By Bob Skolnik
For a second consecutive year, Congress Park School in Brookfield will have a new principal in the fall. On May 3, the District 102 Board of Education voted unanimously to hire James Robinette, replacing Claudia Jimenez, who was hired less than a year ago.
Robinette is currently principal of a dual-language K-8 school in Rockford called the Barbour Two-Way Language Immersion School.
Jimenez submitted her resignation in March. She reportedly had a rocky year at Congress Park, and never developed good relationships with parents and teachers.
According to one parent, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, discontent with Jimenez was evident as early as last fall, and parents began expressing their concerns to district administrators.
In January, more than 40 Congress Park School parents attended a LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 school board meeting to quietly but visibly register their concerns about Jimenez. The school board discussed Jimenez and the concerns that parents and teachers had about her in closed session at that meeting.
One Congress Park parent made a cryptic comment about the situation during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
"There are over 40 parents from Congress Park here tonight in support of the matter that was discussed earlier in closed session," said Congress Park parent Kirsten Manthei.
Jimenez did not respond to a request for comment about her resignation.
District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher said that he didn't know if Jimenez had a new job lined up.
"She decided that she wanted to do something else," Schumacher said when asked whether Jimenez was pressured to resign.
Schumacher said that he couldn't enumerate the number of complaints that he received about Jimenez.
"I don't know that I could quantify that as far as just overall," Schumacher said. "I think that there are always conversations that people have with things that they appreciate about their administrators and things that they don't."
Schumacher did not deny that Jimenez's job performance was discussed by the school board during closed session.
"We have discussions on all our administrators in closed sessions over the course of the springtime," Schumacher said.
The superintendent said being a principal is not an easy job and that demand on both teachers and administrators have grown during the past decade or so. It's not always easy to find a good fit and, as a result, principals come and go more often these days.
"There's a lot of factors that are involved in finding both the best fit for us and the best fit for somebody who is a who is applying for a position," Schumacher said. "Unfortunately it's not as uncommon to see more movement occurring within particularly principal ranks, where probably the average tenure is about three years now."
Robinette, 41, is a resident of Lombard and has worked in education for nine years. Before going into education, he worked as a personal trainer, sous chef and restaurant manager.
He grew up in southern New Jersey and came to Chicago to work as a sous chef for the TV show "Early Edition." Robinette managed a number of restaurants, including the Weber Grill restaurant in Lombard, California Pizza Kitchen restaurants in the Oakbrook Center shopping mall and in Schaumburg, and a Dave & Buster's restaurant in downtown Chicago.
After doing restaurant work for more than a decade, he decided to change careers and began taking classes at Northeastern Illinois University while still working full time as a restaurant manager.
"I met my wife and we decided to have a family, and I thought I couldn't be a successful family man in the restaurant industry," said Robinette, who now has four children.
Robinette earned his bachelor's degree in education from Northeastern in 2009 and was hired to teach middle school language arts at Rhodes School in River Grove. He has earned two masters degrees, one in educational leadership from Northeastern and one in curriculum and instruction with an endorsement in English as a Second Language from Concordia University.
He is completing his third year as the principal at Barbour Two-Way Language Immersion School. His experience in a dual-language program will come in handy at Congress Park.
Congress Park during the 2017-18 school year began a dual-language program in kindergarten that will be expanded each year by one grade.
"Bringing people together, relationship building, was something very evident in his current work," Schumacher said.
Robinette was selected from a field of 45 candidates and five finalists, Schumacher said. His starting salary will be $109,000. Jimenez earned $118,000 for the 2017-18 school year.