Gail Durckel was hired last summer as Holmes principal for the 2006-2007 school year. At the District 97 school board meeting on Feb. 14, Supt. Collins announced that a search would be conducted for a new principal of Holmes School for 2007-2008.

Last year, the district conducted a national search for a Holmes principal. In early May, two candidates were offered the position. In one case, the salary offered was not acceptable to the candidate. In the other case, the candidate accepted the offer, and an announcement was made to the school community. A parent then did a Google search of the new principal’s name and discovered that the candidate was involved in a lawsuit against her current school district. The candidate withdrew from the position. It was now mid-May and a new principal had not been found.

Dr. Collins assured us that candidates of the highest quality were still available. Members of the principal search committee agreed to go through the interview process again because rather than having Dr. Collins appoint an interim principal, we wanted a strong parent and teacher voice in the selection process, and we wanted to find a long-term principal. We were told that if we were unable to find a suitable candidate, Dr. Collins would appoint an interim principal and that while parents and teachers would not have a voice in the initial selection, that we would have an opportunity to provide our input in January of this school year.

The second search was conducted, and two strong candidates were identified. Dr. Durckel was one of these, and she was offered the position. Why was Dr. Durckel hired as an interim principal when her appointment was the result of the full search process? Does the process used to select the principal determine interim status or is interim status assigned on a case-by-case basis as the board and/or superintendent see fit?

On Jan. 25, the district invited parents to attend a meeting to share their views of Dr. Durckel’s performance. Dr. Collins asked for a show of hands of who was in favor of re-opening the search. Only five of the approximately 50 parents in attendance raised their hands. The support for keeping Dr. Durckel was overwhelming. I am told that support for Dr. Durckel among teachers is also quite high.

In the face of such positive reports, how did Dr. Collins reach a decision to renew the search? The question I ask is “how” and not “why.” I am confused by the decision because it does not match with the information available to me. Surely teacher and parent input, as primary stakeholders in this important decision, must play a key role. Yet this does not seem to be the case. Dr. Collins was asked at the Holmes PTO meeting on Feb. 15 what performance review criteria she uses in evaluating principal performance. She was asked to what extent parent and teacher feedback contribute to her decision. She refused to answer these questions though neither requires that she divulge confidential information.

These are important questions. The Holmes students, faculty and staff, and families will now be entering a third year of transition at our school (Laurel Muhammad’s final year, Dr. Durckel’s first year, and now an initial year for yet another principal). Repeated changes in school leadership most certainly have an impact on the educational experiences of children at Holmes School.

Given the surprising decision, the refusal to describe the decision-making process, the mistakes made by the district in last year’s search process, and the reason why the principal was hired on an “interim” basis, I have lost trust in our superintendent. I want a superintendent in Dist. 97 who I trust to make the right decisions even when I don’t agree with those decisions. The district owes the Oak Park community a full description of how they intend to adjust (or create?) policies and procedures so that these mistakes will not happen again–at Holmes or at any of the other schools in our district.

Angela Farnham
Holmes School Parent

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