District 113 losing two principals, superintendent

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District 113 losing two principals, superintendent

Courtesy Highland Park Patch

Courtesy Highland Park Patch

Courtesy Highland Park Patch

Courtesy Highland Park Patch

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This coming school year, District 113 will lose DHS Principal Audris Griffith and Supertinendent George Fornero, vacating three of its top administrative positions after the departure of former HPHS Principal Brad Swanson this past June. This leaves multiple openings for top administrative positions in District 113. Swanson’s position is currently held by Interim Principal Tom Koulentes.

Principal Audris Griffith announced her retirement from DHS this year, coinciding with that of Superintendent George Fornero; with the planned retirement of Andrea Gratz, the Director of Student Support Services, District 113 will lose over 40 percent of its district leadership.

The District 113 Board of Education is searching for superintendent candidates to replace Fornero and planning to announce his successor in January. The new superintendent will then hire replacements for the remaining vacant positions, including the new DHS principal, by early March. The board hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, a firm that specializes in finding educational leadership positions, to aid in the superintendent search. The firm will be paid $57,200 plus reimbursable expenses for their services, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates held a public forum event at DHS on Tuesday, Oct. 14 to collect input from the community and speak with educational organizations within the district. They held another forum at HPHS the following day. Marty Esgar is a DHS biology teacher and president of the District 113 Education Association (DEA), an association representing certified teachers in District 113, a non-unionized district.

“With any of these positions the number one criterion has to be focusing their attention on what’s best for students and teachers in the classroom,” Esgar said. “That’s where the magic happens or doesn’t happen . . . We’d like to see somebody that respects our culture, doesn’t try to come in and institute something new.”

During the year, the district decides how many teachers to keep on staff. Last spring, the initial Full Time Teacher (FTE) slashes led to uproar among teachers and the community.

“Every year they have to adjust FTE because our enrollment fluctuates every year,” Esgar said. “Last year our enrollment dipped a little, but the cuts were much deeper than the dip would have allowed for. That goes totally counter to our District 113 philosophy. Had those cuts gone through, class sizes would have gone up, larger courses would have been cut.”

The DEA, along with other groups, led an initiative against the proposed cuts. As a result, the school board dropped their initial FTE offer. Fornero does not consider the FTE incident to be a factor in his departure. He cites the “uncertainty with the Illinois pension funds” as the reason for leaving. According the to the Chicago Tribune, Fornero will leave two years before the end of his contract.

“We were tied up because of the tax cap,” Fornero said. “We tried to fix that by increasing class size and losing some teachers. That was a mistake. If I look back to last spring, I would never do it again. If you reduce staff, you reduce expenditures. I’m disappointed in myself. We thought that was the way to go. It created turmoil and a lot of anxiety.”

Griffith also doesn’t cite the FTE trouble as the catalyst for her leaving. Griffith said she is leaving to help her aging parents in Austin. She hopes her retirement will allow her to refocus her energy on raising her horse and reopening her clay studio. Griffith expects the district to recover from its recent troubles and staffing losses.

“I have such faith and belief in this school,” Griffith said. “It will sail forward. It’s a privilege to be principal in this high school. I have full faith that the search will yield an excellent principal to succeed me.”

The proposed candidates for superintendent are currently anonymous. The nationwide search continues, but the future of District 113 remains uncertain. The search could be complicated by the retirement of Glenbrook North High School Principal Dr. Paul Pryma in nearby District 225. In addition to all of these openings, three of the four board members are not seeking reelection. It remains to be seen how District 113 will adapt to these major leadership changes next year.

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