, a former classroom teacher himself, maintained that lanes and steps should be looked at as it relates to student performance. Roberts insisted that if a teacher attained additional schooling — and therefore a raise via their contract — that doesn't mean they become a better classroom teacher. Roberts said this aspect of teacher performance has actually been talked about in the education profession for some time. The superintendent said teacher compensation and performance will be part of the next negotiations with the OPTA when the current teachers' contract ends in 2014.

"My stance is that, relative to steps and lanes, we need to look at how it impacts the performance of students. We'll be having those discussions but that's a matter of negotiations," he said, referring to the district's current teachers' contract, which ends in 2014. "You need a broader perspective in addressing these issues. That's what's happened right now with the state and researchers who are looking into this issue. But the thing to do in 2011 is to look at the process, and it does it mean that if you have a master's level teacher, that it really adds value to the classroom."

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Unhappy with firing from OP  

Posted: May 1st, 2011 9:43 AM

I don't understand the process of teacher evaluations by the principals. My grandson's teacher is among those being fired and the parents of these kids are very unhappy because they were NEVER asked how the kids and parents felt about the job their teacher was doing. It came as a complete shock that their beloved and respected teacher was not going to be there next year. Don't the families have any rights? It's our kid's futures and our taxes! So we have no input in this? No dialog allowed?


Posted: April 26th, 2011 12:55 PM

@ Mary Ellen-further, what "less than stellar" beaurocrats are you referring to? Teachers make the recommendations to principals for classroom placement based on teaching style and the best fit for the student. Most principals won't take teacher requests. They ask for parent input on the type of need for the child. I don't know what your experiences have been, but the bearocrat at my kids' school (Longfellow) is pretty stellar and incredibly hard working!

Parent from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 12:50 PM

@Mary Ellen-would you propose principals and office staff take time from their days to supervise showing these videos? Don't they have enough? Do you really think a parent who watches a 5 minute video becomes a better judge of what teacher would work best for a child they have worked with all year? What you are proposing turns what should be a difficult and thoughtful process into a teacher popularity contest

OP Resident  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 12:31 PM

Let's start with parents taking responsibilty for their children. Do you make sure that homework is completed on time? Do you limit time on the computer and watching TV? Teachers have to deal with what children learn in the home. They bring it with them into the clasroom. Sassiness and bullying are big problems for a teacher. Responsibilty and respect must be stressed before kids walk out the door. A teacher is the educator who wants to encourage children to learn but must have parents support

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 12:03 PM

I think there is still some room for debate as to whether having parents wandering in and out of the schools to view videotapes of the teachers is a great idea. However, what you suggested below was a live camera feed via internet connection, which sounds a lot like setting up a Home Shopping Network for potential predators. Glad to see that's not what you meant.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2011 11:35 AM

Carol, visitors see the kids when they visit the classroom. And these wouldn't be videos available on Netflix. My idea would be that parents of potential students could go to the school and observe, via videocam, an actual class in progress. Less disruptive for the classroom, more info for the parents. Right now, sending your kids to public school is an act of faith. Parents need more info abt input into the choices that are made for their kids by our less than stellar education bureaucracy


Posted: April 26th, 2011 11:16 AM

Unions throw people under the bus all the time. I am pretty sure the truly terrible teachers aren't the ones who got the boot.


Posted: April 25th, 2011 7:52 AM

ONLY in OP - Defending the incompetent! Why when someone finally does the right thing - we in OP still try and question the motives. The UNION supported it. Now that is truly amazing! My word, how can the UNION be wrong? Folks, the writing is on the wall and the train has left the station. People will NO longer pay for this & put up with Noting but the best. When you get BAD service/food at a restaurant do you go back? Then WHY let your child be taught by BAD teachers. Speak up

OP Parent  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 5:24 PM

Mary Ellen shows a reason why some parents shouldn't be in the classroom. This friend is supposedly in the school to help, but with ulterior motives. I bet she's not as much help as she thinks she is.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 12:27 PM

Mary Ellen, I'm still having trouble figuring out how videotaping a classroom would work out, practically speaking, if parents of the children in those classrooms object to having their childrens' images publicized, which I certainly would.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 11:12 AM

(contd) Many parents don't have the time/ expertise my friend, an educator, had. But parents need to be part of the selection process and they need all relevant information to make that choice. I'd note that I think some national education reformers are looking at videotaping teachers conducting a class as part of their formal evaluation This is not a new idea. But don't worry. In the education innovation area, Oak Park is in the slow lane. Only our property taxes are in the fast lane.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park   

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:59 AM

Actually, Carol, I'm suggesting that parents be able to observe potential teachers for their kids in real life, so to speak, via a remote internet connection, say, at another location . It is less disruptive to the classroom itself than in-class visits. I got the idea from a friend from another state who recently told me (she was a stay at home mom) that she did a lot of volunteering at her local school so she could find out who the bad teachers were and keep her kids out of those classrooms.

OP Parent  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 7:43 PM

I'm not saying it's right, just speculating that it might have more to do with union rules than any funny business. Not that the two are always mutually exclusive... I suspect a lot of teachers might be let go before they attain tenure, so the district doesn't get bound to these rules. I hope that isn't the case, but I would not be surprised.

OP Parent  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 7:35 PM

Concerned, doesn't that have something to do with union rules, though? If a tenured teacher's position is eliminated, the district has to place the tenured teacher in a position for which he or she is certified? Which means, if the certification fits, even good untenured teachers have to go. IIRC, administrators earn tenure as teachers (not sure, so take that for what it is worth). So we might have tenured administrators taking the good, untenured teachers' positions. Musical chairs.

Concerned Teacher from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:53 PM

I repeat: I know one of the teachers who is being fired, a non-tenured teacher who has taught here for 2 years. Never had a complaint. It's something fishy and political because this teacher is excellent. It's not a humane way to deal with people.


Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:39 PM

OP Rez, wow. I thought my kid had some bad teachers. That math teacher takes the cake. So sorry you guys had to go through that.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 6:05 PM

Well, if I was pre-juiced, then I'm not so dry...;) And the irony is that we are talking edumacation here...For shame! I will slink back under my rock...

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 4:49 PM

Violet Aura Do you know that you spelled it "pre-juiced" twice? Is that a pun of sorts about your dry wit?

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 3:42 PM

Edit: PREJUICED. The bottom line is that I am flabberghasted that the schools never thought of this until now! Just providing both a current driver's license PLUS utility bill would be enough to determine residency! They are probably coming from Austin, Berwyn, Galewood and Berwyn! I actually saw an OPRF student get off the OP Ave. bus and walk into Berwyn after school so I figured that's where she lived.

Violet Aura  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 3:39 PM

@OP Resident: If I were a parent in OP (and had male genitalia), I would be one of MANY angry men! So it's prejuiced to say what Joe said? Did you read a past post of mine where I overheard teachers (from Dist. 200 and/or 97) talking about that very issue at OPRF and how the administrators were so reticent to make any waves with the parents because of fear of being branded racists. Outrageous! And to top it off, a disproportionate number of these students are SPED ones. So that drags down test #

OP Resident  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 3:18 PM

"Prejudice obscures the truth". Joe, have you seen the movie, "12 Angry Men"? It's going to be shown this evening on TCM. The dvd is available on request from Oak Park Library. You might see yourself in one or more of the characters.

joe from oak park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 12:13 PM

I just saw that Oak Park is going to make students prove their residency every year with parents utility bills or drivers licenses. Watch the test scores skyrocket next year. I guarantee it.

OP #1  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 12:11 PM

If your child has poor grades it could be a bad teacher and/ or bad parenting. I would blame the teacher more so because I've seen the other models used at KIPP and the like and they can teach ANYBODY

OP'er #44219  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 12:02 PM

Parent of OPRF. You called it, and they still took the shot. Pretty obvious theres no room for discussion or other viewpoints with that one.

OP Rez  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:52 AM

@OP#1 - If you had read the whole post, I made certain that my kids did not get the "bad" teacher. That doesn't mean I couldn't hear her yelling (screaming) from down the block when picking them up. The kids who had another "bad" teacher told tales of their teacher doing math instruction while horizontal on the floor and eyes closed because she was tired. I suspect you don't consider this appropriate teaching behavior.

Parent of OPRF Freshman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:49 AM

See my previous post of 9:52 AM. If a student has good grades, what's wrong with the teacher? If a student has bad grades, well, your child's dumb. It's a no-win situation.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:25 AM

@Mary Ellen - I'm stupified that you seriously think it would be a good idea to videotape the classrooms of other people's children in order to satisfy your curiousity about the teachers. Unbelievable.

Teacher Hater  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:41 AM

Clearly, a bad teacher does not do exactly what a parent wants. A parent should dictate school and classroom policies. Policies need to apply to every child, but my own. Since I had some lousy experiences as a student, I believe my child is going to have a whole bunch of lousy teachers. Districts do hire lousy teachers because the Administrators are lazy and really want what is the worst for all stakeholders. I am sure lousy teachers are the one's smiling on payday. Damn teachers!

OP #1  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:27 AM

Good and Stellar grades? What makes them such a bad teacher? Hmmm.

OP Rez  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:01 AM

@OP#1 - My children have stellar grades and I know there are some awful teachers out there. I recognize that sometimes there are personality conflicts and that shouldn't be part of the equation. My issues are with teachers who are not teaching the curriculum and get frustrated easily because they don't have patience to teach. Most parents (myself included) cryptically write their child's needs when requesting the following years' teacher placement in a way so they don't get the "bad" one.

Supportive Parent  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:54 AM

@OP - low income housing is the cause? I have c I took my complaints about one teacher from Teacher to Principal to Superintendant to Board Members. Nothing happened because the contract allows for 2 years of remediation even in cases where a teacher is not showing up for work. @OP#1 my child was getting very good grades at the time of my complaints. @accountability - I agree that the Principal's primary job is to ensure good teachers and our elementary school does not have a strong leader.

Parent of OPRF Freshman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:52 AM

Good grades or poor grades? That's a loaded question. I am sure you would have an appropriate response for either answer. By the way, very good grades.

OP #1  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:44 AM

I would like to know if the parents who complain about the teachers have children with good grades or bad?


Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:38 AM

d97 has drivers ed teachers?

accountability please from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:25 AM

cont'd, there is no penalty for poor performance on anyone's part. Except for the students; Just blame the parents...

accountability please from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:23 AM

I never see any comments about the principals. They are the ones who hire, evaluate and retain the teachers, and their egos or other priorities perpetuate keeping those who they have hired. They may keep moving the poor teachers around to different positions, but they are still less effective than they should be. I've watched it happen. And Dr. Collins didn't care about any accountability either.But then again, why should any of the principals be held accountable, there is no penalty for poo

Parent of OPRF Freshman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:31 AM

The worst part about incompetent "teachers" is that when a parent follows protocol and approaches a "teacher" about their child's performance, the discussion is perceived by the "teacher" as a referendum on their ability as a teacher. For the rest of the year the student has a target on their back. It's a tough lesson for a student to learn, but there are as many incompetent bosses as there are teachers.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:20 AM

I agree that this is a start but it is unfortunate that these teachers apparently taught at least five years before being let go. Five years is a lot of kids, a lot of damage. Can't get it back. Do Dist 97 parents have any input into which teacher is assigned to their child. Or only parents w clout? It seems that parents should be able to not only review pertinent information on potential teachers but also observe a class or two-a videocam at the school for this purpose would reduce disruption

OP Resident  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 10:51 PM

Susan Tresselt is just the kind of teachers union president that Scott Walker is looking for in Wisconsin. I wonder if her members think that teachers deserve to be compensated for the time and energy they devote towards attaining additional education and training? Tresselt says she doesn't have a specific view on the subject. What a sellout!

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 9:42 PM

@Jon. But only if they fail "remediation," etc.


Posted: April 20th, 2011 9:13 PM

Now if we could only fire the incompetent parents...

Interesting from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 8:52 PM

@trixie. Yes, there are "incompetents in every profession" - and they deserve to also be fired. But it's worse when the "incompetents" are teaching our children - where in the public schools we don't have a choice. Don't like the pay of athletes - then don't go. With public schools, we don't have that option. BTW, we know who the Frosh Bio teacher at OPRF is - terrible!

trixie from op  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 7:59 PM

Are there not incompetents in every profession? Feels like a witch hunt, McCarthyism, all over again, guess it's human nature to blame. Which leads me to question, when a sports figure is making a 10 times what a teacher makes, where are our priorities???? I know it's a trite comment...


Posted: April 20th, 2011 3:32 PM

Thanks for the clarification, Parent. I suspect my child might have had the same teacher your son did in middle school. This is a good start, but Dan is right, there are some great teachers in d97 and a few bad apples. Interestingly, a couple of teachers who were terrific for my children were deemed terrible by other parents. I hope there is continued focus on training/developing, not just firing. This doesn't sound like a clean sweep, but is a start.


Posted: April 20th, 2011 3:07 PM

There are a lot of great teachers in D97. However there are still a number of completely bad, disinterested teachers in D97. I personally have seen this and almost every parent I know has a story about 1 really bad teacher in D97. Good start, but more needs to be done so that the poorly performing teachers have a motivation to become more involved.

Parent of OPRF Freshman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 2:53 PM

Just to clarify: when my son was at Julian (District 97), he had a horrible science "teacher". Now he is at OPRF (District 200). Oh, and by the way, his science teacher at OPRF is just as bad. Let's get District 200 on the bandwagon.

Supportive Parent  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 2:41 PM

Amen District 97! Having poor/disinterested teachers is the worst thing for school staff, students and parents. Sadly, my children have experienced a couple of teachers who "phone it in" and they were in stark contrast to most teachers. Getting stuck with a bad teacher for a year is a terrible waste. Thanks to D97 for proving that bad teachers CAN be removed. I know the process is onerous but we need to have the best teachers to get the best results.


Posted: April 20th, 2011 2:25 PM

@Parent, no chance your son's teacher is among those terminated by d97, if your son is the oprf freshman referred to in your moniker. OPRF is d200.

Parent of OPRF Freshman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 12:33 PM

Since you recognize exceptional educators, I would hope you could also recognize the incompetents. Would you and other exceptional educators like to step forward and recommend which "teachers" should be terminated? Just wondering...

Concerned Teacher from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 12:11 PM

I know one of these fired teachers. This teacher is an exceptional educator. This process is unfair and unprofessional. As an experience teacher I recognize excellence when I see it. I feel very distraught about this situation.

Parent of OPRF Freshman from Oak Park  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 11:56 AM

I can only hope that one of them was my son's science "teacher".

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