The District 200 Board of Education last week approved the hiring of Nathaniel Rouse as the new principal at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Some within the faculty, however, would have preferred veteran administrator Don Vogel, who served this school year as interim principal.
Jim Hunter, president of the OPRF faculty union, in a statement he read to the school board last week, said Vogel had support among many in the faculty.
Rouse, 36, the outgoing assistant principal at Highland Park High School, was approved in a 6-0 vote last Thursday. Board President Jacques Conway was absent.
"Don has done a wonderful job in communicating with the faculty," said Hunter. "While the faculty is disappointed that Don was not the choice of the District Leadership Team, Don should know that the thoughtful leadership he has shown is much appreciated by the faculty."
Vogel was hired as interim principal in August 2007. He would not speculate on his level of support among the school's 237 faculty members.
"I think there were people who supported me, but I don't think it was a majority," said the 34-year OPRF administrator.
His role in the school is now up in the air, but he plans on returning to his job as director of the library and of technology, posts he held before becoming interim principal.
Vogel was set to retire in 2010 and was intent on leaving but reconsidered and applied for the permanent principal position. He cited positive feedback from parents and OPRF staff concerning the job as factors in making his decision.
"It was a disappointment," he said about being passed over, "but I have to believe it was a decision that was made in the best interest of students."
Rouse plans to address concerns
Rouse, who'll earn an annual salary of $140,000, was not surprised by Vogel's strong support among faculty.
"I understand the faculty's relationship with Don," he said in a phone interview last Friday. "That doesn't at all worry or concern me."
Rouse said that his first task would be talking with faculty and parents. Tensions between the high school and some parents have existed for some time. The discipline and achievement gaps between black and white students and how black students are treated at the school are at the center of much of the tension. Rouse wants to address those issues with parents and staff.
"The first thing I want to do is get into a room with those parents who have concerns. Sometimes those concerns may be based on a perception people have. Whether it's a perception or otherwise, we have to address that. There may be parents who are not familiar with what the school does. You have to sometimes make decisions that parents aren't comfortable with, but we want to make sure their voices are heard."
Concerning recent efforts by Dist. 200 to focus on black underachieving students, Rouse said he supports such efforts. Actions by the board this year, though, have resulted in some pushback by parents of high-achieving students.
Rouse pointed to No Child Left Behind which mandates that school districts identify student populations who aren't achieving.
"It we were forced to look at white students or Native American students, then those would be the groups we would identify. It just happens that when we talk about the achievement gap, it's showing a trend in special education and African-American students," he said. "Those numbers don't lie. We have to name those pockets of students and address them.
"Sometimes there is pushback when parents of high-achieving students think they're missing out," Rouse added. "As you address those students who are struggling, you want to make sure you're keeping high standards for all children, but I believe that when you address your lower-achieving students, that helps everyone."