A veteran English teacher who was warned about his behavior last year has resigned from Lyons Township High School, blasting the school’s new grading policies on his way out.
Tom Stukel, who has taught at LTHS for 17 years and has been a teacher for 24 years, published his four-page resignation letter in the LaGrange Patch, an online news publication.
“Based on my 24 years of experience as a high school teacher, it is my opinion that it is immoral to teach the way LT teachers are being asked to work,” Stukel wrote in his letter of resignation.
Stukel criticized the school’s grading policies, which were implemented last year and have generated much criticism this year. Under the new policies, which are designed to promote equity, homework is not graded nor counted toward a final grade.
“Because of this, an average of 50 percent of my sophomores this year consistently did not do their homework, and 80 percent of my seniors consistently did not do their homework,” Stukel wrote. “These students know they will not be marked down, so they don’t think it is important enough to do, even though this work in class and at home is an essential part of the learning process.”
The theory behind the new grading system is that summative assessments — tests designed to measure whether a student has learned the assigned material — should be the only factor that determines a grade, and that it doesn’t matter when a student learns the material — just that the students does. Students are allowed retakes of tests and are not penalized for turning in work late.
Stukel claims that the new grading system doesn’t work, although he says he agrees with some of the theory behind it.
“The administration is ignorant of the day-to-day happenings in the classrooms,” Stukel wrote. “It’s a flawed system based on theory instead of facts/data, and it is hurting the students, creating apathy and idle minds.”
Last year, Stukel received a notice of remedy, a form of probation, which was approved unanimously by the school board on June 21, 2021 and ordered him to change his behavior or risk losing his job.
In a letter last year to Stukel, which the Landmark obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, former LTHS Superintendent Tim Kilrea stated Stukel had behaved in an unprofessional manner and created a hostile learning environment in his classroom.
“You have used unprofessional, hostile and confrontational language and tone in communications with students, staff and parents in both oral and written settings,” Kilrea wrote. “This includes providing feedback to students that is demeaning in nature, including using the word term ‘worthless’ when describing the quality of students’ writing.”
Kilrea also told Stukel that he had not followed district guidelines regarding allowing retakes of summative assessments, student use of cameras during the remote learning and student attendance.
Kilrea also accused Stukel of engaging in political discussions in class which were unrelated to the class material.
“These conversations include discussions that are perceived as one-sided political discussions, with students reporting that they do not feel comfortable sharing their opinions if they differ from yours out of fear of how you will react,” Kilrea wrote.
Conservatives have championed Stukel. In the Patch article about Stukel’s resignation former state representative and defeated candidate for governor and Congress Jeanie Ives, a staunch conservative, praised Stukel for publishing his resignation letter and for caring about teaching. Conservatives have vocally opposed many policies at LTHS this year.
Kilrea also accused Stukel of not being honest with the district’s director of human resources when discussing a need for a remote accommodation in 2021.
In his resignation letter Stukel claimed that his probation was due to his outspoken opposition to the new grading policies.
“I tried to fight for what I thought was right,” Stukel wrote. “My fight got me a ‘notice of remedy’ (probation) from the administration. I have spoken out against these policies to parents and administration over the years.”
Stukel ended his resignation letter, which the Landmark also obtained via FOIA, with a vehement appeal to parents to get involved.
“Be aware and be proactive to what is happening at your school and your students’ classrooms,” he wrote. “Quality change will not come from the administration, the board, or even the teachers. The teachers here at LT are wonderful, caring people, but they don’t have a strong enough communal voice to fight against lame policy.”
Stukel did not respond to an email request for an interview from the Landmark.
Top LTHS administrators didn’t have much to say about Stukel’s resignation or his criticisms.
“The district has a Grading Implementation Committee made up of teachers and administrators who have been monitoring feedback and working to make improvements since LT began to explore changes to our grading practices during the 2017-18 school year,” said LTHS Community Relations Coordinator Jennifer Bialobok in an email. “More information about the district’s grading practices can be found on the district website.”