In a close vote by a vacation-diminished school board, Oak Park and River Forest High School did Joylynn Pruitt-Adams the favor of turning down a plan by the new administration to keep her on the payroll as a consultant for the next school year.
I’ve been writing what are effectively mash notes to Pruitt-Adams since I first watched her capture a room during a “listening tour” six years ago while she was still the school’s interim superintendent.
When she announced last fall she was retiring this June with a year left on her contract I was disappointed. So much left to do. So many compelling initiatives teed up ready to be executed.
But I respected her decision, knowing it has been hard to be in Chicago while the rest of her family is at home in St. Louis. Made harder, I’m sure, when her husband ended his own Oak Park-based retirement to take a job in policing in the St. Louis area.
My disappointment lessened in April when Oak Park and River Forest voters elected/reelected school board members fully aligned with the equity projects the board had worked with Pruitt-Adams to undertake. And when the departing board announced their national search for a new superintendent had ended in the selection of Pruitt-Adams’ longtime assistant superintendent, Greg Johnson, my worries fully subsided.
Johnson has since gone on to make a series of very strong hires to remake and round out his administrative team.
That’s why I shook my head so hard when the agenda arrived for last Thursday night’s OPRF school board meeting and it included a vote on a consulting contract with Pruitt-Adams.
It landed on me with a clang. A tone-deafness that undermined my confidence in Johnson and, likely I anticipated, in this board.
Pruitt-Adams chose to depart, to shave a year from her contract, to leave with the multiple pensions in place, to set up her successor for success. It ought to have been enough.
Thankfully, three of the five school board members at the meeting last week agreed that putting Pruitt-Adams on a consulting contract to, as the document stated, mentor Johnson, to mentor the newly promoted assistant superintendent/principal Lynda Parker and newly promoted assistant superintendent Laurie Fiorenza, was unnecessary. The language in the contract that said Pruitt-Adams would help the new team in “navigating politically-charged community issues,” was not a backhanded compliment to Johnson or his new A Team.
Fred Arkin, newly returned to the school board, said it well. Effusive in praising Pruitt-Adams, he said, “We have to move on from the Dr. Pruitt-Adams era to the Greg Johnson era.” Arkin also correctly raised concerns the community might rightly have over the district adding to its administrative costs at a time many feel OPRF has become lopsided in administration.
If the vote had been held another night, a night when the full complement of school board members was present, maybe this contract would have been approved. I’m certain the three members who nixed this deal did Johnson a favor and steadied the deserved reputation Pruitt-Adams takes with her back to Missouri.
Would also hope that on a September afternoon when Greg Johnson is sitting in that handsome and spacious superintendent’s office on Scoville Avenue wrestling with a challenge, that he’d feel perfectly fine putting in a call to his friend and confidant Joylynn Pruitt-Adams.
I’m assuming she’d gladly take that call and not be on the clock.