I am dismayed at how District 97 has conducted its search for a new Holmes School principal, a process that has stretched over the past two years. The fiasco has damaged our school, our children and the credibility of District 97.

The first appointment fell through when a parent discovered the first intended principal embroiled in legal action, something that had escaped the Dist. 97 administrator. Before the school year began, another search yielded Dr. Gail Durckel, who was appointed as interim principal.

Four months after Dr. Durckel started, Dr. Connie Collins invited parents to a meeting ostensibly to voice our opinions on whether to keep our principal or open a new search. Many parents braved a cold winter’s night to find Dr. Collins would not allow any dialogue. She did allow a show of hands, and the parents there clearly voted in favor of retaining Dr. Durckel. A handful of parents voted for a new search. The clear choice of most parents was subsequently ignored.

Why bother asking for parents’ opinions, then disallowing it, and ignoring the show of hands by opening a new search? What a sham.

What pushed the superintendent towards a search when parents clearly showed they didn’t want one? When a majority of teachers at Holmes signed a petition to say they wanted to retain the current principal, why was a new one appointed regardless? If performance was the issue, why let Dr. Durckel go through the interview process, other than to feign due process and stave off potential legal challenge?

Did Dr. Collins intend for Dr. Durckel to serve a one-year contract only? Was this a stop-gap measure to save face in the context of the first search’s embarrassing outcome?

One of Dr. Collins’ former administrators, who was moved into a teaching slot at Holmes this year, reportedly commented to students in January that Dr. Durckel would not be returning. Was she privy to information that we parents didn’t have, as a result of her previous position within the administration?

Did Dr. Collins plan to make principal appointments from within the district, which assured first-year “interim” principal Angela Dolezal to retain her position at Longfellow? Ms. Dolezal’s webpage shows she had already confirmed next year’s staffing before her appointment was confirmed by the board last week–indicating confidence in keeping her job. The candidate who won the Holmes position had been inserted into Julian in January as an “interim assistant principal.” Was the intention months ago to move her into Holmes when the time was right?

This has been far from an accountable and transparent process.

Dr. Collins and Dist. 97 have relied upon the goodwill of the parent community this past year to get them past the shambles of the last search. This goodwill has been squandered. Rightly or wrongly, parents feel they have had the wool pulled over their eyes in some political play where we weren’t given the rule book. Even if the superintendent and board had valid reasons for their decision to open a new search and then to appoint a new principal, this has not been conveyed well. Like it or not, perception is reality, and something smells very bad.

We now have a body of angry and suspicious parents who will be unwilling to let anything slide in the future. Yes, we’ll work with the new principal. We have her, like it or not, as a permanent fixture, not an interim, so let’s hope she can lead the school community toward a more positive future.

Toni Nealie, Oak Park

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