The changes keep coming at Riverside Elementary School District 96. Late last week Leslie Berman, the principal of L.J. Hauser Junior High School, cleaned out her office and suddenly stopped coming to work, according to multiple sources.
Around the same time, Blythe Park School Principal Bob Chleboun told his staff that he was resigning his position at the end of the school year.
Berman did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, and Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis refused to confirm or deny that Berman cleaned out her office or that Chleboun gave notice of his resignation.
“I am not able to comment on personnel matters,” Sharma-Lewis said in an email Monday when asked about Berman and Chleboun. “Leslie Berman is not available today.”
But, on Tuesday, Chleboun confirmed in an email to the Landmark that he would be leaving Blythe Park after a decade at the helm of the school.
“With ten wonderful years of working in the greatest school anyone could ask for, I made the decision in the early part of this school year that it was time to explore the next chapter in my career,” Chleboun wrote. “There is no other school I know of that has such great students, staff and community. As I shared many times over the years, Blythe Park is the type of school I would want my own children to attend. I will always treasure the memories.”
Berman was not present Monday night at the regular monthly meeting of the Hauser Parent Teacher Organization, a meeting that Berman almost always attends.
“Leslie has not been in school, and I don’t know why,” Hauser PTO President Audrey Korslund told seven PTO members at the start of the meeting. “She didn’t show up, I believe, one day last week, and something must have happened.”
Korslund asked Hauser Assistant Principal Stacy Westin if she wanted to add anything and Westin said no. Westin added that all comments about the situation would come from the central administration.
School board members weren’t talking either, but a special school board meeting has been called for 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday following an already scheduled finance committee meeting. One item on the agenda is personnel.
Board member David Kodama said that all he knew was that Berman had not been at work for a couple of days. Berman apparently cleaned out her office on Thursday, Jan. 9, and was not at work on Friday or Monday.
Informed sources say that Berman met with Sharma-Lewis last week, but she declined to say whether she had met with Berman last week or whether she has completed performance reviews for Berman or Chleboun.
Berman received mixed reviews from parents whose children attend Hauser. Some parents viewed Berman as a talented and caring principal.
“I would be sorry to see her go,” said Hauser parent Darcy Lewis, who credits Berman with implementing the change at Hauser from a junior high school model to a middle school model. “She sees early adolescence as inherently interesting.”
But other parents found dealing with Berman frustrating, saying she was a poor communicator and was disorganized. Some complained that Berman wasn’t in the building often enough, especially last year.
Dissatisfaction by Hauser parents became apparent during the school board election campaign in 2013. Some felt that not enough attention was paid to academics, derisively referring to the school as the Hauser School for the Performing Arts.
Chleboun, who will be on the job for the remainder of the school year, is widely liked by Blythe Park parents.
“I feel he has been very fair. I feel that he has moved our school forward with the curriculum,” said Sharon Linhart, the mother of a Blythe Park fifth-grader. “He has worked nicely with parents. I know if there have ever been issues, he has responded quickly. I’ve found him to be an all-around great educator. I’ve really enjoyed him.”
But Chleboun and Sharma-Lewis never appeared to mesh. Their relationship got off to a rocky start this summer over filling a teaching vacancy at Blythe Park.
Then, sources say, Chleboun refused to participate in the selection of another choice to fill the vacancy. As a result, no fourth-grade teacher was in place at Blythe Park on the first day of school, and Sharma-Lewis filled in as the teacher on that day.