During a regular meeting on April 21, the District 97 school board unanimously voted to approve the final draft of the After Action Report produced in the wake of the resignation of former Lincoln principal Laura Zaniolo.

Zaniolo, who resigned in January for personal reasons, was the school’s fourth principal in four years. Her resignation prompted a robust conversation among both building- and district-level administrators, students, teachers, Lincoln families and community members that culminated in a Feb. 26 public meeting. 

Oak Park equity consultant Reesheda Graham Washington facilitated the conversation and reported some of the results of an extensive evaluation, called an After Action Review, she conducted that was designed to delve into the reasons behind the principal turnover rate. Washington also authored the draft After Action Report. 

Her report includes some of the recommendations she presented during the Feb. 26 meeting, where the consultant, who also owns the popular Live Cafe in Oak Park, laid out in frank terms some of the school’s and district’s challenges. 

“There is a seemingly pervasive relational trust issue between teachers, parents, administrators, central office and the [school] board in all directions,” she said. “Work needs to be done by a third party to re-establish relational trust and find helpful ways to hold and litigate power.” 

The After Action Report features a variety of actions the administration recommends pursuing “as we prepare to set the stage for the selection process of a new leader,” according to the document. 

Recommendations include implementing a three-day team-building retreat in August that will allow for more professional development opportunities and building leadership teams; the establishment of a liaison for staff members “to give input and feedback about the district’s decisions”; providing more executive coaching and professional development support for building principals in the district; and facilitating two town hall meetings for the Lincoln community in order “to provide updates on recommendations/actions,” among other suggestions. 

Another important aspect of the After Action plan, and an issue that was brought up repeatedly at the Feb. 26 meeting, was the need for additional resources for Lincoln’s growing student population.

The plan includes a proposal for increased additional personnel at Lincoln, including social workers, psychologists, student support specialists and receptions. The D97 school board approved those staffing recommendations at its meeting on April 21. 

“One area left uncovered in this review process was determining how our hiring processes could be improved,” D97 Supt. Carol Kelley stated in a March 17 board memo on the After Action plan.

“Thus, in addition to the actions outlined above, I have asked our Sr. Director of Human Resources to do a deeper dive into our processes and recommend how we might improve our expectations and guidelines in preparation for our next principal searches.

As Wednesday Journal previously reported, Lincoln has had two permanent principals and one interim principal since 2017, when the D97 school board accepted longtime principal Cathy Hamilton’s retirement. 

Ryan Gordon and Sheila Carter will serve as co-interim principals at Lincoln during the 2020-21 school year, when the search for a permanent superintendent at Lincoln will heat up. Kelley said she anticipates a new Lincoln principal will start on July 1, 2021.

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