What do parents in Riverside Elementary School District 96 want in their next superintendent?

Someone very different than the current superintendent, said parents Monday night at a public forum held by the district’s search firm.

Only about 20 people attended the forum held in the Hauser Junior High School auditorium, but those who came and spoke almost uniformly expressed their dissatisfaction with the current leadership of District 96.

The dominant theme of the comments was that the current administration, led by Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson, is dismissive toward parents and unwilling to work to fulfill the needs of children who are not ordinary.

Although Lamberson’s name was not mentioned at the meeting, many comments seemed to be about him and the tone set by administrators in the district.

“There is a subtle hostility on the part of administration to the parents,” said one participant at the meeting.

Many in the crowd laughed at the word subtle, indicating that they didn’t believe that subtlety was the problem.

“The schools are operated for the administrators and the teachers, and the parents are treated as witless interlopers,” said the outspoken and often controversial Chris Robling, the parent of a Hauser student. “There are two dominant perceptions: We pay a lot and we get treated poorly.”

John Plepel, who recently moved into District 96 from Forest Park, complained that he did not know which school his child would attend until five days before school started.

“There isn’t a lot of transparency of process,” Plepel said. “I don’t want to be too accusatory, but it seems like it’s deliberate.”

Lamberson’s salary, which will be more than $300,000 this year in the final year of his contract, has been a sore subject for many in the district ever since his contract was signed in 2009.

His salary was brought up at the forum.

“Every child should have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for the amount that man makes,” said Diane Morairty. “It’s immoral; it’s appalling.”

Parents wanted assurances that the new superintendent would be paid less than what Lamberson is making.

The school board is aware of the concerns, and the new superintendent is expected to make less, said consultants from the search firm of Hazard, Young and Attea, which has been hired by the District 96 school board to conduct the search.

Jim Raffensperger, a Riverside resident, said that under Lamberson parent advisory committees are formed but their findings are often ignored by the administration. He wanted assurances that things would be different under the next superintendent.

Summing up what he was hearing, HYA consultant Hank Gmitro suggested that the crowd was looking for leadership that is more customer-friendly and service-oriented.

Those at the forum also expressed concerns about aspects of the academic program in District 96. They criticized the gifted program for starting too late and being too difficult to get into.

Meanwhile, some parents said that academics in District 96 were not rigorous enough.

Jane Archer said she would like to see foreign language instruction starting in the first grade, more writing in the curriculum, fewer multiple choice tests, instruction in computer programming, more male teachers and healthier lunches.

“I don’t think they are being challenged as much as they could be,” Archer said.

Moriarty, who moved from Oak Park to Riverside a year ago, said her son was a year ahead of his classmates in most subjects when he arrived for seventh grade at Hauser.

She said she thought there was too much coddling of students at Hauser.

“If you look at who made the honor roll, it is like the entire seventh grade class,” Morairty said.

Gmitro, one of the two consultants from Hazard, Young, Attea attending the meeting, said that he appreciated the frank feedback.

“I thought it was great,” Gmitro said. “People were very invested and shared their thoughts honestly.”

Some at the forum admitted that the views expressed at the forum might not be representative of the entire district.

“I don’t think this room is representative of the parents in the community,” Archer said. “I think the majority of parents are quite satisfied.”

Those still wishing to offer input to the consultants have until Friday to fill out a survey on the District 96 website, www.district96.org.

The search firm will begin recruiting candidates in October, and the school board plans to interview candidates in November and pick a new superintendent prior to the Christmas break.