Somewhere between creating profound change and perpetual chaos, District 97, Oak Park’s public elementary schools, has to achieve more balance in the hiring and the retention of principals. And soon.
News Friday that yet another principal had left Lincoln School — this time making a very rare mid-year exit — leaves that school community unsettled at best.
After the long tenure of Cathy Hamilton as Lincoln’s principal ended badly in 2017, things have gone from steady to untenable. Hamilton, after an unfavorable change in state pension rules, attempted to pull back her early retirement. Administration and the school board declined that seemingly reasonable request, hired a new principal and wound up parking Hamilton in another post in the crowded central office on Madison Street.
Lisa Bucciarelli-Carlos lasted a year at Lincoln before taking a principal’s job outside Oak Park. Theresa Silva was hired as interim principal in August 2018. Laura Zaniolo turned up as this school year began. Reinforcements were sent in last November in the form of, ironically, Hamilton and Sheila Carter, another popular former D97 principal, who were titled as interim assistant principals. Zaniolo left as of Jan. 30.
Permanent (as if) Assistant Principal Paula Hughes will seemingly run the school for now, with Hamilton and Carter in support. Two other district officials, a teacher-coach and a climate and culture coach, will also parachute into the school.
Parents are urged to be patient and respect the privacy of the now-departed Zaniolo. Patience, though, is rightly in short supply. A community meeting, using restorative circles and run by the PTO and the respected E-Team, was set for Monday night. A town hall meeting will follow on Feb. 19.
In an interview Friday with the Journal’s Michael Romain, Supt. Carol Kelley said, “I don’t want families or students to feel that there’s something wrong with them.” This is a tight and traditionally positive school community. Seems unlikely the problem is with the parents and students. Kelley wants “to look at this with a learning lens.” All well and good. Our advice is to start with the lens focused on the district administration.