Mary Polk, director of special education at Riverside Elementary School District 96, resigned her position, effective at the end of December. Polk’s resignation was unanimously approved at a special school board meeting Tuesday night.
She has been on paid leave since Sept. 24 and the resignation was the culmination of negotiations between the district and Polk since then.
Polk, whose salary this year was $128,685, did not receive a buyout, but the district did agree to pay her health insurance premiums until June 30, 2015. That will cost the district around $33,000.
Her employment will officially end on Dec. 31, 2013 and she will only be paid her salary through that date, according to the resignation agreement approved Tuesday night. Polk will be paid for 13 unused vacation days and one personal day. The agreement states that the district will provide a neutral letter of reference for Polk if asked. In the agreement Polk consented not to sue the district or make any further claims on the district.
The agreement prohibits both parties in the agreement from making disparaging statements about the other.
D96 Supt. Bhavna Sharma-Lewis informed district staff and parents of Polk’s resignation in an email.
“Dr. Mary Polk resigned her position as the director of special education,” Sharma-Lewis said in the email. “We thank Dr. Polk for her eight years of service to District 96 students, staff and community and wish her well in her future endeavors. Mrs. Peggy King and Ms. Pat Folland will continue to serve in their roles as the district’s interim special ed directors for the remainder of the school year.”
Polk, who grew up in Riverside and attended Central School and L.J. Hauser Junior High School, began her career as a special education teacher in 1981 and came to D96 in 2006 after working at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Polk is believed to be eligible for retirement.
Many parents had complained about special education in D96 for years.
Some of the reasons for their dissatisfaction were made apparent Tuesday night when interim directors of special education Folland and King presented a report to the school board.
They told the board of numerous weaknesses in the district’s special education program, including a lack of processes, policies and procedures, the abnormally high number of special educations placed in out-of-district schools, the over-identification of special education students, a very high number of paraprofessional aides, the lack of options and space for a continuum of services, and community relationships and overall communication.
“Many staff members knew what they were supposed to do; the question is why weren’t they supported?” Folland said.
Many parents of students in special education reportedly thought Polk meant well but say she was not a good administrator and was a poor communicator.
Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for special education students were not always created in a timely manner.
Mary Lang Judy, a parent who is active in Riverside Area Inclusion Network, a group of special education parents, said all the problems in special education in D96 are not Polk’s fault.
“I love that woman and appreciate everything that’s she’s done for my son personally,” said an emotional Lang Judy on Wednesday. “She took the school so far. I think she did the best she could do with the resources she was allowed. I think she would have done things very differently if she was in charge, but she was governed by a lot of different people who weren’t necessarily backing or supporting her plan. She did everything she could for the kids. She was always very protective of every student she worked with, but her hands were tied by budget constraints imposed by boards and superintendents and agendas. It was a very political position she was in.”