On the Friday before the Monday meeting, on the final day of District 97’s spring break, came the e-mail statement: Mann Principal Sam LeDeaux was toast. It was jointly decided. It was jointly announced. Of course, it is a personnel matter so, of course, no one can speak on the record. Plus it is spring break and the schools are closed.
More than unsatisfying after the intense public debate of the past month over the future of this latest Mann School principal, there is something unacceptable in the process by which public bodies in this oh-so-transparent village, sometimes dismiss leading staff members and then scurry behind legal protections.
Sure, no one wants to get sued. We understand that. We also understand that it can be a convenient dodge in situations where there is no upside on anyone’s part to filing a lawsuit. Most often a fired village manager or school principal — and by fired we mean “resigned” — needs a job not a lawsuit. They need a reputation more than they need to spend years battling in court.
And what is it the public needs and should rightfully expect? Some candor, respectfully offered. After the fact, it is not so much the details of Sam LeDeaux’s firing that are important, but rather the question of what is it that makes a principal both successful in the eyes of D97 Supt. Al Roberts and safe in their employment. What is he looking for in a principal? And how tightly does that vision mesh with the views of his employers on the board of education? Now we won’t know that either since the public meeting promised by Bob Spatz, the school board president, was made unnecessary by the nicely timed resignation/firing.
Elected boards and superintendents/managers do get the benefit of the doubt for a short time. A honeymoon. A mulligan. But it isn’t open-ended. And this will be the second principal in D97 to have gone missing in recent years. The first was two years back with Brooks Middle School principal Tom Sindelar, who took over a tough situation and seemed to be well thought of until he was gone.
Being a principal is tough work, especially when you enter a school in some disarray, as both LeDeaux and Sindelar did in D97. There are many masters. Parents. Teachers. School staff. Central office staff. Media. Social media. The PTO. The school board. And the superintendent.
The Mann PTO tried hard to short circuit the system when it got wind that LeDeaux was on the bubble. It turned to Facebook, window signs, ribbons and the comment page of OakPark.com to see if it was possible to dissuade a superintendent from doing what he had set out to accomplish. The lesson, short term is no. But at some point, in some forum even superintendents are accountable to explain themselves, to justify their actions, to resell their vision of how they hire, nurture and support their principals.
We’re ready to listen anytime Supt. Roberts is ready to talk.