Tara Kristoff, the principal at Lincoln School in Brookfield, is not the only principal whose future in Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 is uncertain.
Kristoff has been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 14, charged with insubordination for not following directives to cover certain topics at a staff meeting held on Feb. 13.
“All I would say to you is that she didn’t follow some directives,” said Co-interim Superintendent Patrick Patt.
Kristoff is also accused of making derogatory and false statements about the co-interim superintendents to staff.
Now, veteran Robinson School Principal Al Molina’s future is also in grave doubt after teachers voted no confidence in Molina last month. Reportedly 26 of the 27 staff members who attended the meeting voted no confidence in Molina, said District 103 teachers’ union president Toni Jackman.
The other staff member did not vote, Jackman said. The union informed the school board of the no-confidence vote on Feb. 14, the same day that Kristoff was placed on leave.
Jackman publicly revealed the no-confidence vote at the Feb. 25 meeting of the District 103 school board. About 70 District 103 teachers attended the meeting, all of them standing in a show of support for Jackman while she made her statement to the board.
“The reason I stand before you tonight, and why all the teachers standing before you do so tonight, is to support of the 100 percent vote of no confidence in the Robinson School principal,” Jackman told the board.
Jackman declined to go into details about the reasons for the no-confidence vote.
“I can’t talk about personnel issues,” Jackman said after the meeting. “I made a statement and that’s all I’m going to say.”
Kristoff and Molina, both accompanied by the same lawyer from the Illinois Principals Association, met separately with the school board in closed session Feb. 25. Kristoff remains on paid leave and Molina remains on the job, for now.
Their futures will be likely be determined this month. All principals in District 103 have one-year contracts, and the board typically votes on contracts for the next year in March.
School board President Marge Hubacek said she didn’t want to speculate on what will happen with Molina.
“There are a lot of scenarios that can happen,” Hubacek said. “He could be back at his position, he could be somewhere else, nothing could happen, he could decide to leave us. The board has to really think about this.”
Hubacek, who worked for the district for 33 years before winning a seat on the school board in 2017, said this is the first vote of no confidence in a principal in District 103 that she has ever heard of.
Teachers at Lincoln School also apparently had issues with Kristoff, who is in her first year as a principal and her first year with District 103.
Jackman made a reference to the situation with Kristoff during her public statement at the school board meeting.
“In addition, we stand here before you in support of our brothers and sisters at Lincoln School, who are also struggling with their building principal,” Jackman said. “I appreciate any support the Board of Education can provide to the employees, and thus the students, at both Lincoln and Robinson schools.”
Board members weren’t saying much after the meeting, but board member Shannon Johnson, herself a teacher in another school district, said that the vote of no confidence was telling.
“Teachers don’t do that lightly,” Johnson said. “That’s a big thing.”
Some Robinson school parents are supporting Molina, who has been the principal at Robinson School, which is located in Lyons, for 14 years and taught in District 103 for six years prior to becoming principal.
Martha Gonzalez presented the board with petition signed by about 35 people supporting Molina and made a public comment at the school board meeting in support of him.
Molina said he believes Jackman was behind the no-confidence vote. Molina and Jackman taught together at George Washington Middle School in Molina’s early years at the district and have had a difficult relationship.
“Sadly, I believe this is personal attack to discredit me,” Molina said. “I’m very sad to say that I feel this is vindictive. My evaluations have always been good, with my last three being excellent, so I am confused.”
Jackman said that the no-confidence vote in Molina was not lightly taken.
“Teachers do not do things in any easy fashion when it impacts students in any way,” Jackman said. “It’s not ever something that’s done easily or without great thought.”
A call to the lawyer for Kristoff and Molina was not returned.
Parents of Lincoln School students were not told that Kristoff had been placed on administrative until 11 days after she was escorted out of Lincoln School on Feb. 14. For more than a week, when parent Jennifer Myslinski called the school and asked to talk to Kristoff she was told that Kristoff was not available and transferred to her voice mail.
“Nobody told me for a week and a half that there was substitute principal,” Myslinski told the Landmark. “It’s affecting my child dramatically. He doesn’t want to go to school anymore.”
Myslinski made her displeasure known by making a statement during the public comment portion of the Feb. 25 school board meeting.
“I had to find out she was on leave from the newspaper,” Myslinski said. “Shame on the two interims for their lack of communication or respect for us parents and the students of Lincoln School. … Try putting students first and not your ego.”
Parents were not officially notified that Kristoff had been placed on leave until an email was sent out on the morning of Feb. 25. That same day the district posted a statement on the its website saying that the co-interim superintendents profusely apologized for the delay in notifying parents that Kristoff had been placed on leave but noted that personnel matters are sensitive.
Kristoff being placed on administrative leave was first reported by the Desplaines Valley News newspaper which obtained a copy of the letter of the letter to Kristoff informing her that she was being placed on leave.
The Desplaines Valley news is owned by a company whose officers include Bridgeview Mayor and state Sen. Steve Landek, a political ally of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty.
Getty backed slates of candidates for the District 103 school board in the both 2015 and 2017. Two candidates backed by Getty back in 2015 are running for re-election in April.
“We were trying to keep it confidential until somebody leaked a letter to the Desplaines Valley News,” Patt said.
The news of Kristoff being placed on leave is likely to cost the district money, Patt said.
“That letter being in the Desplaines Valley News really has screwed a lot of things up, cost-wise,” Patt said.
Former Costello School Principal Andrea Maslan, who has working for the district part time as a curriculum specialist since 2017, is now serving as the acting principal of Lincoln School.
On Feb. 25, the school board voted 4 to 2 to amend Maslan’s contract with the district to allow her to work 120 days this school year up from the 100 days that had been previously approved. Maslan is paid $500 a day.