PEORIA -- A special April 30 meeting of the Peoria District 150 School Board featured an unusual program: two public hearings for long time administrators, Gloria Cox and Kevin Curtin, who have been demoted to lesser jobs.
Their supporters filled the former Woodruff High School commons, whose walls still are filled with trophies and other reminders of the former school. (After being closed to students for a year it was reopened as the Woodruff Technical Center.)
Two lawyers for the administration read similar statements detailing the various failings of the administrators, failings which one of their lawyers called "glittering generalities."
Cox, an assistant principal at Manual Academy, was accused of failing to foster student achievement, even though test scores of the 7th and 8th graders rose under her tenure.
Her lawyer Jim Baker said she has always received positive evaluations. "Good employees do not become bad employees overnight."
The "administration's exhibits were skimpy and embiguous. If her conduct was as serious as the administration claims, there would have been documentation on her shortcomings," he said. There were no dates, no people referred to by name, and letters from six teachers working with her testifying to her leadership skills, he said. "There no evidence from teachers and administrators on her shortcomings."
Curtin's attorney Richard Steagall said he interviewed former administrator Michelle Ungurait under oath, who was brought to District 150 by Supt. Grenita Lathan, then fired before the school year ended. He said Ungurait met with the School Board beore she left and predicted what would happen, as these administrators were targeted by Lathan. Curtin "was set up to be fired."
(UPDATE: 5/1/12. Here is the sworn statement by Ungurait, thanks to the Emerge blog. It's a highly shocking document.)
They both would have been fired last year but the paperwork was not done in time, he said. He added that "this is a court of execution," but asked the board not to "rubber stamp: what the administration wants.
Curtin "was a star," he said. "All of a sudden that changed."
A board attorney accused Irving School principal Curtin of dishonesty for turning in paperwork "that falsified teacher evaluation logs." Principals are supposed to spend two hours daily in classrooms observing and assisting teachers.
He apparently turned in logs from his work as principal at a previous school, Garfield.
Curtin addressed the board and said the pressure of his work with new materials, a new school, new staff and new parents caused the situation.
Instead of refuting the charges, he appealed to the board to consider his family and his long dedication to the children and parents of the district. "I have stood tall and proud in the most challenging schools in this district," and "turned Garfield around. I've been threatened by families" of some children. He received a standing ovation.
My take: without seeing all the evidence and knowing these two administrators, it's hard to determine what should happen, but what their lawyers said was compelling.
It seems that the Lathan administration is targeting strong and well liked administrators who have many contacts in the community. Why? To get rid of dissidents? Potential rivals? It makes little sense.
It no doubt harms morale and intimidates others, likely leading to early retirements and resignations as they flee to more friendly workplaces. That can't be good for the students, to lose experienced administrators.
The public comments included two people who praised Lathan in what appeared to be set up statements, and others who expressed support for the administrators. One said of the school atmosphere, "everything you do is scrutinized. You don't know who to trust. It's not right.These people have given their lives to this district., The evaluation is subjective."
The board adjourned to closed session to deliberate, but could wait 15 days before making a decision.
The public comments are posted here.
-- Elaine Hopkins