By Bob Skolnik
On March 11 at a Committee of the Whole meeting, a closely divided Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 board voted 4 to 3 to accept a resignation agreement with Lincoln School principal Tara Kristoff and also voted 4 to 3 to not to renew the contract of veteran Robinson School principal Al Molina and to reclassify him as a teacher.
An audience of more than 100 people, many of them teachers in the district along with about 20 parents and students there to support Molina, packed the cafeteria at George Washington Middle School.
Longtime board member Joanne Schaeffer joined regular "no" votes Jorge Torres and Michael Bennett in voting against getting rid of the two principals, who both had difficult relationships with the teachers at their schools.
Bennett added a comment after his vote.
"No, and I think we have to approve an apology," Bennett said as he voted against approving the resignation agreement with Kristoff.
Bennett and Torres boycotted the roughly 30-minute closed session held before the vote.
Schaeffer declined to comment about her votes immediately after the meeting, saying that she had to attend to a medical emergency in her family.
Voting to terminate the two principals were board members Sharon Anderson, Shannon Johnson, Tom Weiner and board President Marge Hubacek.
Kristoff has been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 14 after being accused of insubordination. She is the third Lincoln School principal to resign in three years. Kristoff's resignation is effective immediately.
Co-interim Superintendent Patrick Patt declined to reveal any details about the resignation agreement, saying that the Landmark would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get the details.
The vote to not renew Molina's contract was preceded by an extended period of public comment that mostly concerned Molina.
On Feb. 25 teachers' union president Toni Jackman told the board that there had been an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Molina by the staff at Robinson School which is located in Lyons.
Monday night Geoff Needleman, a speech pathologist at Robinson, addressed the board during the public comment period. He thanked Patt, who had the primary responsibility for supervising Molina this year, for listening to the concerns of teachers.
"This year you have helped alleviate our fears as a staff, fears that we have had for many, many years," Needleman said. "For the first time we feel that our teachers are respected, our voices are heard, and most importantly we feel that our students are safe."
When Needleman spoke, what appeared to be more than 50 teachers stood in support of his statement.
Molina also addressed the school board during the public comment portion of the meeting. Without mentioning her by name, Molina clearly accused Jackman of orchestrating the effort to oust him.
"She came here to assassinate my character, to destroy my character, destroy my career and hurt my family," Molina said.
Molina and Jackman were once colleagues as teachers at George Washington Middle School.
He further accused Jackman of sending an email full of charges against him to all District 103 teachers on their private email accounts and submitting a detailed memo full of charges against him to the school board.
Jackman declined to comment when asked about the email that she allegedly sent to teachers about Molina.
"There's no proof," Molina said. "No one has never come forward and written me up for this or that or written me up for these allegations."
Four current or former Robinson School parents spoke in favor of Molina during the public comment portion of the meeting while about 20 parents and students stood in support of Molina. One former Robinson parent who spoke was critical of Molina.
Molina taught in the district for six years before becoming the principal at Robinson 14 years ago. As a result, Molina has tenure and has the right to return to the district next year as a teacher if he so chooses, although he will likely seek a principal's job elsewhere.
"We'll find a place for him," Hubacek said. "He'll have to decide what's best for him and his family."
Johnson said that her vote to not renew Molina's contract as principal was based on his treatment of his staff at Robinson.
"There was never any concern about student safety," Johnson said. "It had to do with the treatment of teachers and staff."
Jackman said that she was happy with the board's actions.
"Teachers were listened to," Jackman said. "It's a nice thing to happen."
This story has been changed to correct a quote by District 103 school board member Shannon Johnson. The correct quote is: "There was never any concern about student safety," Johnson said. "It had to do with the treatment of teachers and staff."