By Dan Haley
Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:
The nuances of the RIF: It is a fairly routine process, the springtime RIF-ing of teachers. It is a legal, contractual, logistical process in which a school district gives early warnings to specific teachers that they may not be hired back for the fall semester.
Came onto our radar just yesterday after a call from a parent who said her son told her a large number of teachers were being released. Then came emailed letters from students. And then my daughter directed me to the newly launched Facebook page called "Save OPRF," facebook.com/groups/381530861869419, which was focused on student angst over the RIF. Tuesday morning when I started this column, 300 people, mostly students and a few former students, had signed the online petition. Now, at noon Tuesday, it is up to 546 signatures. And there is a Twitter feed and a student-launched website, too.
When I talked to Supt. Steven Isoye this morning, he understood the upset. "We are talking about relationships that these students have developed with adults in this building. There is a human factor to all this."
And then he and the new HR director, Lauren Smith, took me through the process to date. Last week the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School approved the Reduction in Force plan put forward by administrators. It was, Isoye said, a fairly typical list. All part-time faculty members are automatically RIF-ed. Teachers hired to fill in for teachers on leave are routinely RIF-ed. Then a few more difficult judgments are made to RIF non-tenured teachers to solve unique circumstances. This year, for instance, the head of the history division chose to return to the classroom. That required the RIFfing of a non-tenured history teacher. A dean is being reassigned to classroom teaching and that led to the RIF notice for a non-tenured math teacher.
Circumstances may change by fall, based on enrollment and what elective courses students choose, and other teachers may still leave which would open slots. In other words, there is still flux in the system and the legally-mandated RIF process is the early warning. But Isoye said it is still a difficult process for teachers and, by extension, for students, because while teachers understand the process exists and that they may be let go, "to know is one thing and to hope is another." The day after the board acts, he said, teachers are hand-delivered the RIF notices. It is an emotional moment.
Now history tells us that many of the part-time teachers will be called back, assuming students sign up for their specialized electives in adequate numbers. Other RIF-ed teachers will find their way back as other dominoes fall. The superintendent isn't saying this, mind you, because he has just gone through the legal process of a painful reality check. He can't turn around and immediately dollop out false hopes. "We don't know, at this point, who is coming back," he says.
Isoye does emphasize that the RIF process is not driven by budget cutting and, as it relates to part-time teachers, is most related to what he describes as the student course selection process, "which is a big part of the culture at this school."
The personal connections between students and teachers drive the upset. The multiple platforms of social media allow the urgency and the contagion. Ultimately it is about people, and that makes this about more than legalities and contracts and logistics.
Life in Mayberry: Years back I'd call River Forest "Sleepy Hollow" because nothing much happened there. I considered it criticism, the locals took it as more piling on by activist Oak Parkers, but the truth was that most people liked their town sort of sleepy. These days, I think the village is a lot more interesting, though the powers that be in town now sometimes refer to it as Mayberry, in homage to that idyllic burg, just down the road from Mount Pilot.
Now however, two years after the grownups in town ran the insurgent Darling clan (aka Hoke and Dudek) back into their mountain holler, and everything got sort of settled down (hasn't been one cop suing the village in what seems forever) the elders are jockeying for position for next year's race for village president.
Of course, River Forest currently has a president by the name of John Rigas. He has yet to officially declare his intention to run or not run for re-election in 2013. But two of his board colleagues — Catherine Adduci and Michael Gibbs — are pre-positioning themselves. Adduci, a former village clerk and current trustee, has declared for president in an interview with our Devin Rose this week. That led Michael Gibbs, a current trustee, to tell us that he would never run against John Rigas, but if Rigas declares himself done, then Gibbs is in the race, too.
If Rigas is Andy Taylor — laconic, droll, smarter than he looks — then who are Gibbs and Adduci? Seems clear that Michael Gibbs is Barney Fife. Passionate, true blue, a bit goofy, the sort of guy to whom you'd only give one bullet. Adduci? The classic Mayberry match-up would pit Barney against Aunt Bea, who found that little man endearing but a source of frustration, what with her North Carolina pragmatism. However, Catherine Adduci is a modern woman and Bea Taylor just isn't right. No, Adduci is more of a Helen Crump type — a career woman on a path to be assistant principal. Able to keep Andy in the palm of her hand, but still in all, at the ready to make a County Fair-worthy peach cobbler.
Next week: What TV town is Oak Park? And who is David Pope, really!
Marty, Marty, Marty: Marty Stempniak, our stalwart village hall reporter these past five years, is moving on. His final stories for us will appear in next week's paper.
Marty's story is a familiar one to us. He arrived as a kid intern, morphed into a freelancer, and was sitting there at the right time when Drew Carter, our previous village hall reporter, got hired by Crain's. My colleagues said, "Give the youngster a chance." And so the Stempniak era began. Hard-working, endearing, and possessor of a mean David Pope impression that will be lost on his new co-workers at a health care trade magazine, Marty is one of those fellows who has put a valued stamp on this rag during his stay with us.