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Edison School Community Reeling After LSC Fires Principal

By Patty Wetli | January 26, 2016 9:16am
 Edison's faculty spoke in support of renewing Principal Donna Oberhardt's contract.
Edison's faculty spoke in support of renewing Principal Donna Oberhardt's contract.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

ALBANY PARK — For nearly two hours Monday night, staff and parents at Edison Regional Gifted Center stood before the Local School Council and voiced their support for Principal Donna Oberhardt. But in a vote that took less than a minute, the LSC, by a seven to three margin, opted not to renew Oberhardt's contract.

"It's devastating. To do this is unconscionable," said Edison teacher Deni Drinkwater, expressing the dismay of the majority of the nearly 200 people in attendance at Monday's LSC meeting.

Speakers had lauded Oberhardt's track record at the top-rated school, and pointed to chaos within CPS and the need for an experienced hand at the helm as cause for retention.

Oberhardt and members of the LSC declined to comment.

Oberhardt has been principal at Edison, 4929 N. Sawyer Ave., since 2012, having previously served as the school's assistant principal.

"She was the reason we chose Edison," said Jesse Milton, who has two children enrolled at the school.

"This was completely unexpected," he said. "I didn't know there was an issue. It shocks me. That this was even remotely a possibility ... I had no idea."

The absence of a publicly revealed reason for Oberhardt's firing is what parents and staff found most frustrating.

Was there "some secret out there so heinous" Oberhardt couldn't keep her job? one mother asked.

The hiring of a school's principal is one of the primary responsibilities of an LSC. Principals are awarded four-year contracts, at the end of which period the LSC conducts an evaluation — the process for which is clearly spelled out in LSC guidelines — and determines whether or not to renew a principal's contract.

According to a timeline handed out by the LSC at Monday's meeting, initial planning for Oberhardt's review began in October. A survey was launched in November to obtain staff and parent feedback, and in-person feedback sessions were held in December and January.

Oberhardt requested a "preliminary indication of the intention of the LSC," which was provided late last week, according to the document.

It was at this point that most members of the Edison community became aware that Oberhardt's job was in jeopardy, sparking a 72-hour flurry of activity, including an online petition, to sway the LSC in advance of Monday's vote.

"We're all late to the game," said Jill Martensen, echoing the comments of many parents who admitted they hadn't paid attention to the evaluation because they didn't think nonrenewal was being considered.

It's "easy to be apathetic" at a high-performing school, one mom said.

"I keep hearing about the 'process.' What the past 72 hours has shown me is it's a flawed process," said Patricia O'Keefe.

"The list of stuff you did ... I get it ... it's frustrating when people don't engage," she told the LSC. "But when people understand the true implication.... You can defend all your steps ... but if you make a decision tonight and don't take into account 100 percent faculty support and parent support ... nothing, nothing, nothing justifies the nuclear option."

In the end, the LSC stood by its decision to not renew Oberhardt's contract.

Because the hiring and firing of a principal is a human resources issue, LSCs are prohibited from discussing the particulars of the evaluation. Members sign a confidentiality agreement at the beginning of the process, both for the principal's protection and for those providing feedback.

"That's the whole thing of this, it's cloaked in confidentiality," said parent Trudy Milton.

The embattled LSC will now undertake the search for a new principal.

Lesson learned, said one mom, who vowed, "I'm going to be coming back to LSC meetings."

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