At some point, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, the District 96 Board of Education and the administrators it has hired will begin pulling on the same end of the rope.
The resignations of two board members last week is the latest upheaval in a series of events dating back to late 2012. For almost two years, the district has been in a state of unease and uncertainty, which has rippled down from the board through the administration to principals, teachers and parents.
There needs to be resolution and a determined effort to refocus the energies of all involved toward the purpose for which the whole institution exists — educating children.
Before that can occur, however, a few things need to happen:
The school board is in the position of having to appoint two new members. It’s truly a shame that David Kodama and Lisa Gaynor chose to resign. Both had the best interests of the district in mind and were serious about their roles.
Whoever is appointed to the board will be there only for a short time — both positions will be up for re-election in the spring — but it’s critical that the people chosen are serious, flexible and without axes to grind.
Talk amongst the board about the superintendent’s future with the district should be off the table for at least the rest of the 2014-15 school year and ideally through the end of her contract with the district.
The board hired Bhavna Sharma-Lewis during a period of internal turmoil and the hope was that she would help bring stability to the district. Some of her actions, particularly with regard to school principals — there is not one principal in District 96 who was a principal in the district prior to July 1, 2013 — rubbed many people the wrong way and fed the sense of instability.
But the board has allowed Sharma-Lewis to build an administrative team of her own, and she deserves a chance to allow that team to work together. By the same token, Sharma-Lewis needs to understand that the board will necessarily have questions about the way she is performing her job. They may even have suggestions.
However, the board has largely allowed Sharma-Lewis to make whatever administrative and other changes she has sought. The administrative team in place now dwarfs the one that was in place a little more than a year ago. The board could have stood in Sharma-Lewis’ way. It didn’t.
Finally, the board needs to resolve whatever issues it has with respect to former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.
This may be the most important hurdle for the board to clear. The instability that began undermining the district and the public’s confidence in the board had its origins in Lamberson’s tenure.
If the board has unresolved questions regarding Lamberson’s compensation, it needs to get moving on resolving those issues and putting an end to them. They are an albatross that the board doesn’t need. However, those questions are serious and should not be ignored in order to focus on the future.
They should also serve as a reminder to board members that superintendents are employees of the board and require adequate, but not suffocating, oversight.