By Bob Skolnik
Despite being greeted with signs, hoots and jeers when they arrived for last week's school board meeting, the majority faction of the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education pushed through the hiring of former its superintendent, Carol Baker, as the next principal of George Washington Middle School.
Baker, who served as superintendent from 2016 until 2018, will also serve as an assistant superintendent for the district.
Gwendolyn Murphy of Stickney, the mother of a GWMS seventh-grader, was one of about 40 people in the GWMS parking lot to protest Baker's hire and layoffs on health and instructional aides.
"I don't want the school to rule with intimidation which she is known to do, and I don't think she can do the job," said Murphy of Baker.
But at the school board meeting, at which parents were not allowed to attend because of capacity limits due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school board voted 4 to 3 to hire Baker. The majority of board President Jorge Torres, Vito Campanile, Olivia Quintero, and Winifred Rodriguez voted to hire Baker. The opposition bloc of Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek, and Shannon Johnson voted against.
"I believe that the assistant superintendent job is a made-up job," Hubacek said. "And I think our kids and our staff over there deserve much better. I don't see her being a full-time principal."
Baker brushed off the comments about her past tenure in the district and about her personally as "politics."
Baker was given a two-year contract and will be paid $129,000 in her first year, a steep decrease from the more than $170,000 she earned this year as the assistant superintendent for academics at Hinsdale High School District 86.
Earlier this year, the District 86 school board voted unanimously not to renew Baker's contract after her proposal to change to the science curriculum at Hinsdale Central High School, which was met with harsh criticism from some parents. The superintendent who had hired Baker also left the district, weakening Baker's position.
The minority got one concession. Baker's contract will be written to make clear that vacation days are accrued throughout the year rather than awarded at the beginning of the contract year.
Last August, the school board voted 4-3 to pay Baker about $10,700 for unused vacation time from her time in District 103 after she claimed she was entitled to all of her vacation days for the 2018-19 fiscal year, despite working for District 103 for just one month of that fiscal year.
Johnson said that she had nothing against Baker personally but said that Baker, who has never been a principal before and, except for her two years at District 103, has spent her entire career at the high school level, was not a good fit for the GWMS job.
"Her experience is in science," Johnson said at the meeting. "If we were hiring a science curriculum director, I'm not giving you any ideas, she'd be a good fit. If we were hiring a curriculum director for a high school, she would be a good fit."
After the meeting Johnson was even more explicit.
"She does not belong in an elementary school district," Johnson said.
During the meeting District 103 Superintendent Kristopher Rivera said that Baker could focus on her assistant superintendent duties during the summer. He said Baker's experience in grant writing would be particularly helpful to the district.
He also said he was not concerned about any awkwardness resulting from having a previous superintendent of the district work under him.
"I am not prideful," said Rivera noting that he has a collaborative leadership style.
"My job is as a facilitator, bring out the strengths. ... I think she'll shine and contribute with the knowledge and experience she has had."